Designing During Uncertainty: A Visual Response to COVID-19

Visual design created in reaction to specific moments in time is always interesting to examine on its own merits. At the moment, many of the ads or visual content on our airwaves are doing their best to react to the unfortunate events of the last few months. Themes that recur often here include that of community, adversity, preservation, and hope (this last theme typically highlighted in support of whatever product is paying for the ad space). “It’s a sweet gesture, and a novel one too. Of all the things Taco Bell has given me over the years, a hug is not among them.”

Visual Design During COVID-19

At the same time, a lot of commercial work is sidestepping the crisis of the day entirely, and (understandably) leaning hard into escapist sentiments where they can. Particularly if their product is a new video game or season of TV. We won’t be examining these particular kinds of commercials in great detail here, but it is worth noting that just because a work avoids the topic of Covid-19 doesn’t mean it isn’t responding to it. In fact, it can be defining itself by presenting a contrasting message to stand out. For the moment, however, we will look at designs that have been appearing around the topic of COVID-19 itself. This can range from a direct approach, where the main topic might be presenting helpful or cautionary information, to a more indirect approach, where the topic acknowledges current events while also presenting their products or services like how they typically would.


What, So What, and Now What

Backing up for a minute, these visual design approaches to COVID-19 all tend to have one thing in common: They are all a synthesis of, or reaction to, information that is initially presented (in large part) as tables of numbers and other data. “[This] doesn’t inspire much action among the public because tables are dense, our brains don’t process them well, and nothing meaningful pops out.”[ii] Graphics created here are thus meant to touch on three general questions: 1. What 2. So, What? and 3. Now What?[iii] Essentially, we need to know what is the big issue at hand, why it matters to us, and what we can do about it (or what it will lead to if we do nothing about it). Ultimately, in a globally-impactful situation like Covid-19, “we need to take action quickly. Public health officials should take note of successful data visualization and designs used in other awareness campaigns. And we, the public, should ask for the data, presented with clear messaging and strong visuals.”[iv]


The Drawing Board

Many of these topics were addressed during the initial visualizations of COVID-19 itself. As the virus emerged as a newsworthy issue over the past few months, a group of designers was asked to create the initial graphics that would accompany media coverage. Drawing upon a range of backgrounds and expertise spanning both the medical and illustration fields, “one of the key things [these designers] had to keep in mind was to use colors that would communicate the gravity of the situation to the public.

[They didn’t want it to be too playful, but [they] didn’t want it to be scary either. [They] also wanted the structure to have a realistic feel to it.”[v] The compositions and renderings for the Coronavirus model were carefully considered, so as to make the final image “relatable, visually coherent for even a layperson, and of high design quality.”[vi] Colors therefore were chosen “to make sure they would harmonize with any published collateral. [Red] on gray, with orange and yellow accents, was the most arresting, [as] it just really stood out.”[vii]


Common Motifs

Following this development stage of the look of COVID-19 itself, designers naturally turned to creating supporting materials. Certain designs are fairly straightforward, the above graphic being a good example. “Graphic-wise this is fine,” if overly minimalistic,” according to one designer.[viii] The reds and blacks convey themes of urgency and somberness, and the iconography is both serviceable and straightforward. This kind of design has been used in many similar kinds of contexts over the years, generally as a warning or other cautionary visual design device. According to a report by Applied Ergonomics, “the salience of a visual warning can be enhanced using large, bold print,  high contrast, color, borders, pictorial symbols, and special effects like flashing lights,”[ix] all of which appear here save for the final item. Put another way, ““The simple visual aid of the color red in the United States will get some Americans to perk up and pay attention.”[x] In short, not necessarily the most inspired design, but there is some thought that went into its creation.


Another Take on This Approach…

This particular graphic uses a lot of the same visual design vocabulary, but in a much more detailed fashion. It organizes its information in an almost-flowchart style and likely falls on the busier side of the design spectrum. Whereas the previous design was minimalistic, this design, feels a lot more cluttered. That said, the content is useful, and as one designer states, “This graphic has some information. This is probably too much information, but seeing as how none of the text is too small to read, it’s a great graphic. I’ve learned a lot here.”[xi] Ultimately, this may speak more to whether your audience is experiencing your graphic by choice or by necessity, but it’s generally helpful to at least make the attempt to display  the information in a presentable way.


Many recent designs on this topic are a mixed bag, visually speaking. This particular image presents both distinctive visuals and helpful information, but much of the information here is only helpful in a very general sense. As one designer observes, “Nobody touches their face like that. You don’t have to tell me not to place my open palm over my left eye. I was never going to do that. Please revise the illustration to depict someone picking their nose right here, so that way I’ll actually learn.”[xii]


Simpler Can Be Better

While individual designers have a certain amount of discretion in crafting their images, it is interesting to examine how more official sources are visually presenting information related to COVID-19 topics. Above is a graphic currently used by the CDC.[xiii] It is a very clean approach. Everything is neatly arranged, with complimentary colors being used to highlight key bits of information. The composition is well-balanced, and simply presents facts that are likely on most people’s minds like how to avoid the virus if possible, what the symptoms are, and where to go for more information. Even the graphics here are simple, yet specific. The designer had very specific goals for these graphics, which were achieved quite effectively.


Different Approaches

Finally, there are some other recent (unofficial) ad spots using visual approaches that are worth discussing here. One campaign presents spoilers from streaming TV shows, the implication being that if you were staying home (and watching said TV show), you would not have been spoiled in the first place. “The concept seeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic by using the threat of spoilers to stop millennials from being tempted to [socialize] and encouraging them to binge on Netflix instead.”[xiv] It’s a very light-hearted, almost escapist approach, and stands out as an effective and unique call to action among a great many more grounded efforts.

Visual design aside, the motivations behind all these approaches are clearly good ones. The intent is to provide helpful information in a way that is easy to understand and implement. However, what is also clear is that solid design choices are just as important here as they are anywhere else. If a set of infographics is undercutting its message by presenting vague or contradictory visuals, that is unfortunately not going to be nearly as helpful as a commercial that is memorable, accurate, and well-staged. Please share some of the effective visuals you have recently seen in the comments below!

If you want to learn more about CATMEDIA’s creative process and approach click here!


[i] Schwartz, Addam. “Great. Now the Coronavirus is Infecting TV Commercials, Too.” N.p., April 2020. Web

[ii] Evergreen, Stephanie. “How Design Can Stop the Spread of the Coronavirus.” Fast Company, Inc. January 2020. Web.

[iii] Evergreen.

[iv] Evergreen.

[v] Kallingal, Mallika. “Meet the Illustrators Who Gave the Coronavirus its Face.” WarnerMedia. April 2020. Web.

[vi] Delbert, Caroline. “How Illustrators Created the Iconic Coronavirus Image.” Hearst Communications. April 2020. Web.

[vii] Delbert.

[viii] Kulwin, Noah. “Coronavirus is Causing Some Real Code-Red Graphic Design.” Bustle Digital Media. March 2020. Web.

[ix] Wogaltera, Michael S.; Conzolaa, Vincent C.; Smith-Jackson, Tonya L. “Research-Based Guidelines for Warning Design and Evaluation.” Applied Ergonomics 33. 2002. p. 221. Web.

[x] Evergreen.

[xi] Kulwin.

[xii] Kulwin.

[xiii] “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Communication Resources – Graphics and Images.” N.p. April 2020. Web.

[xiv] Ormesher, Ellen. “From Guinness Genius to Netflix Spoilers: The Best Coronavirus Spec Ads.” N.p. April 2020, Web.


Product Packaging: Our 5 Ways To Help You Stand Out

When it comes to developing product packaging, two thoughts that come to mind are: meeting the needs of the consumer, as well as capturing their attention in a sea of competition. Packaging presents an opportunity; messaging ends up straight in the consumer’s hand, and often their home. As a result, it becomes a constant reminder of that product or brand. Below are some tips and questions to ask yourself when producing a great package.

COMMUNICATING with your Product Packaging

Packages perform as vehicles for direct communication between brands and consumers, and should answer questions such as:

  • What is the product?
  • Are there benefits of using the product?
  • How is this product unique?

An array of Apple products and electronics

Packaging is often considered the last advertisement a potential buyer will see before making a purchase. Use graphic design to speak to how the customer should feel with color, typography, texture, and messaging. Consider the design of an Apple package. Each component is arranged with care, making smart use of the space inside. The clean white boxes ensure the focus is on the product itself. Written messaging gets out of the way and product photos dominate the front of the packages. The tech is the star here. Each part of the inner package is considered; from the way cords are wrapped to the origami-esque components that hold instruction manuals. Each choice speaks to how Apple wants their product to be received by the customer: important, good quality, smart, and well designed.

Good design lives at the intersection of creativity and functionality. Imagine a consumer carrying the product out of the store:

  • How will the customer carry and purchase the product?
  • How does your product fit into their life?

Woman holding a bottle of juice


Therefore, product packaging that can be carried, stored, and reused, functions to remind the customer of your brand and its value in everyday life. Quality components make lasting impressions, especially if a branded component of the package becomes part of their experience with the product itself.

How does the packaging feel in the hand? Weightiness, often psychologically, communicates higher quality. Choose a material that is pleasant to touch. It encourages customers to hold it longer. The longer they hold it, the greater the feeling of psychological ownership. This can help motivate the customer to purchase an item.


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Grocery store isles full of various products

What do the competitor’s products look like? Does your product stand out without alienating the consumer? If multiple competitors are already using flashy colors and graphics, a product may actually stand out with a neutral palette and minimal design elements. For that reason, it’s helpful to take visual stock at real stores to determine your competitors’ aggregated color stories and how your product will fit into that landscape. Is there a story missing from the spread? Does your product fill that gap? Be sure to tell your audience why you’re using thoughtful product packaging design.



Boxed Water is Better product

Packaging advertises a brand’s values. Audiences seek alignment with brands they purchase from. The ever-rising popularity of green products (which often purport sustainable practices, using recyclable/recycled materials, or using natural ingredients) is a reflection of this desire for shared values. It is also common to advertise other ethical choices such as:

  • Workers’ conditions
  • Whether you test on animals
  • Political stances

These values can be advertised directly on the box to make you stand out from the crowd. While even if your stance may be an unpopular one, an honest advertisement will keep loyal consumers. Consumers desire transparency and are alienated by inauthenticity.


woman-shopping-at-makeup-counterWhich stores will you sell the product in? Do those locations speak to the values that the brand purports? If you advertise sustainable, ethically-sourced products, selling products in a large discount department store might create dissonance with the target audience.

Also, you should consider the product’s location in the store itself, potentially using:

  • Point of purchase displays – These provide more physical space to convey messaging to the customer, as well as helping your product to stand out significantly (as it will no longer be on the shelves next to the rest of the products). Point of purchase displays can also encourage impulse buys when strategically placed.
  • Endcaps are another great way to boost visibility. They provide a platform for you to advertise items together that may not normally be near each other. Paired products present a convenience to the buyer. They might not bother to find alternatives. A good example of this is selling office supplies together that share an aesthetic theme.


Bottles-sunglasses-product-packagingProduct packaging is an extension of your brand experience. Opening a product can replicate the joy and curiosity felt upon opening a Christmas present. There are many social media avenues where people share their unboxing experiences on camera, such as Instagram and YouTube. These present an opportunity for your product to gain organic engagement and generate sales. In this instance, the wrapper is sometimes more important than what’s inside. An especially well-designed or unusual unboxing experience will encourage people to share their experience with others. It can be a great choice to develop an eccentric package if you seek to tap into audiences in this avenue.


As with most designs, the foundation of your choices should rest on their authenticity to your brand identity and messaging. Above all, be sure to tell the consumer specifically what value your product offers to their lives before they even open the box.

Can our agency help you take your product from just another one lost in the crowd, to one that stands out amongst the rest?


CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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Graphic Designer vs. Graphic Artist

You’re probably thinking, “Can there really be an entire blog devoted to the differences between a graphic artist and graphic designer?”

You may not realize there is any difference, but there is. The purpose of this blog is to help explain what they are.


As a designer who has worked as both a graphic artist and a graphic designer, I understand the confusion. After all, graphic artists and graphic designers do have the following things in common:

  • Both rely on visuals to execute their work
  • Both work in digital and print formats
  • And, of course, both start with the word “graphic.”

The roles of graphic artist and graphic designer actually have different objectives. Based on my experience and knowledge, I will break down the differences.


The sole intent of a graphic artist is to create visuals that facilitate an idea or story. Sometimes there is no logic to the creation of the designs, and in other instances, the visuals are the platform for an entire story.

Above all, there is no limit to the kind or amount of mediums a graphic artist can use.

Graphic-artist-Taylor-SwiftThe design principles are not strict, but that doesn’t mean they should be disregarded. (For a refresher on the basic design elements and principles reference my blog, (“Construct, Compose, Create; A Basic Guide to Graphic Design”.) Consequently, graphic artists tend to bend or break some of the design rules, but only if it fits the composition or story being told.

To better understand what a graphic artist might do, it may help to identifygraphic-artist-cartoon-comic the kinds of work they produce. A graphic artist’s portfolio might include:

  • Cartoons
  • Illustrations
  • Graphic Novels
  • Comic Books
  • Movie Illustrations


The common denominator between all of these pieces is that they are more artistically inclined. A graphic artist’s work can cover a wide range of subject matters, from inanimate objects to human beings, and everything in between.

Each piece does not follow a uniform set of rules. The styling is limited to that particular piece of artwork. If the graphic artist’s intent is to tell a story, the visuals come first and the story second. Depending on the story, visuals are influenced by dynamic action, dialogue, or stylizing within the composition.


Here’s an interpretation of how a graphic artist could be shown through humanistic qualities:


The main objective of a graphic artist is to entertain the viewer. The appearance of the subject may or may not have a correlation to a story. The main focus is the art, which reflects in their styling. The subject matter tends to be more natural and artistic. For this particular example, the subject matter is a human with natural and utilitarian elements. The hair stylizing is natural, and the clothing is purely for its utility. There is no other underlying message.

You will see Graphic artists’ work in a print or digital format. It depends on the purpose of the design. Their work is created by hand or on a computer, and the artwork they produce often works in both print and digital format.

image-Roaring-Rails-film-poster graphic-image-Katzenjammer_Kids graphic-artist-image-Frida-Kahlo


In contrast, the graphic designer’s main intention is to get the viewer to interact with the content within the design. With interactivity, the viewer can read, scroll, or click through the content being displayed. In the world of graphic design, content is king, and the purpose of the design is to help optimize concise information while providing a visual platform.
To better understand what a graphic designer might do, you should be able to identify the kinds of work they produce. A graphic designer’s portfolio might include:

  • Infographic
  • Marketing Collateral
  • Print Design
  • Digital Design
  • Web Design
  • Instructional Design
  • Presentation Design
  • Logo Design


Certainly the common denominator for all of these pieces is that they serve as platforms for content that can be used in various forms of media. A prime example of graphic design is marketing collateral for a company. The company will want a consistent design throughout all of their marketing materials (i.e., brochures, flyers, business cards, advertisements, websites, etc.) across all mediums.


Here’s an interpretation of how a graphic designer could be shown through humanistic qualities:


The main objective of a graphic designer is to deliver the content in an eye-catching manner. The composition and how the design interacts with depends on the content being displayed. The shirt has a graphic element, but with complementary colors: blue and yellow. The shirt also has a design, but it is balanced because of its symmetrical composition. Color and balance are two elements of design.

Remember graphic design relies on the composition of the content, and the graphic design elements and principles are essential in laying out a composition.

apple-logo-designimage-of-a-book-of-fonts graphic-designer-image-of-paint-swatches


  • Graphic designers must follow strict guidelines due to the parameters of the content and medium (i.e., brochure, website, poster, etc.), but graphic artists have more relaxed guidelines due to the unlimited possibilities for ideas and stories.
  • For graphic designers, content is of the utmost importance. The designer cannot create visuals without understanding the content it will facilitate.
  • For graphic artists, the visual possibilities are endless. The design depends on an abstract thought, and it is impossible to set guidelines.

The main difference between a graphic designer or graphic artist is the importance of the imagery within the work. A graphic designer’s main intention is to facilitate content, and a graphic artist’s main intention is to facilitate an idea or story. They both involve visuals and can be in various forms of media, and both are essential because they facilitate different needs in the visual realm.


CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Stay Connected with CATMEDIA:
For more information, please visit

Check us out on social media!