Creating during a pandemic: the quest for the perfect recipe

Behind the scenes of designing the COVID-19 style guide - Transcript

We needed something that was like a brand that was elastic and flexible enough to stretch over

print and digital media

These designers worked strategically to put it together

Getting people to recognize the topic at a glance on one hand and not be too alarming on the

other hand

while overcoming the challenges of remote working

It’s been challenging for sure to kind of, you know, keep everything consistent and make sure

we are all on the same page and how we develop it moving forward

and it was a rewarding experience.

and you know what, I love working for the government!

Government of Canada


Being creative can be a challenge at the best of times and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like during a pandemic. Naturally, my curiosity led me to connect with Michel Pixel, Manager of Graphic Design Services at Health Canada, and his team of graphic designers to learn more. The team is behind the visual aspect of all the products being used across the Government of Canada (GC) in relation to COVID-19. I had the chance to chat with them virtually, as they shared with me their recipe for creating for a large-scale design during a pandemic.


Technology, organization, communication: these are the key ingredients that Michel’s team used to whip up a visual identity for the pandemic.

Lynn O’Connor, a graphic designer on the team, explained the fast-paced experience, “everything happened so fast. I don’t think anyone grasped the true magnitude of the situation and the extent to which we were going to be involved, but we started communicating quickly, and it all went pretty well, especially considering we weren’t even in our offices.” For Lynn, organization is paramount. Sound nomenclature, meticulous file management and clear templates have helped the team perform effectively during this time.

She stressed how important technology has been for keeping in touch with her colleagues. She’s thankful for coloration tools, which the team has been using for their online discussions.

For Liz Payne, another graphic designer on the team, being new to the public service made the situation particularly challenging. In spite of it all, she says unequivocally, “I love working in the GC!”


Michel explained, step by step, how the events unfolded.

“Everything started back in January, when the team received a request for products for travellers,” Michel explains. At this point his team had no idea what they were in for.

When they began receiving requests for social media images, they soon realized that they were going to have to come up with an entire visual identity, and on top of that, they realized they would have to do it quickly. Michel explained, “we knew we were going to need something adaptable, something that would work in print and digitally.” The goal was ultimately to find a visual identity that could easily be adapted to different messages and media.

Let’s get cooking!

In what had become a race against the clock, Michel’s team didn’t have the time to do a detailed search for visuals, which is what they would normally do at the beginning of the creative process. “We didn’t have the luxury of time to do that, but we did a lot of other research to be sure we understood the real representation of the COVID-19 virus,” explained Michel. They didn’t want to perpetuate fear in the public with the image, so they opted for an illustration rather than a photograph.

Ready or not, here I come!

After extensive consultations with other graphic designers from across the GC, Michel and his team released their template for testing. With consultations and minor adjustments, including important changes to ensure accessible colour contrasting, the COVID-19 Style Guide was well received by designers in other departments. “They were pleased with the simplicity of it,” Michel told us.

After our chat, Michel stressed the importance of having this type of open discussion with our graphic designer colleagues. With the large number of creative services teams across the GC, Michel believes it might be a good time to organize more events and activities to strengthen this community, and I can’t help but agree. Connecting with fellow designers helped get the creative juices flowing! 

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