- Ruby Boddington
- 8 March 2018
“I'm not a designer – I was just an activist”: how The Smiling Sun became one of history's most iconic logos
- Ruby Boddington
- 8 March 2018
The Smiling Sun is well known across the world as the face of the anti-nuclear power movement. Worn as badges, stuck on lampposts or held aloft as flags its gleeful grin has become synonymous with the fight for a world powered by renewable energy. Despite its widespread popularity, the logo’s designer has remained largely aloof. It’s Nice That managed to track down The Smiling Sun’s creator, Anne Lund – now a university lecturer – to find out more about how it came to be and how she feels looking back on it, four decades later.
In the spring of 1975, in Denmark’s second-largest city Aarhus, Anne Lund – a woman with no design experience – created one of the most influential logos in the fight against nuclear power across the globe. The Smiling Sun, with its iconic slogan of “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” set in block sans-serif letters on a cheery combination of orange and yellow has been translated into some 60 languages in the years since. The proud logo of the OOA – the Organisationen til Oplysning om Atomkraft, or the Organisation for Information about Nuclear Power – it highly influenced Denmark’s decision to never construct a nuclear power plant and is still a regular sighting at present-day protests from Germany to Japan, Lithuania to Taiwan.
The OOA was established in January 1974 in response to growing concerns regarding the potential widespread use of nuclear power. At this time, Denmark’s neighbours, Sweden and Germany were already constructing and about to complete a number of power plants. Although not currently working on its own, since 1972, electricity companies in Denmark had been producing and distributing colourful brochures advocating for its use, with research facility Risø going as far as organising pronuclear workshops for journalists and science teachers. Danish politicians were, almost exclusively, sympathetic towards what was deemed a positive alternative to fossil fuels moving forward – it appeared Denmark would be following in its neighbours’ footsteps.
Towards the end of January, the Danish government announced plans for a total of 14 possible power plants across the country and, two days later, on 31 January, the OOA went public with its wealth of information arguing the case for increased research and evaluation of alternative sources of energy. It also issued a request for a three-year moratorium prior to any final decision.
“I came into the anti-nuclear power movement at the end of 1974 in Aarhus,” Anne recalls of the beginnings of her time as an OOA member. “At that time, the resistance was getting stronger and gaining more and more support.” Up until that point, the OOA had been functioning under a logo which asked: “Do you feel safe with nuclear power?” Prioritising dialogue and reflection, the organisation also published a magazine titled Atomkraft? and an educational brochure titled A Future Without Nuclear Power? “They had been quite successful with this strategy,” Anne tell It’s Nice That, “but at the beginning of ’75, we felt we needed to explicitly say we were against nuclear power – we had to do something to let the people say no.” Anne set about devising a new logo in an attempt to sharpen the profile of the OOA, expressing not just questions but definite answers and convictions.
As far as Anne and the OOA were concerned, these convictions needed to come from a group not affiliated with any political party – particularly any left-wing party. In what was often a heated debate, the logo needed to depolarise and disarm from a neutral position in order to be a rallying point for people everywhere, regardless of class or political standing. To affiliate themselves with the left would be to alienate an entire group of potential supporters.
"I’m not a designer – I was just an activist. It was a product of the way that the Danish anti-nuclear movement worked – it was a way of thinking that placed importance on non-violent action.”Anne Lund
The notion of engaging in protest and revolt was an established one in the mid-‘70s and most grassroots organisations visualised their principles through badges or stickers. Many young people adorned such badges on their jackets, however, the concern surrounding nuclear power was much more widely spread than the movements that sprung out of the youth revolution. “Women, of all ages, were especially sceptical of nuclear power,” Anne explains, “I thought about how we could express that we wanted to say no but have it supported by a 40-year old woman who wasn’t particularly politically engaged.” In February 1975, the locals of Wyhl – a hamlet in the southwestern corner of Germany – occupied the site of a proposed nuclear power plant resulting in the televised coverage of farmers and their wives being forcibly removed by police. The OOA’s logo needed to offer an alternative to the radical and more extreme forms of protest that such women were accustomed to seeing. “It needed to be pretty enough for women to wear it on their overcoats to indicate a kind, but firm ‘no thanks’. No clenched fists, no scary images,” Anne explains.
The sun emerged as the obvious iconography to fulfil the OOA’s intentions. By April, Denmark was in full spring and Anne took the change in the weather as inspiration. So far, most anti-nuclear imagery had focussed on the energy source’s negative impacts. While on an internship in Sweden, Anne became privy to their movement, visualised by a pregnant woman surrounded by a neutron. “This logo symbolised the dangerous side of nuclear power but I wanted to show that there was a positive alternative in the form of renewable energy,” Anne reveals. She proposed a logo combining the sun and a windmill to fellow activist, Søren Lisberg, who advised her to keep it simple and so The Smiling Sun was born.
After discussing the use of several versions of the sun with the members of the OOA, it was a quick scribble by Anne’s friend Helena on the back of an envelope that made the cut with its distinctive beams – one protruding out further than the others. “The graphic design definitely could have been better, but it was a product of the time,” Anne reflects, “we felt we could do everything ourselves so we did not want to ask professionals.” When questioned on how she feels about it now she responds: “I think it’s fun. I’m not a designer – I was just an activist. It was a product of the way that the Danish anti-nuclear movement worked – it was a way of thinking that placed importance on non-violent action.”
“It needed to be pretty enough for women to wear it on their overcoats to indicate a kind, but firm ‘no thanks’. No clenched fists, no scary images.”Anne Lund
The logo was officially launched on 1 May 1975 and quickly became a huge success. Given to local OOA groups, its profits were used to decentralise the financing of campaigns and by the summer of 1976 more than 200,000 badges and stickers had been sold and around one million small paper stickers. The money generated by The Smiling Sun allowed the OOA to continue its work, winning over the population of Denmark. In 1978, the Danish government produced its final attempt at implementing nuclear power – the OOA responded with three full days marching from potential construction sites, finishing with around 35,000 participants in front of Parliament. It was clear from this point onwards that opposition to nuclear power was too strong. This action eventually led to a majority vote on 29 March 1985 issuing that nuclear power would not become part of any future energy program in Denmark.
With its cheery disposition, friendly slogan and simple iconography, The Smiling Sun is a testament to the power of conversation. By producing such a definite ‘No thanks’, Anne and the OOA gave the Danish people a voice – one that has resonated across the globe and still continues to do so. “It reminds me that if you really want to change something, you can,” Anne, who is now a lecturer at Denmark’s largest university VIA, offers. “[The Smiling Sun] was embedded in the OOA. Without this group of activists, it wouldn’t have happened. The many people who were involved in the choices made are the reason the sun became something special.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.