Design as Activism Research

As we (as a group) have decided on deforestation as the centre focus of our animation, we now need to complete more in-depth research around the subject in order to gain a true understanding of what is happening in the world regarding deforestation. There is also a need to research around the subject to see ways of communicating issues such as this to people and examples of good work.


What is deforestation?

Deforestation. Verb

  1. to divest or clear of forests or trees.

National Geographic:

‘Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but swaths half the size of England are lost each year.’

‘The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.’


‘Forests cover 31% of the land area on our planet. They produce vital oxygen and provide homes for people and wildlife. Many of the world’s most threatened and endangered animals live in forests, and 1.6 billion people rely on benefits forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter.

But forests around the world are under threat from deforestation, jeopardizing these benefits. Deforestation comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber, and degradation due to climate change. This impacts people’s livelihoods and threatens a wide range of plant and animal species. Some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.’

Reasons for deforestation?

Of course not all deforestation is man made. Sometimes deforestation occurs due to wild fires. However, man made reasons include, conversion to agriculture; as the population increases, there is obviously a need for more food, there has also been an increase in the demand for soy and palm oil, therefore as a result more land is needed for farming. Another reason includes illegal logging; when individuals remove trees from protected areas or take more than what they are permitted to take, which increases the severity of the issue. Finally fuel wood harvesting is another reason; wood is still a popular fuel choice.

What are the effects of deforestation?


‘Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink-soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns. Deforestation undermines this important carbon sink function. It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation.’

Impacts include:

  • Reduced biodiversity – about 80% of the worlds documented species live in rainforests, lack of forests pose a risk to their lives, which could lead to extinction.
  • Increase in greenhouse gas emissions – trees take in greenhouse gases helping to reduce the amount within the atmosphere, by cutting them down they are not only unable to take in the emissions they also contribute to giving off emissions through burning etc. This also poses a risk to the amount of oxygen produced.
  • Disruption of water cycles – trees help to keep the balance of water on the ground and water in the atmosphere. Without trees that balance can be disrupted causing changes in precipitation and river flow.
  • Increased soil erosion – without trees to anchor fertile soil, erosion occurs and sweeps the land into rivers. Without fertile soil, farmers cannot grow their crop meaning they will move on to the next patch of land, resulting in more trees being lost, continuing the cycle.
  • Disrupted lives – people who rely on the forest for food etc. can be forced to lose their homes and are often lured to work in plantations, potentially under inhumane conditions – this has been the case in Brazil.

National Geographic:

‘Deforestation can have a negative impact on the environment. The most dramatic impact is a loss of habitat for millions of species. Eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes.

Deforestation also drives climate change. Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover, they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts.

Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day, and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperature swings that can be harmful to plants and animals.

Trees also play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere—and increased speed and severity of global warming.’

What are the solutions?

  •  Look out for the FSC label – this means that the product has been made with materials from responsibly managed forests.
  • Plant a tree – leave a legacy.
  • Opt for paperless services for example; banks statements etc.
  • Recycle and buy recycled products.
  • Donate to certified charities specifying in this issue.


From my research it is clear to see the severity of the issue and how much of an impact deforestation has on the world. The effects are irreversible and can have a detrimental impact on future generations. At the current rate of deforestation, it is estimated that forests will disappear in a 100 years. If everyone made small changes in their daily lives then this statistic can change.

Animation/ Video Examples:

Example 1: The Forest


I have watched a few animations on the subject of deforestation and this is by far the best video I have seen. I like its simplicity and its focus. Its focal point is the earth in the centre of the screen which rotates and reveals something different with each new fact or piece of information. The shapes built up to make the images are simple, but easily and instantly recognisable, they have a distinct style to them, which I quite like. The music accompanies the animation well and visual elements accompany the voiceover well, clearly informing the viewer of the facts. I do not like the voice of the voiceover as it sounds to inhuman and doesn’t make it sound real – it doesn’t fully grab me.

This to me demonstrates the importance of having strong audio to accompany the visuals. I do however, like the transition from one fact to the next, with the pivoting earth working in its favour. I also think that having the statistics come up on the screen boosts the visuals within the animation and does embed the information in the viewer. I like it because it is a video that actually made me realise the severity of the issue and made my stomach sink a little.

The downside to the video in my opinion is that it does not have a narrative to it and therefore there is no solution – by altering these small amendments I think that this video could really pull people’s attention.

Example 2: LEGO: Everything is not Awesome

The reason I chose to review this video is because of how impactful I found it. Although it is not an animation as such the message behind it is so clear and powerful that it does not need facts and statistics on the screen or as a voiceover. The remixed song of ‘Everything is Awesome’ definitely adds to the overall experience. But what I love most is its simplicity and the effectiveness within that. The message at the end underpins the video and makes it stick in the viewers mind to think about. The careful consideration of the lighting and lack of vibrancy already determines the atmosphere of the video, it is gloomy and sad – something to consider within our own animation.

Example 3: Dear Future Generations: Sorry

This is not an animation. It is a video of a man talking about climate change and environmental issues. There are some animations within it, which help to create a visual for the viewer. But the reason I like this video so much is because of the way in which he talks and engages with the viewer. It is like he is talking to you on an individual level. From the beginning, you cannot take your eyes away. He really manages to capture the essence of the issue and make people think about it. Trying to capture an audience like that is by no means easy – especially when its regarding an issue as big as this, yet he manages to do it.

I do think that the location of the video, the music, the rhythm and pace in his speech and the visual aids of the typography and animations all work together coherently taking in the viewers attention. It is almost like listening to a poem or rap and I think its this that makes it work so strongly because the message becomes more memorable and stays with the viewer for longer.

Example 4: Shape

This is an animation and I really like it because of its simplicity. The animator has chosen a limited colour scheme, with each change of colour representing a new setting and has used very simple shapes to build up his images. This simplicity definitely works in the animations favour in my opinion because it is more memorable to the viewer as the shapes are easily recognisable. I think that the music and sound effects work seamlessly with the animation and really makes it come to life. I do think that it is a little confusing, as I didn’t understand what was really happening and what the animation was about until the end. This made everything clear to me. Although that is a down side, the good thing was that I didn’t want to stop watching it because it was so engaging and pleasing to view.

Example 5: Alzheimer’s Nederland

This is one of the simplest animations I have seen and with that one of the most powerful. It is an animation that focuses around typography and how that type disappears in order to highlight the effects of alzheimer’s. It really is a powerful piece in my opinion and one that demonstrates the power of typography and how that can be used to create a visual message. The word ‘alzheimer’ already tells the viewer what the video is about, but the disappearing of the letters, allows the viewer to feel or gain an understanding what it is like to have the illness. This then allows people to empathise, rather than sympathise, which can alter the way they go about the subject. The use of just black and white also adds to the piece, it does not need colour as I think that would detract from the animation on the whole.

Example 6: Communication is Aid

This animation is not as simple as some of the others I have looked at. However, what I really like about this one are the transitions that occur when moving from one part of the story to another. It flows so effortlessly that it makes it a pleasure to watch and makes you want to keep watching. The message within it comes through clearly, with the voiceover aiding the visual side of it. They have used a very limited colour palette of black, white, red and blue. I think the colour choice is smart, especially with the red and blue because the red can be used to highlight danger, whereas the blue can be used to highlight calm and safety, they contrast one another to help enforce what is being said. Although this is a slightly more complex animation, the shapes and style used are quite simplistic and easy to understand – it can be shown in multiple countries and people will still understand the underpinning message. I do wonder however how strong the animation would be without the voiceover?

Behavioural Science/ Psychology:

Although researching about deforestation and examples of animations is key for the project (because that’s the subject choice and what we’re doing) I thought that it would be a good idea to gain an insight into what gets peoples attention and how you can change people’s behaviours (when it comes to campaigns to do something positive in response). What I find is that there are so many campaigns and videos out there about environmental issue and so many of them go unnoticed or just don’t reach out to anyone. It is trying to break through that and gain some attention.

One article I read on the Guardian titled; How the science of behaviour change can help with sustainability, by Les Robinson, Triple Pundit and the Guardian Sustainable Business Network, looked into behavioural science and what is known to work/ not work. Some of the key points taken from the article include:

  • People change their behaviour for themselves if they are given a safe environment to do so in.
  • The converted want to change the world. The majority just want incremental improvement to their lives, which we must respect. It is about allowing people to make changes that do not push them too far out of their comfort zone; that’s why successful climate change programs give people comfortable homes they’re proud to show off.
  • Rather than asking ‘How can I make the public share my  passionate concerns for climate change etc.’ ask ‘How can I be of service to the concerns they already have?’
  • Threats rarely work.
  • Incentives can work but can also work against – they are a two edged sword. So, the question we could ask is: what story does our particular incentive tell the receiver? Does it say, ‘We recognize your extraordinary motivation.’ Or, does it say, ‘We doubt you really care, that’s why we’re paying you.’
  • People are rarely convinced by messages. They are usually convinced by inspiring, real life stories of their peers.
  • Stories are our best tools. They should be short, emotional, surprising, concrete and believable.

A second article I read was found on Forbes titled; Want People To Care About Climate Change? Get Them To Think About Their Grandkids, by Peter Ubel. There was one key element that I took from this article which was a study conducted by Lisa Zaval, published in Psychological Science,which primed participants to conjure specific thoughts before assessing their attitudes towards a seemingly unrelated topic. An easy example of this is when asked to name the colours of a chess board and then asked to name an animal in Africa, the likely answer is zebra because the colours black and white are already primed in the participants mind from the chess board.

In Zaval’s study people were asked to write an essay about their legacy. More specifically it was about ‘what they want to be remembered for by future generations’. The people who wrote the essay expressed willingness to donate money to charities dealing in global warming and would purchase ‘green products’. From this researchers gave participants a chance to win a $10 lottery and asked them how much of the $10 they would be willing to donate to an environmental charity. Participants who wrote about their legacy were willing to pay on average one dollar more than participants who had not written about their legacy.

I found this result to be really interesting, because when people are primed to think of something they are more willing to make a more significant change. I think that when people make a personal connection with the subject matter, they are more willing to make a change.

Overall from reading both articles I think that in regards to the animation there should be a narrative that people can create a connection with and by making them think of something like a legacy it provokes them to make sustainable changes to benefit their loved ones for the future. I think that we should stay clear from scaring people into doing something because people will repel from the message.

In regards to deforestation, leaving a legacy could include planting a tree. It may not seem like much but there are over 7 billion people on earth and if every person planted a tree then that would mean over 7 billion trees have the potential to grow and flourish. Or if everyone opted to paperless services then that would equate to x number of trees being saved each year etc.




Author: marislathamgraphics

I am a student at Cardiff Metropolitan University studying BA Hons Graphic Communication.

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