What Social Media has done to Political Graphic Design and Art

The stories behind iconic political graphic designs that are part of a new Design Museum exhibition, from Hope to Nope.

The intersection of graphic design and politics is taking a front seat with the rise of social media and the role it plays as our main source of news. For most of us, social media shapes our understanding of modern protest, activism and power too. The Design Museum has collected the posts and posters that have underpinned this over the past decade in a new exhibition that opens tomorrow. After a preview today, here we look over some of the most prominent exhibits, as well as the museum's presentation of them.

Imagine how different Donald Trump’s presidency would be without Twitter, where he posts most of his unfiltered news and opinions to media outlets, who lap it up willingly. Or following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, where Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were used as platform to share many artistic responses of support toward France. And following numerous televised political marches – the International Women's Day march, for example – many powerful graphic designs seen on posters and placards were captured and turned into news stories, or catapulted the illustrator into fame as result, such as Edel Rodriguez.

The exhibition explores the relationship between graphics, politics and social media through posters and banners spanning from the global financial crash of 2008 up to the present year. It reflects how with social sharing – and our image-obsessed media world – the impact of graphic design has never been greater. And how in turn, the social role of designers becomes increasingly important, as explored by a number of leading designers in our design trends feature.

Image: Shepard Fairy's adaption of the original Obama 'Hope' poster, seen at an anti-Trump rally in Oregon, January 2017. Taken by Scott Wong.

Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 (Hope derived from the iconic Barack Obama 'Hope' poster by Shepard Fairey and the many imitations that followed, and the 'Nope' equivalent for Trump) examines the role of graphics in stimulating opinion, debate and activism for milestone events including the election of Barack Obama, the worldwide Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency.

To tackle this monster exploration, the exhibition is split into three main sections – Power, Protest and Personality. A large graphic timeline dissects the gallery, charing the role of new technology, such as Facebook, Twitter and the hashtag and meme phenomena in global events over the last 10 years.

Image: Photos taken at exhibitions usually don’t do the work justice because the lighting causes ugly reflections on glass-fronted posters, but this reflection captured an interesting juxtaposition between Shepard Fairey's poster and Dread Scott's 2015 flag-based artwork A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday.

The 'Power' section aims to explore how graphic design is used to assert national and political authority, but how the iconography can be taken and transformed by activists and opponents, undermining their original power.

Examples include North Korean propaganda, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Soviet posters turned into a gay rights campaign and Dread Scott’s flag in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Also featuring is a 3m-high replica of the letter ‘N’ from the ‘Newborn’ sculpture that marked Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008.

Image:  Remain campaign by Britain Stronger in Europe.

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The biggest section – Protest – displays graphic designs used by demonstrators that ended up circling on social media platforms for days, weeks, and months after the event, showcasing the power of a striking image such as this one, captured by Scott Wong at a protest march in Portland. There have been many alternative 'kissing Trump' designs since.

Image: The placard is derived from a mural that went viral. The Washington Post  wrote about how a mural on a Lithuanian restaurant wall depicting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss, essentially went viral.

The mural was painted by local artist Mindaugas Bonanu. It swiftly gained attention in the media. The image is a riff on the famous 1979 photograph that showed Soviet leader Leonid Rezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker locked in an embrace. That image showed the two men kissing on the lips, once a form of fraternal greeting between socialist leaders.

The same goes for the 2015 Je Suis Charlie and Peace for Paris marches, where the slogan Je Suis Charlie was seen on most placards, showing the important role played by graphics in channeling anger and creating solidarity. We've also included Jean Julien's art which was shared widely.

 Image: Je Suis Charlie banner outside Palais de Tokyo on January 10, 2015.

The now famous slogan, 'Je Suis Charlie' was created by French art director Joachim Roncin and  adopted by supporters of freedom of speech after the January 7, 2015 shooting in which 12 people were killed at the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. The slogan was first used on Twitter. The website of Charlie Hebdo went offline shortly after the shooting and when it became live again, it had Je suis Charlie on a black background. The slogan was used as the hashtag #jesuischarlie and #iamcharlieon Twitter, as computer printed or hand-made placards and stickers, and displayed on mobile phones at vigils, and on many websites, particularly media sites. Within two days of the attack, the slogan had become one of the most popular news hashtags in Twitter history.

In the Design Museum's exhibition's Protest section, expect to see newspapers from the 2011-12 Occupy London camp, an umbrella used during the 2014 Hong Kong ‘Umbrella Revolution’ and a 2m-high replica of the inflatable duck from the 2016 protests against Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (seen here).

There will also be responses to the 2017 Greenfell Tower disaster.

Image: In Brazil, taken by Albert Sholl. 

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The graphic representation of leading political figures is probably most prominent within artistic responses to Donald Trump’s campaign – but in the Personality section of this exhibition – a number of leaders will be explored.

Grassroots support for Jeremy Corbyn is seen here on an unofficial Nike t-shirt, and an independently published comic book that portrays the Labour Party leader as a super-hero.

Image: Corbyn Swoosh by Bristol Street War

And many of us have seen magazine covers with Donald Trump’s trademark features caricatured across the front of it, including major publications such as The Economist, TIME and Der Spiegel.

A prolific illustrator of Donald Trump magazine covers is Edel Rodriguez – who we spoke to about his famous political illustration. As well as his magazines covers, he also created this alternative cover for Michael Wolff's controversial book Fire and Fury.

For more brutal Donald Trump magazine covers, take a look at our roundup

In pre-publicity for the exhibition, the exhibition's curators noted that the Personality section would also feature the international hacktivist network Anonymous and its smiling Guy Fawkes mask, as seen here.

When visiting, we saw this only on small, unlabelled table tucked away with some artwork and original comics that feature Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta story, from which the mask is drawn.

This is itself a symbol of a flaw with the exhibition's focus on the last decade. While what's included is very well displayed, it has the same lack of memory that social media is often accused of. The heritage of the various forms isn't adequately explained – making each appear as if they were invented since 2008. Even a mention of culture jamming ignores that it was invented as a term in the 80s by the band Negativand, popularised in the 90s by the likes of Adbusters through campaigns like Joe Chemo and has its roots in the Situationists of the 1950s. 

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Hope to Nope runs until August 12. Adult tickets cost £12. For more details, see here.

Image: Jeremy Corbyn Dabbing

This is taken from a selection of doodles by artist Reuben Dangoor in response to political happenings in 2016, including Brexit and President Trump. The image is an example of how graphic design can mix an internet trend, in this case the dance action of ‘dabbing’, with politics, so it becomes more relatable and accessible to an internet-savvy audience.