June 12th, 2007
Oh, crap, I can’t help myself. I have to comment. There are a lot of Donald Sterling ads that run in the paper every week and I just can’t discuss every one. But this is nuts. (See the Donald Sterling Graphic Design Foundation if you haven’t yet, and join our cause.)
I know my criticisms of Donald T. Sterling Corporation have all been graphic design related, but I have to take a little spin through the content of this ad. (I’ll comment on the design too, if you can bear wading through some actual substantive issues.)
For many years I worked as a counselor, activist and program manager in homeless services. (I had always been involved in art and design on the side and eventually switched to doing design full time.)
Honestly, I don’t know the full background story behind Mr. Sterling’s homeless service center. Judging by a quick spin around the net, nobody else does either. I generally bristle when people who are not a part of the homeless or social service community step in and try to fix everything. There are many plans and proposals that have been developed and ignored. And in these plans there are a couple of findings that are very clear. The number one thing we need is permanent housing, preferably with support services. Sure it is nice to have another service center, but these centers just become warehouses (or concentration camps) unless there is a place for people to go. And another important issue is that we need many decentralized locations for services. Every community has homeless people and people from every community become homeless. Sending everyone downtown is not a great solution.
But really, my biggest complaint about large facilities like the one proposed is that they can be hell for people. Imagine checking in to a great big facility like this — would you be scared? What if you were not at your best because of your health, mental health or just the troubling circumstances of being homeless? And the very existence of these places is often used as a justification for police sweeps and harassment.
Ok, enough ill-informed whining and criticism. I actually commend Donald Sterling for putting his money and reputation on the line and for trying to do something for Los Angeles. I hope he addresses all of the concerns that the community may have regarding a facility like this so that it will fill a real practical need. And I know he has some hard work ahead. He’s at least trying to do something great and he deserves our support.
Which brings us to his horrible ads in the LA Times again! Assuming this service center and his intentions are all well placed, how is this ad going to help him? He boldly tells us “The Homeless Need Your Help.” It is not clear but it looks like Sterling is posing as the homeless person who requires the help, or I guess he is just posing as the person who is bringing us the news (with a smile on his face). And then the ad describes the plans. What can you do if you want to help? You can write a letter and snail mail it to the address listed. Or maybe that’s how to request services. It is not really clear because the text is just a jumble of incomplete sentences. The only thing that is clear from the ad — from the giant Donald Sterling head to the giant “Sterling Homeless Center” on the building” — is that this homeless service center is really all about one thing: Donald T. Sterling.
Ok, this is not just a design issue. The ad is less ugly than most of the ads running lately. But it is just a poorly executed PR move. If he was actually paying someone to do the ads, maybe he or his people would proof read them and consider if they were actually promoting him and his cause. Even if these ads are free to him, they are hurting him (and everyone who looks at them) more than they are helping.