Design and Digital Activism: 13 Inspiring Examples
At this point in time, it seems we have more pressing social and environmental issues than ever. The devastating fact is that poverty, illness, war, famine, ecological disasters and other threats to the wellbeing of our race and our planet are too many to count. Every time we open the newspapers or check our favorite news outlet, we face a new problem, a new disaster. Fortunately, what we also see is a rising number of activist organizations, funds, charities and other groups working to fix the world, one issue at a time. And a lot of that takes place online. That’s why today we want to talk about digital activism and the change it can make.
Continuous innovations in the field of web design have led to the onset of various convenient types of civil participation in digital form. We can make donations online in just a few clicks. We can sign up for an activity, share a cause with our peers, raise awareness and much more – all from the comfort of our own home. Sure, some would say that’s not real activism, but hey, when a child is starving every dollar makes a difference.
But digital activism is more than just fundraising. It’s also about using innovative, engaging design solutions to inspire people to take action. It’s about employing visual tools to bring a certain issue to surface, to raise awareness in what is today the single most efficient manner. People spend a lot of time online. A lot. Some even too much. And not using the internet as a vehicle of change would not only be plain lunacy, but short-sightedness, too.
We had a very hard time picking a limited number of activist websites to share with you today. Choosing among all the active causes is a tough chore for one’s conscience. They are all so, so important, each in their own right. But we had to narrow it down, so we used the quality of design and UX as the criterion (not the easiest task either, by the way). So, let’s get to the gist of it. Here’s our pick of the best digital activism websites right now:
Lewa House is a guest lodge and a property in Kenya that has been hosting visitors since the 1970s. More than just a tourist facility, Lewa House is focused on raising awareness about endangered wildlife in that part of Kenya, and in Africa in general. It teaches people how to live with nature, not against it, and how to reverse the dangerous effects of poaching, wildlife exploitation and environmental neglect. The website is wonderfully designed, with plenty of interactive sections, most notably the map of the area and the property, which can be explored using click and drag to navigate, and scroll to zoom in and out. Beautifully narrated and with some stunning visuals, the website translates a piece of Kenya’s unique atmosphere into digital form.
Pone is a French musician and producer who suffers from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In 2019, Pone achieved an extraordinary feat: he recorded and mixed an EP using only his eyes (the only means of communication the disease has left him with). The EP is called Listen and Donate and has a promotional website with the same name to accompany it, raise awareness but also raise funds for caregiving networks. Just like Pone himself, the website is nothing short of incredible. It can be navigated using your gaze, if you turn your webcam on, but it also features conventional mouse navigation. The center of the website features a video of an eye which follows the mouse around the screen. It also serves as the menu from which we can get to know Pone’s incredible story, order his EP and make a donation to Trakadom, the charity that finances caregiver training programmes.
No Fishing is an online campaign by the eco-marine organization Sea Shepherd, created to raise awareness about the dangers of fishing nets in oceans and to collect donations for this important mission. To be completely honest, there is no better way to describe the project, and the accompanying website, than simply “This is SO cool!!” Because it is. It’s incredibly cool. The website first takes us through some devastating stats about the effect of the fishing nets on marine life worldwide, as well as the whaling practices and their catastrophic results. It then takes us on a tour around the globe showcasing Sea Shepherd’s ships, whose results are nothing short of spectacular. 3D objects, interactivity and, of course, the powerful animated intro, make you instantly reach for your wallet and hit that donation form.
If you read our article on beautiful purple websites then you probably remember Fingerspelling, a wonderful project for learning how to spell in American Sign Language. Created as a game, Fingerspelling uses machine learning and the user’s webcam to check and correct the hand gestures that represent letters of the alphabet. The website is run by the American Society for Deaf Children and promises that no information collected through the game, such as recordings, will be shared with third parties. The design of the website is functional and, if not minimalist, then definitely simple, which is a fitting choice. In designing the game, the focus was on functionality and efficiency of the code, assuring the game runs smoothly. The learning process itself is incredibly fast, thanks to the feedback and to the fact the gestures are checked and corrected in real time, just like they would be in a live class.
You know how they say that life imitates art? The concept of mimesis can often be applied to nature, too. There are parts of this planet that are so surreal and stunning, they seem like an oil painting, a collage or a man-made sculpture. The moment he laid eyes on the Icelandic glacial rivers, the American landscape photographer Chris Burkard knew he needed to make a contribution towards saving them. Namely, the glaciers and rivers in Iceland, which are indeed gloriously beautiful, are also endangered, mostly by damming for the purposes of aluminum mining. To help save these gems of nature, Burkard started a project of photographing and filming them from the air. The result is a jaw-dropping online project called At Glacier’s End, a cinematic, interactive experience with stunning photography and just the right balance between visual and textual content. The sheer impressiveness of the photographs urges an instant reaction, prompting the visitor to learn how to help save Iceland’s (and the whole world’s) endangered treasure.
Started by the Blue Marine Foundation, The Sea We Breathe is an immersive digital journey through the world’s oceans, their currents, intertwined ocean ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on marine life. The website opens with a meditative moment in which we are invited to take a few deep breaths following the gentle rolling of the waves, before taking a deep plunge into the ocean and selecting one of the three currents or journeys – the Ocean’s Web of Life, Protecting the Underwater World and Rainforests of the Sea. Each journey teaches us about the harmful impacts of environmental problems on the health of the oceans which are vital not only for the creatures living in them, but also for humans. Beautifully animated, exciting and engaging, with spectacular visuals and wonderfully arranged music, The Sea We Breathe is a project that leaves no one indifferent about the destiny of our oceans.
The Hiring Chain is a wonderful campaign by CoorDown, the Italian national coordination body for people with Down Syndrome. The concept is strikingly simple, strikingly effective: by hiring a person with Down Syndrome, you’re giving them a chance to show they make a valuable employee and therefore incite other employers to do the same, thus forming the Hiring Chain.
The visitor starts the website experience by holding and dragging two hands together to meet, a lovely symbolic start for a project at whose heart lie the principles of solidarity and assistance. What follows is a fullscreen video, consisting of a short, heartwarming film about the Hiring Chain, with catchy, uplifting music performed by Sting, telling the story of how a group of people helped another group of people find a job. The website is available in two modes – one with and the other without the lyrics shown on screen. The atmosphere bears a slightly vintage quality, thanks mostly to the music and the typography, and is so positive and hopeful it will leave you whistling the Hiring Chain tune for days.
Hands down the single most influential activist of the last decade, perhaps even the century so far, Greta Thunberg became the face of the environmental protection movement when she took the world by storm in 2019. To celebrate this remarkable person, who managed to achieve so much (a keynote address in the United Nations, the Time Magazine Person of the Year…), the Dutch creative studio Superhero Cheesecake created a wonderful digital homage, called The Year of Greta. The website opens with a 3D figure of Greta standing fiercely on a rock, almost as if suspended in empty space. The timeline of her rise from a local campaigner to international activist slash superstar within a single year can be explored using drag or scroll, immersing the visitor into her story. Whether we already knew about Greta’s efforts or not, by the end of the journey, we are left struck and humbled by this young person’s dedication, strength and resilience thanks to this touching, honest project.
Somewhat similar to The Sea We Breathe, Save Whales is a digital project by Red Collar that uses animation, interactivity and superb digital imagery to raise awareness about the endangered marine life, specifically five species of whales. As we already talked about in our piece on page transitions, the website features beautiful mask transitions illustrated like waves rolling in and out, which were created by hand. Another impressive element are the stunning 3D models of whale species, some of which were pretty hard to do, considering the available images were quite different between each other. What’s also quite impressive is that the entire project was finished in just 14 days. The website also features a very hands-on, actionable section with advice and information on what each of us can do to help these majestic and tragically endangered creatures.
The Stonewall Riots are regarded as the pivotal moment in the history of LGBT liberation movement. In 1969, a violent clash between the rioters, mostly patrons and owners of the Greenwich Village gay and lesbian establishments, and the police who excercised brutality during the event, sparked the first gay pride marches, a tradition that lives to this day in every place where LGBTQ rights are being disputed. Stonewall Forever is a website created as a living monument to the event, bringing together queer activists looking back and reflecting on the Stonewall anf the LGBTQ rights before and after the riots. With an intersectional approach, it places a particular focus on trans people, POC and the homeless who were involved in the scene around Stonewall and whom the history seems to have deleted from its archives.
The website was created to accompany a documentary by the same name, and features a remarkable series of photographs, stories and testimonials divided into six chapters. It starts with a beautiful 3D rendition of a rainbow made of particles bursting into the clear blue sky from the famous New York City neighborhood. We then get to explore the history of Stonewall and the development of the LGBTQ movement through wonderfully animated drag and scroll navigation, to pick chapters and dive deep into the remarkable stories of activists old and new. It is a true living monument, translated into the digital form, to the struggle and the love that are so inherently intertwined into the movement.
Created in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences and Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Your Plan Your Planet is a Google sustainability project that aims to teach people on how they can save water, food and energy, and how they can extend the lifespan of various personal and household items. Based on the principles of circular economy, the project is divided into four categories, each one dispensing practical and actionable tips on energy and water saving and sustainability. Facts and tips are presented in the form of simple but smart animated illustrations, and they can be downloaded for offline use. And to keep things interesting, you can make a pledge for each tip, for instance, you can pledge to get a water-smart showerhead and even set a reminder in case you forget.
Blue Heart is a project by the famous outdoor clothing and gear brand Patagonia. The goal of the project is to raise awareness and protect some of Europe’s last wild rivers, specifically in the Balkans. If you’re wondering what “wild rivers” means, it indicates a large, powerful river with no dam on it. According to the project, dams are very harmful for the rivers: they do not help produce clean energy and cause environmental issues in the surrounding regions. Blue Heart is a documentary focusing on the largest undammed river in Europe – Albania’s Vjosa. The project website is striking and direct – beautiful fullscreen imagery and cleverly placed CTAs offering the visitors a chance to learn more about the problem with dams, to watch the video and, of course, to take direct action.
Restore Hope Appeal is a fundraising website started by the Australian Christian charity organization Compassion, with the goal of raising funds for different disaster-stricken areas around the world. You may remember it from our piece on split screen layouts, in which we praised the clever division of the homepage into two adjacent sections – one with the donation form, and the other with short info about the goal and links to pages where we can discover more about those affected by flooding, typhoons and cyclones, locust swarms and, unfortunately, many other disasters taking place in the world right now. Straightforward and effective, but also featuring some lovely design solutions, Restore Hope proves to be an excellent vehicle for collecting much needed charity funds.
Wrapping It Up
We have seen some truly inspiring examples of various causes presented in digital form, each featuring unique design solutions that enhance the experience and promote participation. Animation and interaction are basically a must, as these are the elements that break the barrier between the digital and the physical (or at least mimic breaking it), thus pulling the visitors deeper into the narrative. Cleverly placed and well-designed CTAs, high-quality imagery, video, music and sound effects, 3D animation… these are all vital elements for a website that aims to raise awareness, promote a cause and reach a goal. Flat, static design is good for protest banners. Online, it’s all about depth, interaction and motion. In fact, what it boils down to is storytelling. To get people to help reach a goal, you need to tell them a compelling story, using all means available, carefully orchestrated to form a unique voice that cannot be unheard.