Rebranding the Bat /|\^·,·^/|\

DesignBats Image

North American bats are in serious trouble. Since 2007 more than five million of them have been killed by a disease called white-nose syndrome. Caused by the white fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, white-nose syndrome infects the skin of a bat’s muzzle, tail, ears, and wings while they are hibernating. Infected bats wake up prematurely and burn through their fat stores too quickly to survive the rest of the winter.¹

Whether eating mosquitoes or acting as pollinators, bats are a crucial part of our ecosystem. That’s why the College of Design’s designer-in-residence, Kelly Munson, asked faculty members and design students to help her raise awareness about the difficulties bats face by rebranding the bat.

Why did you decide to tackle the issue of bats and their decline?

“I’ve always been very empathetic to environmental issues so my ears pricked up when I started reading articles about the concerns scientists have for bats. It seemed like a problem that would be ripe for a designer to tackle because bats have a branding problem in addition to a scientific one. In order to get the general public to care about a species, they first have to find them acceptable. I thought this issue was similar to what we handle in the advertising business every day.”

DesignBats GraphicWhen considering solutions to environmental issues, design and design-thinking aren’t typically what come to mind. How would you challenge these notions?

“To me, design has always had one foot in the scientific world and one foot in the emotional world. Today it seems that designers are the perfect people to take intimidating data and translate it into something that people can understand and really start caring about.”

What do you see as the end result for this project?

“I’d love to move the needle and improve the public’s perception of bats. I think that dispelling the negative myths that surround bats and encouraging people to get to know bats and the benefits they bring would make for a better relationship between the two species.”

Design Bats InfographicWhat do you hope students get out of this experience?

“I hope they start to see design as a powerful tool to help tackle real societal problems and not just a decorative art. I also hope they learn how to work with professionals outside their discipline and realize that designers are great translators.”

The students’ work will be on display in the DesignBats exhibit from May 8 – 18th at the St. Paul Student Center’s Larsen Gallery. Celebrate the opening at the public reception on May 8th at 6 pm.

You can learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ website.


¹”White-nose Syndrome and Minnesota’s Bats,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 

All images courtesy of the DesignBatsUMN Instagram account.

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