“When I grow up, I want to be a lion tamer.” – Jenai Kavarana, 1992.
As someone who is deathly terrified of cats, and not just wild cats, but like, housecats, my parents still have not let me live this down.
I cycled through a few more dream jobs – astronaut, lawyer – until finally landing on my real one as a graphic designer. Nowhere along the way did I think I would be full-time focused on organ donation. In a way, it actually felt more difficult than taming lions. Agreed, ORGANIZE has never presented even the remote chance that I would be mauled – even during Jenna’s worst pregnancy cravings – but at least with lion taming the challenge is more straightforward.
Organ donation is more nuanced, the opportunities more subtle. How can you desensitize people to death, so much so that they feel empowered enough to make end of life wishes? And, more pressingly for my job, how can you do it with visuals and design? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for all of the millions of words spoken about organ donation, registration rates are still abysmally low. It’s not just what words are spoken, but also who speaks them. So my challenge was actually more like: don’t just use a picture to paint a thousand words, use it to paint a thousand of your grandmother’s words, translated into the voice of your best friend.
With all of that, there I was, butt-in-seat at 242 W 30th St, ORGANIZE Headquarters, the latest stop on my personal train from Dubai to Mumbai to Milan to London. Basically on day one, the gauntlet was laid down. We were partnering with the Nevada Donor Network to promote organ donation at the Life is Beautiful Music Festival, headlined by Kanye West.
Design isn’t in a vacuum. You have to understand the context it will be consumed in, what mindset will people be in when our campaign touches them. Some example Kanye lyrics: “I just talked to Jesus/He said, ‘What up Yeezus?’/I said, ‘Shit I’m chilling/Trying to stack these millions.”
Jenna gave me one week to turn around some concepts. Off to the white board we went, trying to tame the lion:
A few good ideas, a few bad ideas, and a million crazy ideas later, we grew into a full brainstorm session:
We pushed hard on a new narrative; rather than death, we played with themes of immortality and even sexuality (meet your audience where they are). We made the activation as absolutely simple as possible – the concert had already invested in RFID wrist band technology, which the festivalgoers were asked to input all of their information in to – so we built a scanning technology which interacted with the bands with a simple swipe.
We also built a cool Polaroid printer set-up that automatically printed any photo someone posted on Instagram with our campaign’s hashtag #DonateMyParts.
Was it perfect? No. Was it fun? Yeah. And playful. And what else: it was 1.5x more successful than any other donor registration campaign in US history.