In 2014, wildland fire agencies documented incidents of unauthorized drones being flown over or near wildfires. In 2015, drone popularity increased and more incidents were documented. Unauthorized drone flights pose serious risks to firefighters and public safety, and they disrupt the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations. So, anticipating a significant increase in drone use in the following years, The U.S. Forest Service initiated a public education campaign including the development of the “If You Fly, We Can’t” poster.
When designing the poster, Mary Horning, art director/designer for the U.S. Forest Service, Office of Communication, Corporate and Digital Engagement, took visual inspiration from illustrated political posters while her message was influenced by a wildfire prevention icon of the past: Smokey Bear. With the timeless message of “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” Smokey Bear charged the American public to show personal responsibility in fire management, and Horning thought the same urgency and call for constraint applied to the present dangers of flying recreational drones over wildfires. Plus, she liked the juxtaposition of vintage World War II–style imagery to highlight modern technology.
The poster was provided to the 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands managed by the U.S. Forest Service to post on campground bulletin boards and in visitor centers, along with hobby shops and other stores that sold drones. Both the poster and message spread like wildfire on news media websites including BBC, CNN, The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg, Popular Science and Politico. Discussion threads on Reddit picked it up, and on social media it sparked funny memes including Yoda saying, “Fly Your Drone in a Fire Zone, You Will Not.” “When your work inspires Internet memes, you know you’ve arrived,” Horning jokes.
Horning says her favorite thing about working on this project was that a creative risk paid off : “I introduced a vintage-style poster for this campaign, which I think was a little counterintuitive to the modern technology issue. I think it surprised the client, but they found that it was an effective vehicle for their message.”
Title If You Fly, We Can’t | Design Firm U.S. Forest Service, Office of Communication, Washington, DC; www.fs.fed.us | Creative Team Mary Horning, art director/designer; Jennifer Jones, content strategist; Bob Roth, copywriter | Client Fire and Aviation Management