Illustration by Beth Anne Kinnaird

At the end of March, the United Nations (UN) – in support of the World Health Organization (WHO) – issued a global call out to creatives around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Specifically, the UN asked creatives to help translate six critical public health messages – personal hygiene, physical distancing, know the symptoms, kindness contagion, myth-busting, and do more, donate – into eye-catching work, using any creative medium. The pieces would engage and inform people across different cultures, languages, communities, and platforms.

“We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply,” UN secretary-general António Guterres said in the open brief to every creative on the planet – the first the UN has ever produced. “We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.”

Initially circulating the brief on social media as a Google Doc, the UN quickly found itself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that was being submitted and decided to collaborate with international creative platform Talenthouse. Over the course of the first two weeks, 17,000 creative submissions came from 143 countries, including written work, audio, graphic design, music, animation, and film.

A Talenthouse infographic visualizes the response to the UN Covid-19 open brief in the first two weeks of the campaign.
The infographic visualizes the response to the open brief in just the first two weeks of the campaign alone.

“We have been overwhelmed by the tremendous response from creators around the globe who have leaned in to help humanity in the face of this unprecedented crisis,” said Dawda Jobarteh, global head of the Sustainable Development Goals Strategy Hub. “This pandemic demands collective action and global collaboration. The creative community has delivered powerful messages that transcend borders, languages, cultures, and mediums, to help reach everyone in this fight against COVID-19. That fight begins with personal behavior change and clear understanding of the facts, so communications couldn’t be more important. Now, the challenge is to get these inspiring works seen and heard by people all over the world, especially where the need is greatest.”

Watch Dawda’s thank you message.

Usually, Talenthouse would announce and highlight selected creators, but given the incredible response, the best submissions are now hosted in an uplifting online library called the UN COVID-19 Creative Content Hub, which at the time of writing features more than 4,500 artworks. They can be downloaded, in multiple formats and languages, and shared for free to maximize reach. The only requirement is to credit the artists who have generously donated their time and passion.

In this article, we’re highlighting some of the most inspiring artworks, and talking to the creators behind them.

Ryan Teo (Singapore)

Ryan Teo's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives uses universal hand gestures to to highlight that this Covid-19 is a shared struggle.

“My spring break travel plans got canceled due to COVID-19, and with the extra time I was looking for ways to put my design skills to use,” explains Ryan Teo, who studies product design and engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

“I saw the United Nations’ global call-out to creatives, and the idea of translating the UN’s kindness contagion messaging into engaging content for people across cultures, languages and communities really resonated with me. It’s important for us to realize that COVID-19 is affecting everyone. I personally have friends who have either lost dream jobs, are facing exacerbated depression, or have contracted the virus. Everyone is on edge. It’s always important to be kind, but showing kindness and understanding is more important now than ever before.”

Teo decided to use hand signs as his underlying theme, because they’re universally understood.

“The peace and OK signs are used cross-culturally, and the finger-heart sign is widely used throughout Asia. I wanted my campaign to highlight that we may speak many different languages but that we are united in our struggle against COVID-19.”

As Teo had just started digital sketching and wanted to practice his new skill, he sketched the hands and masks on the iPad Pro, then imported the layered sketches into Adobe Photoshop for composition, retouching, and adding text.

Little Lightning Collective (UK)

“We already had a working connection through Global Goals,” reveals Tom Langton, creative director of motion graphics, animation, and design studio Little Lightning Collective. “With other jobs quickly drying up, we wanted to keep busy and create something useful and informative that might help people in a time of crisis.”

The team based the simple, bold designs of their myth buster animations on WHO-approved guidance.

“We created a scenario that was as absurd as the myth itself,” Tom explains. “We liked the idea of a lab technician conducting experiments on a comically oversized version of COVID-19. As with a lot of our character work, the designs were created in Adobe Illustrator and fired over to After Effects to bring them to life. A plugin called RubberHose is always a favorite for simple character animation.”

Barış Cihan Peşmen (Turkey) 

Barış Cihan Peşmen's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives uses domino coffins and a house of cards to illustrate the knock-on consequences of not staying home.

“I care about and love our world,” Barış Cihan Peşmen, a junior art director from Istanbul in Turkey, as he explains his six submissions.

I can’t help sick people like doctors do, but I can help to prevent infections and raise awareness with my designs.

So I worked day and night to come up with ideas. First I drew sketches on paper and then finalized them in Adobe Illustrator. I got so many positive comments from people all over the world, which has been just wonderful.”

Ashot Hovakimyan (Armenia)

Ashot Hovakimyan's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives illustrates a brain composed of soap bars to highlight that people should rely on their judgement and wash their hands frequently.

“There are two things we can use to stop the spread of the virus – our brains and soap,” says Ashot Hovakimyan, creative director of Armenian creative agency Zuck & Berg.

“With the visually striking image of a brain ‘built’ with soap and the famous ‘Use it’ tagline, the poster communicates two key messages: think for yourself, not giving in to panic or misinformation, and wash your hands frequently. The message is universal and easy to translate into different languages, which makes it usable for different markets and audiences.”

To create the 3D model, Ashot used 3ds Max, V-Ray, and Adobe Photoshop.

Raquel Galiano (Spain)

Raquel Galiano's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives illustrates a mask and glove-donning female holding the globe in her hands.

“It was very important for me to be able to use my art to raise awareness of COVID-19,” says fashion designer and illustrator Raquel Galiano from Madrid. “I wanted to get the message across that we all matter and need to be united in the face of the pandemic.”

Galiano was searching for a powerful and striking image that invites reflection. “As soon as I saw her, I knew the blue-haired girl represented the entire population,” she explains. “She holds the world with her hands, which is a way to convey that we stand together apart by socially distancing and using personal protective equipment.”

To create her illustration, Galiano employed various digital techniques. She first made a sketch in Adobe Photoshop, and once she had decided on the main elements of the illustration, she continued in Adobe Illustrator using contour vectorization and line vectors for the finishing touches.

João Pedro Novochadlo (Brazil)

João Pedro Novochadlo's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives illustrates the importance of social distancing with typography that is only legible when the reader moves away from the screen.

Creative technologist João Pedro Novochadlo from Brazil used an optical illusion, so that the viewer could interact and in a practical way experience how distance can be important in some situations.

Deepesh TP (India)

Deepesh PT's submission to the United Nations Covid-19 Global Call Out to Creatives highlights the importance of social distancing with drawings of physically separated people in line, imposed onto a grocery store receipt.

Deepesh TP, an art director from Bangalore in India, used a shopping receipt to illustrate social distancing. 
You can explore more artworks on the official United Nations COVID-19 Response Creative Content Hub. You can also share your favorites, tagging @UnitedNations, @talenthouse, and using the hashtag #UNCovid19Brief to keep the momentum going on the UN’s six critical public health messages.