Re 39 Mistranslations

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Director
    Shannon Bell
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Directors
    Sumita Maharaj, Jane Duru (Copy Director)
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Members
    Annabel Cook, Michelle Mondel, Chantelle Micallef

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, good communication was critical, yet miscommunication and misinformation were rife. In Australia, media reported that some official COVID-19 messaging had been translated using Google Translate instead of accredited translators. Nonsensical messaging for non-English speaking communities resulted, disempowering already vulnerable people.

39% of Australians are culturally and linguistically diverse (Diversity Arts Australia) and this group is more likely to suffer chronic illnesses and miss out on important health information due to low engagement. We wanted to bring awareness to this critical issue, which is one that unfortunately predates the pandemic.

Using Melbourne Design Week’s brief ‘Design the world you want’ and the theme of ‘Care’, we set an open brief to engage linguistically diverse creatives to reimagine COVID-19 messaging in their own language. This grassroots approach actively engaged those impacted by messaging blunders to help create a solution and bring attention to the issue.Our vision was to amplify vulnerable voices with a public poster exhibition. To do this, we needed to excite creatives with a branded brief where the identity playfully engages with the concept of mistranslation.

We created a microsite and Instagram account to house our brief and shared it with design studios, creatives and community organisations working with linguistically diverse creatives.

Our identity playfully engages with the concept of mistranslation. We did this by harnessing and distorting the universal language of symbolism. In motion, the Mistranslations wordmark becomes impossible to read as mismatched symbols and letters from different alphabets tick over, while bespoke sticker icons pile up to reference the overload of confusing messaging seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The bespoke sticker icons were carried through to exhibition signage and were used to indicate which posters were sold on the night. Complimented by a striking, bright colour palette, the identity intrigued creatives looking to take part and excited our exhibition audience.

We utilised a utilitarian, direct style of messaging to mimic official government messaging, however made the messages intentionally confusing. Protective face masks, available on the night of the exhibition, were labeled with contradictory instructional information –‘maintain social distancing’ written so small that you would have to get closer than 1.5m to read it, while a tote bag tells you exactly what not to do in a pandemic –panic buy. Furthermore, symbols and instructions on in situ posters appear maze-like, confusing passers-by. The absurdity of the instructions is a tongue in cheek ridiculing of the poorly translated COVID-19 messaging that inspired the Mistranslations project. By creating this confusion, our identity bridges the gap of experience between linguistically diverse people who suffered because of messaging blunders and those who did not encounter any problems with accessing health information. The latter were able to experience a fraction of the confusion and frustration experienced by non-English speaking communities.