As of August 2015, more than 293,000 people had made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, fleeing from war, conflict and persecution. Countries like Turkey and Greece, still reeling from domestic crises of their own, were faced with thousands of migrants seeking refuge. Slow to react, local and national governments debated and negotiated, but citizens of these countries began to take action, offering shelter, food, and clothes to the otherwise resourceless refugees. This extraordinary hospitality displayed by ordinary citizens inspired designers Tahnee Pantig, Roya Ramezani and Lijia Yang to create Plus, a global symbol of support for the European migrant crisis.
While their early concepts focused on products for refugees and hosts, the designers were repeatedly struck by the impact of the crisis beyond Europe’s borders. As the designers spoke with organizations working to match hosts and refugees, such as Refugee Welcome, UNHCR and the Red Cross, they learned that significant resources were directed towards publicizing the organization’s mission. With so many around the world wanting to support the cause, Plus grew into an initiative designed to amplify and channel this generosity into broad and sustained support for the migrant community.
The designers conceived of Plus as a means to visibly signal solidarity, financially support the ongoing efforts of aid organizations and build a community of “hosts” worldwide, giving activists a sense of agency regardless of their location.
The designers conceived of Plus as a means to visibly signal solidarity, financially support the ongoing efforts of aid organizations and build a community of “hosts” worldwide, giving activists a sense of agency regardless of their location. The foundation for Plus’ efforts is an iconic pendant, designed to be worn as a necklace or pin. The purchase of a Plus pendant is a donation to support organizations on the ground, as well as a way to increase awareness and build a visible community. “In the same way that wearing a Livestrong bracelet demonstrates support for cancer patients and wearing (RED) products promotes the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, the Plus pendant serves as a symbol of one's commitment to the plight of refugees and migrants,” says Pantig, “Plus signals something about who you are and what you believe in.”
But the designers felt strongly that Plus go beyond the physical dimension. "One of the challenges of charitable giving is the lack of ownership and control over one’s donations. With Plus, we wanted people to see the direct impact they could have on the movement," says Ramezani. A unique code on each pendant unlocks an online component, which would allow users to specify the way the proceeds from their purchase. The website also includes other ways that donors can get involved: Europeans can work with a local partner to host people in their homes, and people around the world can donate funds or items such as toys, clothes and food.
The migrant crisis calls for a new type of hospitality, and the designers propose partnering with an organization like Airbnb for a video series that would help to spread the message.
The Plus pendant has a unique shape that was informed by the idea of being able to take a small unit and put multiples together to create a larger unit. This acts as a metaphor for the impact that can be created by large numbers of users committing to being hosts. Since the visibility of the pendant is important, it can be worn around the neck, as a bracelet or attached to a set of keys or a cellphone. Material choices were informed by the sense that the Plus pendant should be treasured. “The luster and weight of metal has a higher perceived value than plastic, for example,” says designer Lijia Yang, “By fabricating the Plus pendants in rose gold and silver, we hope users will feel like they could hold on to this pendant for a long time.”
With accessibility to the product critical to the success of Plus, the pendants would be sold at brightly colored vending machines strategically located in busy transit hubs, thereby associating the Plus brand with notions of travel and migration, but also a sense of agency and urgency. The pendant would be sold at an affordable price point in singles or in doubles. By selling in doubles, Plus hopes to follow the "buy one give one" model, prompting buyers to share their commitment to the cause.
Moving forward, Plus would like to develop its partnerships by creating limited-edition pendants for each of the partner organizations, among other initiatives. Plus believes that the migrant crisis calls for a new type of hospitality, and proposes partnering with an organization like AirBnb for a video series that would help to spread this message. The designers would also like to explore possibilities for a social media campaign and a guerrilla campaign that expands on the possibilities for unique, accessible, physical touchpoints.