Brandy Martell’s Story

August 8, 2014 |  By Design Action Collective |  Categories: Case Studies

Brandy Martell’s Story, A Case Study of Design and Accountability

brandi-story.002Photo by Tiffany Woods.

Brandy Martell, a 37 years old transgender woman was gunned down and killed a few blocks from our office in Oakland in April 2012.

Brandy worked as a peer counselor at the Tri-City Health Center’s TransVision program, a local direct service and advocacy organization for transgender/transsexual women. She mentored transgender youth and tragically, also helped organize Transgender Day of Remembrance, to honor transgender slaying victims.

DA founder and designer, Inno, had been following websites around trans* issues. Because of the sheer closeness of this tragedy, he felt compelled to design a poster to not only commemorate Brandy, but that could also be useful for action around transgender violence.

He wanted to create something that not only had meaning for the community, but could be useful for advocacy, action or education.

Design Action has a philosophy and approach to how we try to stay accountable to a community which we offer support to. We think of it as activism versus our own self-expression.

Here is the process which we undertake when offering designs to support a community:

  • Discovery – We make contact with the organization to get more of the story, find out who is affected, and see if there is organizing taking place. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, then we look for other places that can fully utilize a design.
  • Art – What visual elements symbolize the person, the issue, or the emotion? How do they resonate with the audience?
  • Copy – What is the call? Is there more information that needs to be on the poster? What is the shelf life of the message?
  • Usage and Distribution – How will it get disseminated? How will this get produced?
  • Impact – Try to assess the effectiveness of the poster and document the uses.


Inno got in touch with Tiffany Woods who took the photo of Brandy circulating in the media, and who is Brandy’s former supervisor at Transvision.

He asked if they would have use for a poster if we created one. We want to make sure our work is useful and can be used for advocacy.

If he had just made a poster design and given it to them without being in consultation with the folks on the ground,  then there’s the chance that the messaging or image wouldn’t be as meaningful.

We have a responsibility to the community we are designing about, especially when working with invisible or misrepresented communities. Therefore it’s good practice to be in consultation with the people who are on the ground and experiencing these issues every day.


Inno started with the original photo and traced/illustrated it. He chose glittery/celestial patterns for texture and butterflies as a symbol for transformation. But it was important he asked Tiffany if it was appropriate, so as not to stereotype trans-women’s identities. Her friends did ask him to include Hello Kitty, which was a symbol that Tiffany was into.


Tiffany provided the copy to be used on the poster.

There was a discussion if there was a call to action, and deliberated about using the headline “Investigate Now” around her murder. Ultimately that was discarded for “Say No to Hate,” so that the poster would have a longer and more wide-spread “shelf-life” and become a rallying call across all trans* communities against violence.

Usage and Distribution

Inkworks Press, our sister shop and movement servicing press, donated the printing of the posters.There was a plan to be able to distribute the posters at the vigils, memorial, the Trans* March, and even at international events, like the World AIDS conference.





The beautiful image of Brandy has been repurposed for the invitation to her memorial. Since then, the community has used the poster as a tool to spread awareness of her murder and as a call against hate violence.


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