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Designing a Political Statement

27th June 2018

Statement design doesn’t just occur through coincidences and happy accidents. It takes expert planning, thorough consideration and the perfect timing and platform. To give a recent example, it’s why Trumps decision to separate immigrant children from their parents has almost been overshadowed by his wife’s fashion choices; ironically Melania’s “I don’t care” jacket showed just how much she cared – just not about the topic we wanted.

Whilst many may wonder what the First Lady’s stylist was thinking, bold political statements like this have been made through designs for years and are typically regarded as propaganda. Propaganda is different from your usual advertising in that it’s often very emotionally charged, with loaded messages and a selective use of facts often making it quite controversial. Designers and illustrators often come out in force during times of political tension and use their creativity to make their own political statements. And with everyone from Time Magazine to Jim Carrey contributing commenting on the latest events, it’s fair to say the statement is strong.

Political statements in design can often be some of the most powerful; they are products of the passion that is felt about the issue as well as reflections of time itself. World War One saw what is perhaps the wildest use of political designs, with many icons such as Lord Kitchener still doing the rounds today. Unfortunately this propaganda was made by all parties – there’s a reason the swastika has just as much notoriety. The General Election of 1979 saw some of the most aggressive advert designs in political party campaigning, with the Saatchi brother’s “Labour isn’t working” poster being described as instrumental in the rise of Margaret Thatcher. The image’s play on the fear of job loss and double meaning of the title led to the fall of James Callaghan and Labour’s administration.

In addition to the boldness of political statements in design, there’s also the issue of permanence, in that long after the issue has come and gone, the connotations of you’ve expressed will linger. Take Lush for an example, the hand-made cosmetics brand, known for its ethics, organic products and rather elaborate bath bombs. This month the brand shed its squeaky-clean image by emblazoning its shops with “Police have crossed the line”, aimed at Spy Cops who they say are “paid to lie” and in turn, the police. The campaign received mixed reviews, with many saying the brand had gone too far, and although the adverts have since been removed, their anti-establishment connotation may be harder to wash off.

So should design be used to make political statements, given how impactful and long lasting the results can be? Our answer to that is yes. A picture is worth a thousand words – even if Melania could only be bothered to use six. The ignorance in deciding to wear this jacket is so great, it has people debating whether there’s more to it; does Melania genuinely have such little regard for the imprisoned children or is she trying to downplay her husband’s barbaric choices? Regardless the statement returned has been unanimous: People really do care.