• 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. Tumblr_n4iq1a8swj1qdf776o1_1280

    Anyone you know a downright sourpuss? Treat ‘em to a link to work by Hungarian designer Anna Kövecses. Here at It’s Nice That we give high praise to work that is candy-coloured and cute – as long as it never falls under the tasselled umbrella of “twee.” Anna’s work is a perfect example of that as beneath the childish exterior lies a wealth of design knowledge and style.

  2. List

    In the year-and-a-half since we first featured Belgian designer Vincent Vrints on the site his fortunes have risen with the quality of his work. We were always enamoured with his canny ability to create aesthetically astounding imagery and merge it with equally appealing layouts, but he’s refined his process and embraced some new digital techniques resulting in a portfolio that floats between the retro and the ultra futuristic.

  3. Main8

    Google Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and almost every book cover design that appears either depicts someone hitchhiking or it has the aesthetic of a grotty travel diary of someone who’s been “finding themselves” along a motorway for a month or two too long. Kerouac’s novels don’t even need covers, right? They’re stand-alone pieces of literary genius. Big applause is needed then for Copenhagen designer Torsten Lindsø Andersen who has taken the rulebook of second-rate Kerouac book design and thrown it out the train window on to the track where it belongs. These ambient, sterile designs he’s proposed for the author’s back catalogue are the perfect fit to the words within: weird, unpredictable, drunk and unique.

  4. List

    I am a big believer that every magazine should be able to sum up what it does in a few words. New title The-Art-Form does just that with the pithy statement that it’s “a limited edition publication about art and artists.” Issue one features six artists – Ian Davenport, Peter Liversidge, Rana Begum, Dan Baldwin, Michael Reisch and Paul Insect – and each has been asked 13 questions ranging from why they make art to their favourite place. The answers vary not only in tone and subject matter (as you’d expect) but also in form, so while Ian has provided handwritten answers, Michael, Dan and Rana have created paintings, drawings and sketches in response to the questionnaire.

  5. List

    Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how Shillington College are revolutionising design education through their own model of practically-focused graphic design tuition. We talked to the teachers about how they put together this new kind of course and to those employers who have found the college to be an invaluable resource of young design talent. To round off this series of features, we went along to the London Graduation Show a few weeks ago to chat to some of the students about their experiences, so rather than hear it from us, best hit play and hear it straight from them…

  6. List

    It’s been a couple of years since we headed over to Sweden to celebrate the work of Stockholm studio Research and Development but in that time art directors Daniel Olsson and Jonas Topooco have kept the great work coming. They’re a versatile pair who pride themselves on working closely with their clients to produce design work that plays to their strengths without losing sight of the brief in a blaze of self-indulgence. Anyone who can make a publication for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency look this interesting is always going to get in our good books.

  7. Main9

    Anyone who designs a clock that reminds you to “have a nice day” must be a good person, and it turns out Joe Cole Porter is not just nice, he’s also incredibly good at what he does. His work is the perfect balance of well-informed and actually fun. How many times have you watched through your fingers at corporate brands trying to be fun and ending up just being boring with a healthy dose of wacky? Exactly. They should take a leaf out of Joe’s book and produce design that is cheerful and colourful but intelligent enough to get the job done at the same time – a bit like a friendly builder, or a cheeky plumber. Some of Joe’s most exciting stuff is his record sleeve design, and we hope to see a little more of that in the future.

  8. List

    Five years ago when we first discovered Swiss designer Mathias Schweizer (thanks to Côme de Bouchony) he was an incredibly elusive fellow, with no online presence to speak of and little work to be found anywhere on the internet. Since then he’s been nothing short of prolific, producing exhibition identities, posters, publications, typefaces, solo and group shows as well as out and out experimental pieces. In fact the one thing that seems to define his work is experimentation; with classic design rules broken all over the place in his vast portfolio.

  9. List

    I’m not sure what it is about the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague that means it spews out so much creative talent at such an alarming rate, but it certainly doesn’t show any sign of stopping soon. Here’s an example; Marinus Schepen hasn’t even graduated from his Graphic Design studies there just yet, but the work he’s creating is of such a calibre that we can’t help but share it any how.

  10. Main

    Unless you’ve recently relocated from a teeny tiny little hut atop a snowy, sheep-covered mountain miles from the nearest village, you probably know that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on. It’s only the world’s biggest arts festival, after all. What you might not know is how it all began. Back in 1947, when corned beef was still a dietary staple and your granny was grateful for her bread and dripping sandwiches, eight rogue theatre troops gatecrashed the Edinburgh International Festival. These unofficial performers staged shows on the outskirts of the festival, and so “the fringe” was born.

  11. List

    This identity that design studio Bleed have created for a new office building called Monier in Oslo, Norway, is heavily founded on the principles of the building itself, as well as the history of the site it has been built on. The idea for the logo is derived from the building’s three different window shapes, the studio explains, which are a key aspect of the building’s cubistic architecture.

  12. List

    With Richard Turley now utilising his skills for the betterment of MTV’s creative offering, Bloomberg Businessweek has been left in the hands of his two former proteges, Rob Vargas and Tracy Ma. Rob’s work is already pretty well known by devotees of the title, but Tracy’s is arguably the most experimental of anyone working for a global publication like Businessweek. Her use of layout and typography is arresting to the point of distraction, but is always used in a manner that serves the story first and foremost. Similarly her aesthetic choices often feel informed by a lifetime spent online, with brash colours, textures and stock imagery proliferating her spreads – which for a title that deals with the politics and economics of the digital age feels impeccably on point.

  13. Main9

    Fantastic work here from Lyon’s boundary-pushing designers Antoine Eckart and Francis Josserand, also know as Alles Gut. How do you say Alles Gut? Here at It’s Nice That we say it as if we’re saying “all’s good” in a funny European accent. Each to their own. Anyway, Alles Gut make the kinds of fliers, posters and small publications that we are totally into – sharp, well-considered colours and well thought-out references come together to make modern printed matter with quick-witted retro aesthetic references. Personal favourites? I’d say the posters for the HASTE parties – they really, really make you want to go to those parties.