detail from COVID-19 poster by student John Kohl

Put the Lid on COVID-19!

June 5, 2020

We all know the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, including our university experience. But the constraint of remote learning has led to some unexpected creativity. Such is the case with Instructor Louise Bordelon, PhD, who teaches in the College of Architecture and Planning. When the pandemic forced her Advanced Graphics class into the netherworld of virtual school, she communicated with her students, reworked deadlines, and revised assignments—ultimately concocting the COVID-19 Propaganda Poster.

From Studio to Cyberspace

Bordelon’s graduate class met once a week for 2 hours and 45 minutes of supervised studio work. “Everything changed,” she said. “Our drawing sessions became more like an online support group for those who could attend.” Her students were thrust into different time zones—and different realities. One of her students was taking care of an infant so his wife, an essential worker, could do her job. Others relocated to other cities and states.

Ari Solomon, a second-year Master of Landscape Architecture student in Bordelon’s class, took a plane home, then immediately found out she’d been in contact with someone who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. “Out of an abundance of caution for my family’s safety, I self-isolated in my room for two weeks,” she said. Ari worked, studied, ate, and slept in one room. Luckily, she was able to escape into the backyard: “If anything, this two-week period made me realize just how important it is to have access to outdoor spaces for your mental health, and that landscape architecture can play a crucial role in ensuring this.”

John Kohl, another second-year Master’s student who was enrolled in Advanced Graphics, benefitted from the move to remote learning. “Certain things were easier—previously I had two hours of commuting a day that I could now redirect,” he said.

WWII propaganda posters
Students in Bordelon’s Advanced Graphics class used WWII propaganda posters as inspiration for their COVID-19 poster assignment.

How Do WWII and Coronavirus Relate?

“I’m not sure it’s so much about war as it is about people coming together in solidarity to ‘do their part,’” Bordelon explains. “The last event that had such a widespread impact on the whole world was World War II, so it seems natural that it would evoke similar emotions and rhetoric.”

Bordelon took the WWII/coronavirus analogy and turned it into a poster assignment. Originally, the clearly titled “Assignment 5” would have asked students “to document the yard sale as a cultural landscape practice through mapping, observation, interaction, and sketching.” Instead, students were tasked with creating a “wartime”-inspired poster “that promotes a certain behavior,” like washing your hands. “Alternatively, you can promote an event unique to COVID-19—for example, the Cheesman Park Howl at 8 p.m.,” Bordelon’s assignment suggested. 

For inspiration, students looked at WWII propaganda posters. One shows a woman canning fruit. It reads: “Of Course I Can! I’m patriotic as can be—And ration points won’t worry me!” Bordelon also suggested the students investigate National Park posters, in case they wanted to go in an alternative design direction.

Nature is Healing posters designed by student Karen Schultz
Posters designed by student Karen Schultz

Ari was inspired by her sister-in-law, who “sent a video of NYC’s nightly cheer at 7 p.m. for essential workers.” She turned this into an inspirational poster featuring brownstones. “They are so iconic and such a symbol of everyday life throughout the city,” she said. “I wanted to show something that really depicts what life is like now.”

Stay Home COVID-19 poster by Ari Solomon
COVID-19 poster designed by Ari Solomon

John took inspiration directly from WWII propaganda posters, adapting three to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I love design in all its practices. It’s creative problem solving employed to confront challenges in all aspects of our lives,” he said.

design process by John Kohl
Project process by John Kohl

We Can Do It!

Both Bordelon and her students seemed to enjoy the process of portraying a current crisis in their creative work. “It opened the door for us to talk about the pandemic during our class sessions,” Bordelon said. One student talked about her African-American friend who expressed concern about wearing a mask because he feared racial profiling. These discussions gave her students an opportunity to think and discuss larger societal issues relating to the pandemic and beyond.

The COVID-19 poster assignment also got students to examine and process the changes that were happening so quickly in their own lives. “I ultimately really liked the coronavirus-related assignment, because it gave me a chance to think positively about the situation,” Ari said.

John gives a lot of credit to Professor Bordelon: “The pivot was clever, timely, and allowed us to think about the concept of information dissemination in our profession and how it’s used to confront other global challenges.” 

“She was able to make lemonade out of lemons while tackling this transition herself,” he said. Perhaps “We Can Do It!” after all.