Rebels with a cause - the Designers Against Human Rights Abuses

At times, it’s easy to view graphic design as a way of prettifying the world – dressing up things to make them look appealing, usually in order to sell things. Every now and again, though, a project surfaces that shows that graphics can serve a more profound purpose.

DAHRA (Designers Against Human Rights Abuses is an ambitious project set up by graphic designer Rishi Sodha, aiming to raise awareness and funds for worthy human-rights causes. Its second project, 3 Minutes, is a collection of booklets in which Tibetan refugees tell their stories.

The twist? Each booklet is designed by a leading creative, with a special focus on typography and graphic innovation.

Sodha says that Tibetan human rights are central to DAHRA: “The original idea for DAHRA came when I was invited to photograph a lecture given by a Tibetan refugee. Her story was so harrowing and moving that I felt inspired to do something... It seemed a natural progression to combine my passion and skills as a designer with my heartfelt passions about such a worthy cause.”

For 3 Minutes, Sodha and a team of volunteers in India gathered a series of audio interviews with Tibetan refugees, asking the question, “What were the three minutes that changed your life?”. Each interview was itself around three minutes long. He then assigned interviews to a group of creatives hand-picked from DAHRA’s membership.

“DAHRA is lucky in the fact that we have a tremendous number of talented members,” says Sodha. “We felt that 10 stories would be ideal, and it was a matter of choosing the right contributors to bring them to life. From an earlier project, we invited back Alex Haigh [of Thinkdust], Nick Hard [of Research Studios], Stefan Gandl, and Si Scott, who are all known for their typographic excellence.”

They were joined by Bibliotheque, Brighten the Corners, Jeff Knowles (also of Research Studios), Un.titled, Paul Skerm, and Abbott Miller (of Pentagram).

“In their own right, they’re all regarded as some of the best designers and design agencies in the world, and are known for their typographic sensibilities,” he adds.

Sodha briefed the designers to fill the 14 free pages of their booklet with a type-based interpretation of the audio. He designed the covers and slipcase himself, creating a simple black design in which each booklet has part of a large number 3, so that when they’re put together in the right way the full number is revealed.

“I was keen that the covers and slipcase used a simple black and white colour palette, allowing our contributors’ work to really stand out in comparison. That’s not to say the covers are boring – in fact the abstract forms created by the broken-up ‘3’ really hold their own, but in a reserved way. It was a case of less is more,” he says.

The subject matter demanded careful handling: the project had to reflect and respect the plight of the Tibetans, while arriving at an end product that people would want to buy.

“Trusting in our contributors’ abilities, I was always sure the actual designs would be powerful. It was just a matter
of making the rest of the design respectful,” says Sodha.

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