There have been many iconic political design images over the decades ranging from Saatchi and Saatchi’s ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ poster featuring a long line of people queuing for the Unemployment Office (now infamously resurrected for the Brexit campaign with immigration as its focus) to Shepard Fairey’s ‘Hope’ poster for the Obama campaign.
The history of political design shows a broad development from early notices in town squares, through to the text heavy design in the 19th century and then on to a more image and slogan based focus in the 20th century and beyond. At its core, political design always comes back to the fundamental idea of delivering a message by conveying a certain viewpoint to a mass audience.
The Hope to Nope exhibition at the Design Museum in London explores how graphic design and technology have played a pivotal role in dictating and reacting to the major political moments of our times.
Graphic design in the form of internet memes, posters and protest placards is being used by the marginalised and powerful alike to shape political messages like never before. From the Arab Spring, to ISIS, Brexit and Trump, the exhibition explores the numerous ways graphic messages have challenged, altered and influenced key political moments.
The show is split into three sections: Power, Protest and Personality. Power looks at how graphic design asserts and subverts power, exploring the design of propaganda, election campaigns, brands and borders. The Protest section is split into two “styles”, one being collective protest, where participants adopt a symbol, colour or slogan, and its impact is in the repetition on a mass scale. In contrast, the show also presents the eclectic visual language of protest, the many styles of placards, T-shirts, badges, and more, that show individual creative expression. Lastly, in Personality, the show looks at how graphic design idolises and demonises political figures.
The exhibition is particularly fascinating when it moves beyond traditional political material like placards and explores cutting edge analysis like the data portraits of Five Political Leaders based on social media conversations about them during the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018. It is also particularly poignant to explore how technology has moved so quickly in the field of political campaigning as it just hammers home how out of date our electoral laws are in the UK and what a challenge it will be for them to keep pace with these changes. This is reinforced by a recent report by the Electoral Commission which you can read in full here.
‘Diverse and provocative’ The Times ★ ★ ★ ★
‘Placards that fizz with visceral anger’ The Guardian
Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 is on at the Design Museum, London until 12 August 2018. designmuseum.org
The ‘It’s Nice That’ podcast episode on ‘Political Design’ explores Hilary Clinton’s ‘H’ logo and the Green Party’s ‘Secret life of 5 year old politicians’ campaign. It’s well worth a listen: radiowolfgang.com/s/the-it’s-nice-that-podcast/political-design