form 281

Fighting Aids

Text: Johanna Christner

Translation: Iain Reynolds

Few illnesses gained as much media coverage in the 1980s as the acquired immune deficiency syndrome or Aids for short. In 2017, around 37 million people worldwide were HIV-positive.

But thanks to combination therapies, they cannot only survive but also keep symptoms largely at bay. Nonetheless, an effective vaccine remains elusive and the illness still claims around two million lives every year. The search for a vaccine therefore goes on, but the fight against Aids also encompasses prevention strategies and measures to combat the discrimination often experienced by sufferers. The following projects give an example how design is tackling these issues.




According to Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education, more than 1.8 million people in Russia are infected with HIV – and that number is on the rise. Instead of working to prevent the virus’s spread via public health campaigns, the Russian state chooses to preach abstinence and faithfulness. Just 17 to 26 per cent of those infected have access to antiretroviral treatment, a figure that is significantly below the global average of 46 per cent. Headed by journalist Anton Krasovsky, the Aids Center Moscow is a non-governmental organisation offering support for sufferers amidst all the discrimination. The NGO recently gained a new visual identity developed by Moscow-based branding and design agency Shuka Design. Designed by Ekaterina Sedunova and Mary Yudina with creative direction by Ivan Velichko, the new identity with its red horse motif takes its cue both from the familiar red ribbon symbol and from a painting by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. The horse represents death, though here it is being tamed by the riders. The latter are highly diverse, echoing the diversity of HIV sufferers, but united in their struggle against Aids.


Share the Love


Founded by Daniel Defert in 1984 after the death of his partner, the French philosopher Michel Foucault, Aides is now France’s largest HIV support organisation, with some 100 centres. One of its latest projects is the “Share the Love” campaign, which was devised by ad agency TBWA Paris and features artwork by illustrator Rod Hunt. With its slogan “Share the love but protect yourself, even when dating online”, it primarily targeted users of dating websites harnessing the viral nature of Twitter. Using the hashtag #sharethelove, a succession of attention-grabbing tweets were sent featuring explicit images that formed part of a larger scene. The tweets came from a mysterious account with the name Henry Ian Vernon – a breakdown of the acronym HIV. Anyone sharing an image from their own account received a message comparing the virality of the tweets with the virulence of HIV and calling on users to protect themselves. The campaign proved highly effective: not only did it generate tens of thousands of Twitter retweets and comments, it also won multiple awards at this year’s Cannes Lions.





Like many other life-threatening infections, HIV is treatable and not necessarily fatal if detected early. British industrial designer Hans Ramzan’s Catch could provide potential sufferers with a quick and easy way to test themselves. The device uses a three-stage testing procedure and, with its low production costs of just four pounds, is primarily aimed at people in developing countries with limited access to health-care facilities. After pulling a disinfected loop over their finger, the user pushes down on a pipette attached to the device, causing a needle to be inserted into the fingertip. The blood collected within is then checked for the presence of the virus and the result of the test displayed within minutes on an indicator similar to those seen in pregnancy tests. Catch has not yet gone into mass production, but such over-the-counter home tests have been available at German pharmacies since October 2018.





The first cases of the illness that would become known as Aids were reported in summer 1981 by the US health authority, after which the disease started to claim more and more lives, especially in big cities such as New York and San Francisco. America’s fight against Aids thus began comparatively early, as the establishment of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting Aids (DIFFA) in 1984 shows. Via annual charity events such as Dining by Design and Picnic by Design, DIFFA mobilises thousands of people from the design industry, using the proceeds to support organisations combatting HIV and Aids. We spoke to DIFFA’s CEO, Dawn Roberson, about her work.



How did it come to the formation of DIFFA?


DIFFA was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of twelve designers in New York. Led by Patricia Green and Larry Pond, they came together to address the growing crisis of this new disease, which had yet to be named. Since its founding, DIFFA has emerged from a grass-roots into a national organisation with chapters and community partners across the country that, working together, have provided more than 43 million US dollars to hundreds of HIV and AIDS organisations nationwide.



Why exactly is it the design industry that wants to fight HIV and build awareness around the disease?


HIV has had a major impact on the design industry and we have lost friends and colleagues to the fight. Therefore, even more than 30 years later we are still committed to an Aids and HIV-free generation. Today there are still more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in the US; 13 per cent of these infected individuals are unaware of their status. It is impacting communities across the world – especially marginalised communities. Design practitioners have the platform and resources to truly make a difference in the fight.



What is your vision for the future?


DIFFA funds a diverse group of organisations – from those who provide preventative education and care for at-risk youth to seniors living with HIV. We want to extend the message about our work and the difference we are making in these communities. We hope that, with our support and the support of the design industry, those who are working with at-risk populations can encourage more people to get tested and get treatment. Our goal is that we will see an Aids-free generation in our lifetime.


form 287
Women and Design

form Design Magazine

Grid one form287 cover 700px cover Order now


Verlag form GmbH & Co. KG
Sophienstraße 26
60487 Frankfurt am Main

T +49 69 153 269 430
F +49 69 153 269 431

Subscription Service

Questions to your subscription invoice, to our subscription program or a change of address?

T +49 69 153 269 438
F +49 69 153 269 439


Sign up now and get access to exclusive ticket draws, monthly news about the magazine as well as information on exciting design events and publications.

Sign up

Design Magazine
Established 1957