Graphic design for change: 1970s American protest posters

Date
22 January 2016
Reading Time
2 minute read

Graphic design has the power to sell, to persuade and to delight; and crucially, it has the power to bring about a revolution. That’s what these posters hoped to do at least, when they were created by students and activists in the early 1970s in the US.

The Berkeley demonstrations were sparked by the massacre of four unarmed protesters at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard in May 1970, as immortalised in Neil Young’s chilling lament Ohio. These posters were created almost immediately following this catalyst for action, when the Berkeley Political Poster Workshop quickly formed as students used a space in the faculty to screenprint their messages onto recycled paper and card.

While these demos are frequently tied in with discussions around music and counterculture, their associations with graphic design are less widely covered, and it’s wonderful to see the outsider art-esque poster designs that helped propel various causes.

More than 150 posters are soon to go on show at London’s Shaperon Gallery, brought together from the archive of late publisher Felix Dennis, and curated by writer and historian Barry Miles. “These posters were not designed as art, but for a specific political purpose, and yet they inevitably fit into the history of graphic art, borrowing heavily from the Atelier Populaire posters of the student uprising in Paris of May 1968 and the counter-cultural posters of the period,” says Barry. “They are a frozen snapshot of American graphic design at the end of the 60s, as well as a unique sociological record of a society in crisis.”

America in Revolt: The Art of Protest runs from 3 – 27 February at Shapero Modern

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American Flag [Untitled], 1970

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Amerika, 1970
Above
Left

Fascist Infested!, 1970

Right

Bring Us Together, 1970

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Bring Us Together, 1970

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Left
Your Son Next?, 1970
Right

Peace is Patriotic, 1970

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Peace is Patriotic, 1970

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Imagi-Nation, 1970

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About the Author

Emily Gosling

Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.

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