Confusing, Convoluted and Haphazard

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Good design is about more than simple aesthetics.

If something is well designed it shows that care has been taken in its creation.

Good design helps establish trust by signalling thoughtfulness and a commitment to quality.

This is why the world’s leading companies and organisations invest so much in ensuring their brand identities and marketing campaigns are clear, concise and consistent.

So it is curious that so much of the UK government’s graphical communications during the coronavirus crisis have been so confusing, convoluted and haphazard.

After the initial clarity of the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” messaging, we now have the far more ambiguous “stay alert, control the virus, save lives”, presented in garish yellow and green.

A snap YouGov poll found only 30% of people said they understood the new messaging.

“Whether employed to warn or impart information, graphic design is clearly part of the front-line response to infectious disease, making life-saving messages accessible to all,” explains designer Lucienne Roberts.

“Where there was certainty, there is doubt. ‘Stay Home’ is a clear instruction, ‘Stay Alert’ requires interpretation.”

At the daily briefings these core messages have been coupled with a dizzying array of visually disjointed graphics and charts.

One of these – a five-level “alert system” – has been unfavourably compared to the Nando’s “peri-ometer”, which the restaurant chain uses to measure the spiciness of its famous sauce.

“In times of strife, nothing is more important than clarity of communication. The government needs design systems which can deliver information and messaging accurately and with as little room for interpretation as possible,” says Simon Dixon, co-founder at DixonBaxi.

It is interesting to contrast the UK government’s efforts with the New Zealand government’s widely praised and successful “Unite Against Covid-19” campaign.

“New Zealand’s communications have been clear and confident from the start,” says Nick Asbury of Creative Review.

“It’s hard to see the UK government communications as anything other than a failure. And it goes deeper than the wording of any particular slogan. It’s the lack of any overarching narrative to unite people and make sense of what we’re going through.”


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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