Since March 2020, New York City has undergone profound change due to Covid-19 and the mandatory stay-at-home orders. To mark this moment, and envision what comes next, Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi and her team have created a new online experience entitled “Dear New York…” to help capture New Yorkers’ feelings about the pandemic’s impact on life in the city.
The project was born out of Lupi’s personal desire to find a way to memorialize the city’s identity before Covid-19, and create a type of vessel for hopes about its future. The team began the design process by thinking expansively about what makes New York City, New York City. Key references and ideas quickly emerged. First, the team wanted to allude to the often random, unplanned occurrences—sidewalk collision, chance encounters, overheard conversations—that make living in a major metropolis so vibrant, and that were sorely missed during the city-wide quarantine. A simple content framework was devised around the prompts “I miss you for…” and “I hope you will become…”, inviting users to contribute their reflections on both a nostalgic past, and an ideal, reinvented future. The prompts are broad enough to capture all different types of sentiments, both related to Covid-19 and not.
These messages are then generated as moveable sticky-notes, harkening back to previous instances of collective remembrance in the city’s history (for example, the spontaneous placement of Post-it note messages in the subway following the 2016 presidential election). As more inputs are recorded, the site functions as a virtual “sandbox” of contributions, and the user can rearrange each note on screen to sift through and discover new messages.
Intimate urban photographs provide an evocative backdrop for the messages, and a “Walk A Block” button allows the users to toggle through 20 different images. Transcending beyond more stereotypical views of NYC (think the Statue of Liberty or Times Square), the photographs were taken by the design team themselves across various city neighborhoods, further adding to their authenticity. The rest of the UI was intentionally kept as simple as possible to let the messages and the photographs take center stage.
As time progresses, “Dear New York…” will continue to collect messages and grow in even greater richness and depth, becoming historical evidence of our collective response to Covid-19. The design team hopes that, even as New York City enters Phase 4 of its reopening, the project will continue to serve as an emotional record of this unprecedented moment in time.