Martin Löfqvist and Isak Burström call this bit of brandjacking-with-a-conscience "donating your dotcom," and several large agencies in Sweden (including DDB, Garbergs, and Volontaire) have already joined in. It's easy to dismiss this as a crass manipulation of what Slate astutely dubs "the propaganda of concern" -- but look closer and you'll see it's not quite that simple. The donation overlay is hardly glossy and sexy-looking; in fact, it's so spartan that it almost looks amateurish. Unlike most pseudo-stealth marketing stunts, it doesn't include any logo or text from the site being obscured; in fact, the click-through link (to access the "real" site underneath) is so visually diminished compared to the donation button that a casual visitor might not even notice it. Overall, the effect is so earnestly lumpen that it almost looks like the site has been hacked without its owners' knowledge--which is probably the designers' whole point.
And the best part may be what happens when you click that big red button: the site launches an iTunes window with a grid of buttons in various dollar-amounts, all of which (at least to my admittedly un-expert reading of the fine print) appear to be "unrestricted" -- that is, the money you donate to the American Red Cross is not earmarked only for the Japan disaster, which, according to Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon, means that it may do much more good in the long run.
Design and disaster are an explosive mix, that's a fact. And even well-meaning efforts can backfire or offend as much as they help and inform. But whatever you think of Löfqvist and Burström's effort, we can probably all agree -- just as we said about other designers' efforts -- that the intention is sincere.