The Covid-19 pandemic has left many small businesses in New York struggling to survive, especially in underserved communities that lack access to resources and capital. Neighborhoods Now is a collaborative initiative from the Urban Design Forum and the Van Alen Institute that connects neighborhoods impacted by the pandemic with leading design firms. As part of the project, Pentagram has created a series of multilingual posters that business owners can display to convey Covid-19 safety protocols and other important information.
The Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute offered to advise members of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of community organizations across New York, on their reopening strategies. Several architectural firms were first enlisted to work on things like guidelines and permitting for street barriers and seating for outdoor dining. The pro-bono initiative then asked Pentagram and fellow design studios Partners & Partners and Two Twelve to create three different graphic campaigns, with each firm focusing on a different neighborhood. The goal throughout was creating inexpensive solutions that could be quickly and easily produced.
For its campaign, Pentagram was paired with the 82nd Street Partnership in Jackson Heights, Queens, a business improvement district (BID) with nearly 200 member businesses. Queens is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse urban area in the world, and Jackson Heights is a predominantly immigrant neighborhood. The challenge for the designers was to develop something that would work across language and culture, and that was friendly, engaging and helpful, without looking too “official.” (In the current political climate, many immigrants are understandably wary of government initiatives.)
The Pentagram team created a series of posters and signs that outline Covid-19 safety requirements in a fun, playful way with a series of masked cartoon creatures. Illustrated by designer Janny Ji, the characters appear in all shapes, sizes and colors, without race or gender. The graphics are bright, colorful and upbeat, and avoid looking deliberately frightening like a “hazard” sign. Images of hands are used as directional signage—and reminders to wash your hands.
The posters are available in Arabic, Bengali, English and Spanish, as well as versions with empty speech bubbles that business owners can customize with other information or messages in their own languages and tone of voice. The typography is set in Noto Sans, a free font developed by Google that is working to cover all languages and currently includes over 30 scripts.
The posters will be distributed at information centers and community events in the neighborhoods and are available for download here.