Creative industries: Creating while surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

In a normal year, Felipe Guarin and Catalina Lotero would be working on the consolidation of their successful start-up in Japan, Colombia, or other parts of the world. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on creative industries, designers have had to adapt as many of their projects have been cancelled or put on hold. These two Colombian designers are experiencing the challenging but rewarding entrepreneurship path in Japan. They founded Whatever Works Design, an innovative company based in Tokyo and Bogotá with projects worldwide specialising in branding, art direction, and experience design. In May 2020, Guarin and Lotero were winners of the MIT Design Challenge, a virtual hackathon where contestants were given 48 hours to build a solution for the COVID-19 crisis.

The founders of Whatever Works Design and other winners of the MIT Challenge, caught the attention of the GLOCAL Experience Blog this summer. Guarin and Lotero spent some time video conferencing with us and shared their motivations, the winning idea, and perspectives on the upcoming challenges within the creative industries.


At the beginning of the year, Guarin and Lotero were able to feel COVID-19 creeping up on Japan. As Latin Americans, they worried about the effects this pandemic would have in Latin America. Guarin expressed, “In Colombia, there are villages without internet, electricity, and water. The effects of the pandemic would be devastating. Then, we started considering how we could contribute to stop the spreading of the virus in communities lacking essential public utilities.” Guarin and Lotero focused on the need to make communities aware of COVID-19 by demonstrating prevention strategies as well as the effects of the virus. They bring up the question, how do we provide reliable information to vulnerable communities, who do not have access to the internet and who lack knowledge about the virus?

Felipe Guarín & Catalina Lotero. Source: Forbes, May 27th, 2020

the winning idea

The journey started by identifying already existing distribution channels of big companies able to reach the most isolated communities. Lotero told us, “These companies have a bigger reach in Colombia than the internet does –almost everyone has access to rice, milk, beer, Coca-Cola, and cooking oil–. We identified commodities able to reach the most isolated communities and could carry the message.” Guarin and Lotero call this humanitarian branding, and are very familiar with this concept considering their recent project on HIV-prevention and the profound effect of medication through consolidated brands in the US.

The idea then began to focus on designing a graphic message and convincing companies to give up part of their labels to display that message. According to Guarin and Lotero, “Designing the message took a multidisciplinary approach – the designers used theories from marketing and communication studies, but also applied psychological theories to get the biggest reach.” Basically, commodities in rural communities arrived in a bulk presentation, which made it necessary to adjust the awareness campaign. Whatever Works Design is currently communicating with several companies regarding giving up room on their labels to spread information in communities where there is not access to the internet. The bigger the companies, the bigger the reach.

Example of a label integrating awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic & use of masks.
Source: Whatever Works Design LinkedIn
Example of a label integrating awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic & use of masks, printed on a package.
Source: Whatever Works Design LinkedIn

“We even question how to communicate prevention measures such as the use of masks to people who cannot read in rural Colombia,” Guarin said. During this process, Guarin and Lotero continuously tested their method by asking their family and friends as well as friends of people living in one of these communities in Colombia whether the messages were easily understandable. Designing a message that is universal and easy to understand to communicate the prevention measures was the point of success, said Guarin.

Guarin told us that this ‘humanitarian branding’ project has also been selected for the 2020 Dubai Design Week.

Example of a label integrating awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic & use of masks, printed on a can. Source: Whatever Works Design LinkedIn

Challenges within the creative industries

“This is a turning point for the creative industries,” said Guarin. More and more companies are asking themselves what their product is meant to do. Additionally, more and more companies want to become more ethical and more sustainable, and want to do some good in the world. Companies are using creativity to solve humanitarian problems. While they acknowledge that funding is an incredibly important part of the solution (money makes the world go round, after all), time from volunteers and collaborations with other businesses is invaluable under these special circumstances.

If you want to know more about Whatever Works Design and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at their website here.

Do you want to learn more information about their solution for the MIT challenge? Please take a look at this webpage.

Authors: Silvana A. Navarrete & Tynke Schepers