Corona Diaries: The Spiky Blob – Branding the Coronavirus

The day after the CDC launched its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins were asked to make an illustration of the virus to give it an identity. Something eye-catching to get the public’s attention which could be used as the ‘face’ of the epidemic.

As CDC medical illustrators, they use art to make difficult medical concepts more accessible. They’ve created images for viruses before like Zika and Ebola, so this was a regular job and they weren’t expecting their work to go global. But, as the pandemic spread, the image started to show up on screens everywhere, “it started popping up around the world.”

I can’t remember the branding for Zika and Ebola – just did a quick Google search – ah, the red mosquito, but this coronavirus, with its red spikes, orange and yellow crumbs has burrowed into my brain. I’m not dreaming about it yet, but I am hypnotised when the news comes on. It also pops into your head at random moments like when someone invades your personal space or when you reach for something in the supermarket – a reminder to be careful as viruses can live on surfaces for up to three days. Doktor Zoom has been photoshopping it into all the images of Donald Trump…

How did they do it? They took a different approach to create this image – a detailed solo ‘beauty shot’ to highlight one virus and bring it to life. The texture and shadows give it depth and you can imagine how spiky it feels. It also had to work with other branding materials for COVID-19 so they chose red/grey with orange/yellow dots as it was the most arresting, “it just really stood out.”

“The novel coronavirus, like all viruses, is covered with proteins that give it its character and traits. There are the spike proteins, or S-proteins — the red clusters in the image — which allow the virus to attach to human cells. Envelope or E-proteins, represented by yellow crumbs, help it get into those cells. And membrane proteins, or M-proteins, shown in orange, give the virus its form.”

It’s an iconic image and the most powerful piece of branding so far in 2020. How remarkable that it was created in just a week.

A visual reminder to #StayHomeStaySafe. Alissa is happy that “it’s out there doing its job.”

I’ve used it to illustrate my Corona Diaries posts – here’s the full credit info: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

More on her work at CDC in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zszPyKtBVJg&feature=youtu.be

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