A Designer’s Role in Political Times

Climate change protests continue to capture headlines, with protests against ecological destruction taking place across the world – the Extinction Rebellion protestors were recently camped on our front door on Oxford Street. But this new wave of protestors has evolved from times past and is now made up of media savvy and PR aware professionals.

With an in-house art group, made up of graphic and fashion designers, Extinction Rebellion creates passionate and emotive poster designs and protest materials. By holding DIY workshops at each protest, they give all their activists the chance to turn into creatives by preparing on-brand placards using their motifs, typeface and colour palette.

The power that is created through the combination of simple words and symbols can be extremely effective, allowing designers and artists to easily transform their work into something political.

The job of the designer has always been to find the best solution for a problem. Yet while creating these posters, many designers have been known not only to present solutions, but also point out the problems and even “raise a fist” to begin a protest. Design isn’t just answering to political moments of our time – it’s provoking, changing and commanding.

The rise of social media over the last decade has changed our expectations of what political protests should look like; digital online campaigns are playing an increasing bigger role and have the ability to reach all generations. But there’s still something about the printed poster that hasn’t changed: this tangible piece of paper in the real world has a strength, and it catches you right here, right now.

“One of the reasons doing work on the street is still very important to me is that it demonstrates
my commitment to actions in the real world – not just in the digital realm. I think
that the obvious work that goes into a street mural imbues the imagery with an added layer
of acknowledged commitment, and reminds the viewer that changing things in the real word
takes work.”
– Shepard Fairey, contemporary street artist, graphic designer, activist, illustrator, and founder of OBEY Clothing

What it takes to make a good poster?
A good idea is paramount. Once you’ve found it, it’s important to show it in the most understandable way possible. A poster should be a dialog between image and text, with one not functioning without the other. A perfect example would be Shepard Fairley’s graphic Obama Hope poster. It has to make you curious, tell a story and resonate with the audience.

Check list to a good poster:
1. Your idea has to be clear and easy to understand.
2. Less is more. If you need to explain your poster, it probably doesn’t work.
3. Don’t use more than three different fonts.
4. Signal colours are perfect for drawing attention to your poster.
5. Use popular symbols that match the chosen topic.

As designers, we should be harnessing our creative power to express opinions visually, to not just make our own voices heard, but to speak up for those who can’t.

Protest art keeps an observant eye on uncomfortable topics and is the public voice that reminds politicians they have a collective of people to be accountable for.

At Underscore, we know compelling design, so if you need help in creating the next movement defining image give us a call – together we can find that voice you’re looking for.