Every two years, the International AIDS Conference puts out an open call to all designers to submit a visual identity for the next upcoming conference. It is a tradition that has brought about some of the most inspirational design concepts that capture the tone and theme of the conference. You have seen the logo for the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016), now meet the creative mind behind the design—John Hanawalt, a graphic designer at The Outcast Agency in San Francisco. As he gears up to join us in Durban for AIDS 2016, he explains his inspiration behind the design and shares his hopes for its impact.
Using design to support causes I care about has defined my career as a designer. Earlier in my career I worked for Fenway Health, which does excellent work in HIV and AIDS and LGBT health through its health centers and also its research arm, The Fenway Institute. At Fenway, I had the privilege of collaborating with people on the front lines of important HIV and AIDS education, prevention, and treatment—issues that were already important to me as a gay man. They helped me form a deeper understanding of HIV and AIDS at community and global levels, and I helped them use design to connect with program audiences and goals.
I have stayed close to Fenway as a supporter, and when a former colleague—an amazing research nurse and force of nature named Vanessa—told me about the contest, I knew I had to participate. I knew it was an opportunity to have my work be part of a global conversation about an issue I care deeply about.
I knew I wanted to design something that reflected the arts and culture of the host country, South Africa. As I researched the country’s art history, I was struck by patterned baskets woven by South African artisans. For a traditional art form, the geometric patterns still feel contemporary and bold.
And as a metaphor, the baskets speak directly to the collaborative spirit of the HIV community. Basket weaving is often a communal activity, and as someone who has worked on HIV issues, I believe strongly that community—through activism, advocacy, education, and research—is what makes all of the progress we have made against HIV.
I hope my design has done the South African local arts scene justice, and I hope that when people look at the AIDS 2016 logo, they feel connected to that community and feel inspired to take their place in it.
Creating the logo for AIDS 2016 has been one of the biggest moments in my career to date, and I can’t wait to join that community again in Durban for AIDS 2016.
I believe we are at a pivotal moment in the history of HIV and AIDS. My work has taught me that we all have skills that can contribute to the fight against the AIDS epidemic.