Pentagram partner Harry Pearce has designed a new brand identity for WITNESS, the organisation which helps people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights.
On the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour in the late 1980s, Peter Gabriel had met and filmed his conversations with many people who’d gone through horrific experiences, and although they survived, all too often their stories were denied, or buried and forgotten. Peter worked with Reebok to set up a division of its Foundation to give cameras to Human Rights activists so they could tell their story. In 1991, the brutal beating of Rodney King by the LA Police shocked people the world over, but the incident also shone a spotlight on the role that video could play to expose hidden abuse and to fight injustice. A year after, WITNESS was formed to help these people tell their stories. It gave out cameras to people in over 60 countries, enabling them to have a voice and a platform, and in doing so giving a human face to the problems people are facing around the world.
In 2019 everyone has a smartphone and video technology is obviously much more widely available – however WITNESS still has a crucial role to play in training a new generation of human rights defenders in the safe, effective and ethical use of video. It also carries out important research and publishes resources on emerging human rights issues such as deepfakes and cyber violence.
Harry Pearce’s relationship with WITNESS began in 1993. After designing the new identity for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (who he was introduced to by Peter Gabriel), he then began helping with the graphic storytelling for WITNESS (at that point using the original logotype by Chiat Day). Imagining a new way in which creative business could partner with changemakers in the not-for-profit world, instead of working for multiple good causes, Harry decided to concentrate solely on WITNESS and has worked for, and sits on the Advisory Board of the organisation in a pro-bono capacity ever since. Last year through an auction of original artworks from Harry’s book and exhibition Eating with the Eyes, he and Pentagram raised over £60,000 for the charity.
Based on the philosophy of ‘make the truth visible’, the new identity is designed to encourage collaboration and participation. The striking typographic logo is set in Akzidenz Grotesk Medium, and the strapline ‘See It, Film It, Change It’. A new, colour palette has been developed and features more optimistic range of colours, as well as the familiar black and orange associated with the organisation.
Cropped shots of people’s eyes from around the world, processed with a halftone dot technique are also placed around the logo – a simple but extremely effective device which holds the viewer’s gaze. Imagery plays a key part in the identity, with a combination of reportage shots and portrait photography.
Peter Gabriel’s original vision for WITNESS was that the power of visual imagery and storytelling could open the world’s eyes to human rights abuse and compel people to take action for lasting change. “The simplicity of Peter’s idea of ‘Little brother turning the cameras back on big brother” as one of WITNESS’s founding thoughts made a profound impression on me. I hoped that my graphic work could help connect people with their films across the globe.” Executive Director of WITNESS, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm adds: “Our partnership with Harry, now some two decades plus long, has been an integral part of us reaching audiences at every step of the way”.
The striking new identity with its bold typography and pixellated eyes reflects the new more dynamic, and more diverse organisation that WITNESS has become, both culturally and in terms of the technology it deals with.