Coronavirus Thoughts: When Good Design Sends The Wrong Message

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Moments of crisis often shine a spotlight on the need for appropriate messaging. Especially in a situation like the COVID-19 lockdown, when everyone is forced to communicate digitally, the need to carefully curate each message gets elevated.

Enter the tweet I came across last week, produced by iHeartRadio, sharing the news that Rita Wilson and her husband, Tom, tested positive for Coronavirus in Australia.

The design is tasteful, clean, and on-brand. The copy doesn’t editorialize at all. But, it somehow sends an absolutely inappropriate message. The hierarchy of messaging established through type choices, the red gradient overlay, and the choice of photo all work to create a celebratory message. As the text of the tweet says, the message conveyed to us is that we need to congratulate them for something, or as our designer, Sam, put it, it looks like they just got married.

So, what should iHeartRadio have done differently? Well, first of all, this message doesn’t need to be shared in the format of a branded image. The use of iHeartRadio’s traditional post styling, including the logo and brand colors, feels inappropriate for this message. Since they’re not a news outlet, it’s not necessary to position this as an announcement.

Second, the use of a red carpet photo and positioning the names of the celebrities as more important than their diagnosis seems to celebrate their Hollywood stature, rather than conveying a vital message about their health and wellbeing. 


After taking all of this into consideration, these design decisions actually come together to say something about iHeartRadio. Intentional or unintentional, it appears to this writer that the outlet actively tried to co-opt this announcement to shine the spotlight on themselves, which at a time like this is a pretty distasteful move.