• Pres2

    Poster for Thomas Dewey (Rep) 1948

Graphic Design

Fascinating new book documents 200 years of US election posters

Posted by Rob Alderson,

We seem to have been battered by coverage of the American presidential elections and they are still SEVEN months away, but the world is watching. Anything that helps us outsiders understand this faintly baffling process has a real value, none more so than those insights into the socio-cultural by-products of election campaigns.

We all remember that Shepard Fairey poster for Obama but you may be less familiar with the venerable, centuries old tradition it belonged to. A fascinating new book charts nearly 200 hundred years of the election image, from General Andrew Jackson’s 1828 bill (“Protector and Defender of Beauty & Booty”) right up to the intoxicating “Yes We Can” of Obama 2008.

Of course it’s not just a political story the book tells, but the story of America’s cultural development, how it understood itself and how it represented those understandings. Below is an extended excerpt from writer Brooke Gladstone’s preface, which sets it out much more elegantly than we ever could…

  • Pres4

    Poster for Ronald ReAgan (Rep) 1980

We media consumers are far too jaded to be influenced by campaign posters, right? We all know that posters are blatant manipulations, intended not to inform but to enlist. They emphasise faces and catchphrases. They condense complicated issues into jagged little pills. They are blunt instruments.

At the same time, the most effective campaign posters of every era leave as much as possible to the voter’s imagination. They are like Japanese manga; the less detailed the image the more easily we can identify with the candidate, the more space for projecting our dreams. The more specific the image, the greater the risk of creating a feeling of “otherness” which translates into death at the polls.

Fundamentally it isn’t pitching politicians; it’s hawking images of America. The America we yearn for. Or, when the message is negative, the America we fear.

What is perhaps most striking about this collection of posters from the Library of Congress – our oldest federal institution, and one that serves as America’s memory – is what it reveals about the unchanging nature of American politicking.

In these posters we see the same posturing, the same accusations (of corruption, of moral turpitude) and insinuations (of suspicious religious beliefs or hidden affiliations) hurled across party lines through the centuries. We see in black-and-white and color that the incivility that modern Americans decry as symptomatic of a sick political system has, in fact, always been with us.

“Political art is nothing less than an illustration of the skirmishes and stalemates that created and continue to animate the American experiment.”

Brooke Gladstone

A candidate has to catch a wave and ride it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The posters and catchphrases contained here are like little skiffs navigating the currents of America’s turbulent political waters. The ultimate lesson of this collection is how choppy those waters are.

Political art is nothing less than an illustration of the skirmishes and stalemates that created and continue to animate the American experiment. As you look at each poster and read about each campaign, it becomes increasingly clear that the tug of war over taxes and trade, the distribution of wealth and power, and the role of government itself will never end.

Every generation renews the battle and fights it again. And every time, political candidates borrow from past campaigns the lexicon of perpetual political war. It reverberates in the slogans and the speeches, the urgent need for tax relief or social protections, for an active government or a dormant one, for war or peace, to stay the course or to change direction.

We each carry a notion of an America that has never existed and can never exist. But we take our posters into the real streets anyway.

  • Pres1

    Poster for William McKinley (Rep) 1896

  • Pres3

    Postre for Bobby Kennedy (Dem) 1968

  • Pres5

    Poster for Jesse Jackson (Dem) 1988

Presidential Campaign Posters is out at the end of May, at £22.99

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. 5173

    As the creative world digests last night’s big D&AD winners (those that scooped Black and White Pencils), there was a host of interesting work recognised in the 44 Yellow Pencils given out at the London awards bash. In total, the D&AD juries considered 847 projects this year and so less than one in five made the prestigious Yellow Pencil cut. Here’s our rundown of those winners that caught our eye for one reason or another – you can see the full list of winners over on the D&AD site here.

  2. The-plant-art-15-its-nice-that-list-

    Staying two seasons ahead (calendar-wise, at least) of the autumn art fair scrum, Art 15 takes place this week over in west London, heralded by some unmissably bright new branding by The Plant. The annual fair – now in its third outing – used to take place in February, and its new look aims to reflect its sunnier spot on the calendar. “As it’s spring and it’s a fairly new fair, we felt [the new identity] needed to look quite bold,” says Matt Utber, founder of The Plant, who also designed the fair’s initial identity. “We chose colours that were very bright and vibrant because of that light change – it reflects new life, flowers bursting into existence, it’s that kind of feel.”

  3. Thomaswilliams-bolo-itsnicethat-list

    Australian designer Thomas Williams’ work has appeared on the site several times over the years, in the shape of his editorial work for MADE, Nourished Journal and The Process Journal. He has recently decamped to Los Angeles and set up his own studio, Thomas Williams & Co., which comes complete with a newly updated site on which you can peruse his publication work alongside all manner of considered and communicative identity projects.

  4. Chwast_nose_08-1020x1600its-nice-that-list

    I don’t use the word “iconic” lightly, but in the case of designer Seymour Chwast, it fits. Co-founder of Push Pin studios, Seymour shaped what graphic design and being a graphic designer meant in the 20th Century, creating images that not only looked incredible, but distilled a message that could be anything from a light-hearted comment on design itself to an anti-smoking poster. His much-imitated graphic and illustration style still holds up brilliantly today, as proved by a fantastic new online resource, the Seymour Chwast archive.

  5. List-naonori_yago_laforet_itsnicethat_1

    I’m all for a bargain but when I hear about people queuing up at 4:30am for the big Next sale every year I can’t help but sigh. Surely sleeping is more preferable to numb lips chapping in the wind as you stand next to other haggard shoppers? Even bigger than Next’s sale is Japanese department store Laforet HARAJUKU’s annual “Grand Bazar,” which has taken sale shopping to a new level.

  6. Ah_ha_ciclovia_de_aveiro_it's_nice_that_list

    “Studio AH-HA started as an experiment. We never took ourselves too seriously, and we think that is why things have been working out,” say Carolina Cantante and Catarina Carreiras. For the last three years the Portuguese designers have been making lovely things out of their studio just a stone’s throw from the Lisbon City Museum and the university where they studied and met. Between them, Carolina and Catarina cut their teeth working with some of their heroes; Catarina at Fabrica with designer Sam Baron, who they still collaborate with, and Carolina at the renowned OMA led by “starchitect” Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam.

  7. List-vasundhara-pachisia-its-nice-that

    Brookyln-born graphic designer Vasundhara Pachisia is still studying, but has managed to clock up a CV including work with MoMA Design Studio and Ralph Applebaum Associates. Not bad at all. She’s currently studying at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she’s making some great work combining vivid colour palettes with some gorgeous experimental typography. This is perfectly exemplified in the piece Until Perfect Comes , a typeface the designer says is “an ode to Victor Vasarely.” We’re sure the “grandfather of op-art” wouldn’t be disappointed.

  8. Antonio_ladrillo_lines_it's_nice_that_list

    Back with a colourful series of minimal, origami-like creations, Antonio Ladrillo’s Colors, Lines and Dots continues the same optimism and sense of play that has made the Barcelona-based illustrator is an It’s Nice That favourite. You may remember our enthusiasm for his exhibition of 40 small paintings on repurposed wood, Crash or his book Being a ghost is cool! The three new softcover books are designed with the same cuts, folds and palette but use different patterns, taking on multiple 2D and 3D combinations like folding cards. Part papercraft, part publication, like all of Antonio’s sunny portfolio, Colors, Lines and Dots is simple yet striking.

  9. Shannonlea-philliplarkin-itsnicethat-list

    In our recent interview with Spin’s Tony Brook he spoke about the shift in his design approach towards a fixation on conceptual work – “I wanted reasons, I wanted intelligent thought.” Tony of course is one of the best in the business with a great deal of experience; it’s less common to see this same concept-driven lust in young designers, particularly those still learning their craft at university.

  10. Alain-vonck_ruins_it's_nice_that_list

    Whether it’s glitchy internet art, streamlined design and art direction or bespoke typefaces, Alain Vonck has been building a strong portfolio since graduating from Paris’ ESAG Penninghen in 2012. Concentrating on visual identity as well as editorial and web design that communicates a passion for pattern, Alain confidently moves between a variety of commercial and self-directed projects. Whether a book and net archive inspired by early web designs and 90s digital culture, ilIustrations for the daily French newspaper founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July, Libération, or super minimal art direction for a digital magazine, the Parisian designer has proven his approach is both contemporary and versatile.

    The pixelated, retro-tech visual language of many of his self-initiated projects has taken cues from GIF revival and the unrefined aesthetic of the internet’s early days, carving him a niche as something of a digital archeologist. Further illustrating his creative range, one of Alain’s most recent commissions marked a departure into new stylistic territory with a bright book of over 250 block-coloured illustrations vaguely reminiscent of Matisse cut-outs for Franco-Lebanese publishing house Tamyras.

  11. Alex-horne-do-it-poster-its-nice-that-list

    As the likes of Haw-Lin and Tom Darracott have proved in recent years, club posters are no longer the all-caps, bright yellow, shouty things on lampposts they used to be. Well sometimes they are, and there’s something quite charming in that (UK GARAGE SENSATION in Surbiton, anyone?), but there’s certainly a finessed approach to many of the posters now, as Alex Horne proves. The designer, who also founded label Fine Grains Records, hails from Aberdeen but now lives in London, working with clients including The Financial Times, The Vinyl Factory and Vice. Today though we’re looking at some great music posters, namely those for AV collective Do It! and Oslo-based club night promoter The Drop, which Alex runs alongside Norwegian record label boss and musician Andre Ishak. Throughout the work there’s a leaning towards Bauhaus-esque typography and clean, graphic shapes, with crisp layouts proving once again that the marriage of graphic design and electronic music is one made in heaven. Or in this case, in Aberdeen, London and Oslo.

  12. Arthurfoliard-mood-itsnicethat-list

    Arthur Foliard has some impressive design experience on his CV – Pentagram, Landor and Moving Brands – and he’s been honoured by both ADC and the Cannes Lions. Not bad for a 25-year-old, but this London-based Frenchman has a portfolio of work that makes sense of these accolades.

  13. Mirko-borsche-itsnicethat-list-2

    Is there no end to Bureau Mirko Borsche’s brilliance? Having already produced season after season’s worth of printed collateral for long-term client the Bayerische Staatsoper, Mirko’s eponymous studio has just released its newest collection of work for the theatre. Spanning a series of events entitled Die Unmögliche Enzyklopädie, plus posters for the house orchestra Bayerisches Staatsorcheter and premiere posters too, the newest selection might even be the most diverse to date.