The corruption game is as old as man. It’s everywhere. But nowhere accepts it quite like South Africa. After all, when everyone’s in on it, what option do we have?
Corruption Watch is a South African non-profit organisation that monitors and exposes those who abuse the power that’s been given to them. For an organisation this dangerous to wrongdoers, an annual report is more than just a white paper; it’s a weapon.
But how do you transform a seemingly innocuous document into a tool for change? How do you urge the person on the street to stop in their tracks and open the cover? When Corruption Watch tasked us with digitally and physically presenting its annual report, titled Accelerating Justice, this was our challenge.
The report is a culmination of the organisation’s 2022 work and includes everything from reviews and research to insights into anti-corruption campaigns. While the information is critical, it’s often not presented in an engaging, reader-friendly way. We needed to use the power of art and design to bring the report to life and make sure its message was seen and heard.
We wanted to do more than just inform readers; we wanted to piss people off. We drew inspiration from zines, the self-made political posters and publications of the anarchic 80s. Back then, if you had something to say, but no platform to raise your voice, you published a zine.
Zines were a way of expressing raw emotion and unorthodox opinions, with their rough-edged, DIY aesthetic and unapologetic attitude. They were also about authenticity – about rejecting the glossy, polished veneer of mainstream culture and embracing life’s messy reality. In South Africa, writers, photographers, and artists used zines to publish radical, non-racial, anti-apartheid content that called for change. Using art as a tool, zines expressed people’s pain, anger and frustrations. For Corruption Watch, we incorporated design features of these important cultural devices to give the report significance and urgency.
Our approach championed grungy graphics and over 20 meticulously crafted illustrations. We also developed a bold, gritty and arresting design language. We wanted to create an attention-grabbing report that spoke plainly and exposed the coarse and complex world of corruption.
With art direction that focused on gradients, heavy contrasts, and patterns, we added depth to the designs and gave them a rougher feel with a textured look. We presented the report in a magazine format, featuring striking images and bold headlines to bring the copy to life. The report heroed old-school visuals and provocative illustrations aimed at stirring emotions, depicting the corrupt and calling them out for what they are. Everything from DIY-style sketches and drawings to mini-comics and lines of poetry were used to elevate the pages. We scanned and photocopied official South African documents over and over again, degrading their visibility, and pasting bits of them throughout the report.
The torn edges and rough layers imitate the complex layers of corruption and the importance of what’s happening beneath the surface. The conspicuous blue and red colour palette signifies the harsh reality of corruption.
Grunge zine illustration isn’t just about being edgy or rebellious; it’s also about community. Zines were (and still are) a way for people to connect with like-minded individuals and share their thoughts and experiences. We inserted grainy, individually handmade cards into the printed report that tied into the zine messaging. Each card was unique, and on them was printed a QR code that lead to a whistle-blowing page on the organisation’s website. There, people could lodge issues, report instances of corruption, and make their voices heard. It’s a way for them to join the Corruption Watch cause and community.
Using techniques pioneered by past agitators, we gave rise to a new narrative; one that subverts honey-laced lies with truths well told. We differentiated Corruption Watch by presenting the report not as an academic document but as a relatable and familiar zine, to compel readers to scroll or flick through the vivid, tactile pages. Like the changemakers of the past, Corruption Watch has an important message to share. We created physical and digital platforms for it to expose its findings, while encouraging readers to join in and take a stand. By putting the tools of change in the hands of those hungry for it, you take the first step to fighting back.
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