06/23/2011 04:45 am ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

Design Relief: 10 Global Responses (PHOTOS)

Time declared 2010 the Year of the Natural Disaster, and with the mass destruction resulting from the 5.5-magnitude earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the floods in Pakistan, the Chile earthquake, and a manmade disaster (the Gulf oil spill), it's easy to see why. 2011, with the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan, has not fared much better.

Relief efforts for each of these disasters have been widespread, and mobilized by social media and the creativity of various groups, including designers and artists. Whether through organized responses from Architects for Humanity or the effort of a savvy individual, designers have the capacity to raise funds, create awareness, preserve cultural memory and even impact future responses to disaster. Here are just a few examples of social responsibility in action, not just rhetoric.

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Design Relief: 10 Global Responses

My colleague, Hannah Jefferies, personally witnessed the destruction in Joplin, Missouri following the tornado. Hailing from the city, she vowed to raise money to contribute to the rebuilding effort. Over the years, Hannah had photographed and archived her hometown's historic, iconic signage--images that capture the spirit of the city and exhibit her connection to it. She dusted those off, uploaded them to Etsy and is now selling the Signs of Hope note card series to raise money for the Trees for Joplin fund. This is not only a fundraising effort; the cards also foster a connection with the city and are a powerful example of design that creates exposure for--and retains--a city's culture.

Posters are another unique way designers have lent their talents for a cause in a timely way. Digital, Branding and Promotion firm Moosylvania created 16 posters that raised funds for the United Way Small Business Fund of Joplin. The Haiti Poster Project, launched just three days after the earthquake, was an efficient, collaborative effort on the part of designers around the world. The Help Japan poster by Wieden + Kennedy designer Max Erdenberger is an impactful design that merged two widely recognized symbols and created a lot of buzz (and funds) for disaster relief. A unique twist on this trend is Happiness Brussels' limited-edition Oil and Water Do No Not Mix poster, which was screen-printed with oil from the Gulf of Mexico. As the designer explains in the video, the straightforward message--not to mention the innovative material--gives it resonance.

Handmade for Japan raised an impressive $75,757 for Global Giving's Earth and Tsunami Relief Fund with its online auction of handmade art. Much of the work honored the importance placed on design by Japanese culture and was done by Japanese artists or those connected to the country. Other handmade goods, such as Molo's Heartfelt Lantern remind us that we as designers can be nimble, quick and responsive and that ultimately, design adaptability = $$. The company took an existing product, its felted wool hobo bag, and created a portable lantern with full proceeds going to Architecture for Humanity. Similarly, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio adapted its existing Chalk-it-to-Me piggy bank for a limited-edition Help Japan! Version that honored the culture and raised money to the Japanese Red Cross.

The basic need for shelter in the wake of natural disasters has spurred countless responses and proactive designs that anticipate needs. Adrian Lippmann's compact Fold Flat Shelter is one such example. And Shigeru Ban's Paper Partition System for evacuation facilities following the Japan earthquake is a particularly innovative response: Made of paper rolls and curtains, the easy-to-assemble systems specifically address the cultural need for privacy in shelters--a great example of design that responds to both culture and time constraints.