Harry Pearce is partner at the world-renown design firm Pentagram and sits on the WITNESS Advisory Board. Harry has helped create WITNESS’ brand identity since the earliest days of the organization. In the interview below, we share a behind-the-scenes look at what Harry and his team have done for WITNESS in 10 years of design for our Focus For Change Benefits.

Peter Gabriel and Harry Pearce
Peter Gabriel and Harry Pearce. Photo courtesy Pentagram

What year did you first get involved with WITNESS and how did you get introduced to the organisation?  It was serendipity actually. In 1993 – a year after WITNESS was founded – I got a call from Camille Massey, who at the time was working for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) in New York. It turned out she was looking for a designer to create a new identity for LCHR and Peter Gabriel had suggested me. Camille and I met when she was passing through London after a trip to The Hague and we started working together. It was through LCHR that I saw the first WITNESS film Peter made with [the advertising agency] TB Chiat Day. The power and simplicity of the film, and Peter’s idea of ‘Little brother turning the cameras back on big brother’ was impossible to ignore. I offered, pro bono, all the visual support he needed to bring his idea to life. Since then, we’ve created largely all graphic things WITNESS require. It was, and often still is part of our daily studio life.

Can you describe what your role is for the Focus for Change Benefit? We create the visual identity that represents the focus of the evening. A core motif from which invites, posters, brochures and sometimes the decor are derived. Sometimes we focus in on specific individuals or contexts and sometimes it’s on a theme. It’s a continuation of our early work where we would design graphic material to support films and campaigns launched through WITNESS.

Where do you start? The WITNESS team sends through the raw material, such as the human rights stories or data that they want to be featured. I try to find the most direct, moving and simplistic graphic language to connect these with the public. I pair down everything, creating an honest reflection of the content in the most economic style possible.

What is your creative process? I believe ideas find us. Our job is to be open and mindful, tuned in for every little clue. Answers are constantly around and the more you allow the creative process to be intuitive the more powerful it becomes. WITNESS is a hunt for a truth, and I try to express that ‘truth’ as movingly as I can.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve created for WITNESS The real satisfaction comes from the complete relationship and its longevity. And hopefully, I have helped. If I had to choose one piece it would be the Burma poster, the effect it had was fantastic. I remember when Sam Gregory [WITNESS’ program director] emailed telling me to watch the news, seeing the poster being marched down streets in different countries as a banner for protest – it was such a great feeling. It proved ideas have their own trajectory. It was incredible seeing a little idea in London suddenly move people all over the world.

Do you often work with nonprofits?  Before WITNESS I worked with lots of nonprofits. But when I made my commitment to Peter, I stopped all the other nonprofit work so I could really concentrate on WITNESS. Now I’m able to occasionally help others, but I could not have given so much time for so long if I had others in constant demand.

What’s the benefit to working with organizations like WITNESS? WITNESS is my balance. Being able to live a creative life is a profound privilege. If I can pay this back by giving my creative skills to an idea as worthwhile as WITNESS, it levels me.

Which WITNESS campaign have you connected with the most? My whole relationship with WITNESS feels very personal. From the ups and downs of its beginnings, to its wonderful successes, they’ve all ‘hit home’ over the years. WITNESS is deeply part of my life.

The following is a gallery of the posters and artwork that Harry and his team have created for all 10 of WITNESS’ Focus For Change Benefits.  The extended captions are Harry’s reflections on the creative process behind each of the posters. 

Here are some additional “working roughs” or concept developments for the 2006 Burma poster.

Featured image: Harry Pearce participating in an online Q&A about his work with WITNESS earlier this September. Photo courtesy Nick Turner/Pentagram. 

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