“Pride, anger, heartbreak, revenge”: Lucienne Roberts on how visual communication can help us overcome our divisions

The designer and co-editor talks us through GraphicDesign&’s new book, The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain, and how it communicates the range of emotions felt by voters across the country since the referendum.

Date
6 February 2020
Reading Time
5 minute read

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It’s 11pm on a Friday. I am closing the studio shutters. I am the last one to leave and it’s been a long day. This isn’t a normal Friday, though. This is Friday 31 January 2020. My phone buzzes. Friends from Brussels, Berlin and Porto send commiserations. GraphicDesign& co-founder Rebecca Wright sends a red broken heart emoji followed by a blue and a yellow one. I cry.

This certainly isn’t a normal Friday. It’s been all hands on deck today packing 650 copies of the latest GraphicDesign& book. Over the coming week, we’re sending one to every MP in the House of Commons. Book, postcard, address label, stamps, sack. Over and over again.

The book is called The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain. Each copy going to an MP has a postcard tucked inside carrying this message from GraphicDesign&:

This is a book of many voices and many views. It captures the nuance, complexity and contradictions of Brexit Britain that’s missing from public debate. There’s no right or wrong way to read it but we have a request. Please consider both sides and take a moment to think about how to heal the division. Coming together has never been more important. It is incumbent on you – as our representatives – to unite us all.

In his round-up of 2018, It’s Nice That editor Matt Alagiah argued the case for artists and designers to “break out of their echo chambers”, asking, “How might we use art and design to find some common ground?” Well, this is the objective of our book. We gather all that visual communication can offer to introduce readers to “the other side”, drawing a unique emotional map of Brexit Britain. In it, we recognise that it is in part failures of communication that have led us to where we are today – failures to communicate political complexity, to speak for communities, and now to reach out to each other.

GalleryGraphicDesign&: The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain

Beyond design

I need to go back a few steps. You might not know what GraphicDesign& is. Co-founded by me, Lucienne Roberts, a design practitioner and owner of studio LucienneRoberts+, and Rebecca Wright, Dean of Academic Programmes at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, GraphicDesign& advocates for what graphic design can do and why it matters.

We publish books and curate exhibitions that explore how graphic design connects with the wider world and the value that it brings. Our projects are intentionally as accessible to non-designers as they are relevant to our core design readers. So far, we’ve published on subjects ranging from literature to religion and our GraphicDesign& health project Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? reached over 100,000 visitors at the Wellcome Collection.

The Other Side is a GraphicDesign& politics project, conceived to encourage empathy rather than change minds. GraphicDesign& voted Remain and we admit the referendum result shocked us. But The Other Side was born out of our deep frustration and despair at the adversarial and polarising rhetoric that followed. We set out to counter it, to get beyond the cliched stereotypes of Leavers and Remainers, the sound bite and vox pop.

We asked 26 Leave and 24 Remain voters to take part, their numbers reflecting the referendum result. We invited them to cite one loss and one gain from the 2016 result, and to explain a little of their background and why they voted as they did. The losses and gains we hoped would encourage both “sides” to consider the perspective of the other. Keen to ensure that Leave and Remain had equal billing, neither comes first. Instead the book is double-ended. It has two beginnings and no end, with the two meeting in the middle.

Contributors are drawn from around the UK and capture a wide demographic – a fisherman from Grimsby, a black cab driver from London, a groundsman at Wimbledon, a sheep farmer from Wales, an academic from Belfast. Friends of friends, professional organisations, and copious research all played a part in helping us reach our final 50. Collectively, their voices, thoughts and ideas serve as a snapshot of a particular and poignant moment in history and illustrate that voter motivation is varied and not binary. We hoped our process might prompt empathy for “the other side”, but often it did not. Instead, it revealed the range and depth of emotion felt by voters – pride, anger, heartbreak, revenge, loneliness, relief, fear, hope.

GalleryGraphicDesign&: The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain

Design neutrality

LucienneRoberts+ designed the book. The red, white and blue cover, opened flat, shows two arrows in a flag-like formation. The Remain cover is predominantly blue, Leave is red; 12 blue and 13 red stripes interlock on the spine, reflecting the split in the 2016 referendum.

Rebecca and I wanted the design to signal the variety of voices included. We discussed identifying contributors typographically with two non-British designers – Astrid Stavro and Sarah Boris – and all agreed that employing fonts of contrasting styles would inadvertently favour the reading of one contributor over another.

So, in the end we opted for a form of typographic neutrality. Each contributor is identified by region, and each region is assigned a sans serif typeface. Ranging from Swiss designer Adrian Frutiger’s Univers (1954–57) to New Zealand-based Kris Sowersby’s Untitled Sans (2013–2017), these typefaces epitomise what is known as the “International Style”. Our selection was informed by Paul McNeil’s book The Visual History of Type. Paul explains more about the history and characteristics of each typeface in our book.

GalleryGraphicDesign&: The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain

Communication failure

Type designer Nadine Chahine, who is currently studying for
 a Master’s in International Relations at Cambridge University, worked with us to develop a picture essay charting the UK’s changing attitudes to the “European Project” from the 1950s until now. A gleeful 1973 Daily Mail headline reads “Europe, here we come!”; linking hands symbolise unity on a specially minted 50p coin commemorating the UK joining the EEC in 1975. Then fast-forward to UKIP’s “Breaking Point” 2016 poster or the “Get Brexit Done” election campaign of 2019 and the impact of visual communication is abundantly clear.

Included too is an interview with communications expert Ian Leslie. He draws parallels between personal relationship breakdowns and the referendum result. “People who study how humans communicate say we operate on two levels: content and relationship,” he says. “Remain were talking about facts, without addressing that people were saying, ‘This relationship is messed up – between us and you, us and London, us and politics.’ The genius of the Leave campaign was that they went straight for the relationship level.”

Beyond Britain

The front of our postcard reads:

26 Leave voters.

24 Remain voters.

No consensus.

Defiant, disenfranchised, disillusioned.

DIVIDED.

Humanity is facing unprecedented challenges and the world cannot afford to be divided. A timely primer, The Other Side makes the case for dialogue as a precursor to unity via understanding.

On Saturday morning, I receive a message from a long-standing friend in Vienna. “We miss you,” it reads. I cry again... and then pack some more books.

GalleryGraphicDesign&: The Other Side: An Emotional Map of Brexit Britain

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Further Info

www.graphicdesignand.com

Co-founded by Lucienne Roberts, a design practitioner and owner of studio LucienneRoberts+, and Rebecca Wright, Dean of Academic Programmes at Central Saint Martins, GraphicDesign& advocates for what graphic design can do and why it matters.

About the Author

Lucienne Roberts

Lucienne Roberts is director of the London studio LucienneRoberts+, committed to making accessible, engaging
 work with a socially aware agenda, and co-founder
 of the design advocacy initiative GraphicDesign&.

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