How design influences politics

When you think back to the culture of the last four years, it’s likely that some of the first things that spring to mind will be some of the major political changes the world has been through. Yes, I’m talking Trump. Yes, I’m talking Brexit.

With change having the ability to insight everything from hope to anger to fear, it's become increasingly important for the public to engage, have an opinion and be “in the know”.  The rise of social media has played an important part in addressing these issues over the last ten years and never has it been easier for a creative campaign to have impact. Graphic design has played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times, and quite simply, one design can change the face of a campaign forever.

Design is always political.

Mike Monteiro, How to Fight Fascism talk

The Design Museum’s exhibition, ‘Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18’ brings to life the connection sharply. It showcases a range of design work and creative campaigns that have influenced the way we respond to world leaders, party policies and global crises. The earliest work featured is from 2008; by no coincidence a year of financial crisis and the Occupy movement. It was also the year that the Obama campaign started. Shepard Fairey’s ‘Hope’ poster became an iconic part of the campaign, highlighting Obama in a graphic stencil style, emblazoned with the word hope in bold typography. As a Street artist, Fairey’s creation was originally underground, but soon became an influential part of the campaign, showcasing the possibilities of simple design that inspires and provokes.

The context of design also plays an important factor in its impact. The rise of technology has allowed everyone to take part in the creative debate and, as Fairey’s poster demonstrates, simple ideas and fast execution can at times have exponential impact. That means coordinated campaigns with money put behind them can sit alongside emotional lo-fi projects that escalate. Who the design comes from is of course also vital context. In a world of increasing transparency, Government-funded campaigns risk parody immediately and propaganda is quickly assessed.  

At the Design Museum, they showcase the evolution of graphic design in the political context under three sections; Power, Protest, Personality. These themes provide some useful food for thought to further explore the connection between design and persuasion.

POWER - looks directly at how graphic design can make or break our interpretation of claimed power. One example was how Trump’s logo was easily reappropriated to display a swastika-like symbol and then used as a cause for concern amongst opponents. But can graphic design really influence power? It wasn’t enough for Clinton and her “I’m with her” visuals or to ‘RemaIN’. 

PROTEST – looks at the importance of visual language and the evolution of tools utilised – from stylised placards during Suffragette protests, to emblazon pins, badges and t-shirts as part of fashionable attire. It is clear that the eclectic visual language of protest has now integrated itself into popular culture, creating the ability to promote and pass on messages via mainstream methods.  The importance of this simple alignment has allowed protest to work its way into our everyday lives.

PERSONALITY – looks at how design has the power to change the way we feel about someone and even the ability to change the perception of the general public. Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 grassroots political campaign clearly engaged young supporters with the Corbyn Nike T-shirt, Jeremojis and video game. By aligning himself with today’s youth, it promoted the counter-culture personality that many felt represented change. Corbyn’s ability to swing the younger generation to vote showcased the need for personality and engagement via technology is important than ever.

It’s clear to see in this day and age that design has an important role to play in politics going forward. One person can cause a rippling effect in activism and forever change the destiny of a country. As social media and technology continues to grow, it’s vital that politicians and world leaders strategise their marketing plan and reach a broader demographic. Propaganda has long been used as a method for this but with the millennial age so used to consuming, design has to develop to be more cutting and attract on a large scale. Likewise for those protesting against it. A placard is not a good placard if it’s not witty and visually appealing enough to be shared on social media. Visual material has a new currency and it’s down to the design to incur how people spend it.

Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 is open until 12 August at the Design Museum, London.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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