New Work: COVID & Climate
In early September 2020, Shari Hersh, director environmental justice at Mural Arts Philadelphia, reached out to me after she saw “Mapping Corruption,” an interactive webpage I designed for the American Prospect. Ms. Hersh liked the concept of presenting an interactive map and discovering the hidden corruption in every agency in the federal government under the Trump administration. Her team had been working on a similar project to unearth the hidden connections between COVID-19 and climate change. She invited me to design a website for this project.
Based on Professor Donna Haraway’s implosion method, COVID & CLIMATE is a collaborative effort between activists and artists exploring and illustrating the deep connections between environmental injustice and ecological crisis. By transforming a collective body of research into an interactive presentation, Covid and Climate invites people into conversation while generating a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Although the project was still a work in progress, I accepted Ms. Hersh’s invitation. Once her team completed the writings and drawings, I would start to develop the site. In late December 2020, we scheduled a kickoff meeting via Zoom. Unfortunately, it was on the same day I had to make one of the toughest decisions in my life. Should my mother who contracted COVID-19 get on the ventilator? I called off the meeting. I told Shari and her team that I had an emergency related to COVID-19 and that I could not take on the project at the moment.
My mother passed away after her brutal battle with COVID-19. I spent two months grieving and writing. In late January 2021, I sent Ms. Hersh an apology and checked in to see if she had found a web designer for the project. I felt bad for dropping the ball on her and her team, but I did not expect to get the job. Her team was in the process of interviewing several candidates for the project. Twenty four hours later, they decided to move forward with me.
From this point on, I worked closely with Ms. Margaret Kearney, an artist who led the project. From the get-go, I requested that all the illustrations must be in vector format so that I could export them into SVGs for the web. I loved working with SVG. It almost felt like using Flash in the early 90s, but in the web standard format. Although animation inside SVG is limited, I could add HTML classes and used CSS to give the artwork some scaling and fading effects.
In addition to handwritten text integrated into the artwork, the headers were set in Korinna. The text inside the blue boxes was previously set in Korinna as well and the body text was originally set in Futura. Korinna looked fine as headers, but the spacing was odd as reading text. Since I didn’t have access to the web-font format for Futura, I proposed switching both to Forma DJR. The change was approved.
With all the materials on hand, I designed the website quickly. Since this project was one of its kind, it deserved its own domain name and hosting. Because it was not tied into any content management system or technology, I had the complete freedom to design and develop from the ground up. The site is straight up HTML and CSS with heavy use of SVGs. I used a bit of PHP to make the site easy to manage and to update. Because all of the illustrations were in vector format, they look great on any device.
I learned a great deal while putting the site together. I read all the pages just to make sure all the characters and punctuations were correct, but also to learn about these invaluable discoveries based on facts and thorough research. I love the balance between engaging illustration and insightful content. Don’t take my words for it. Browse through the pages, read the texts, and discover the hidden connections yourself.
I dedicate COVID & CLIMATE to my mother.