The Changing Face of Graphic Design in the Digital Era

Social media is rapidly becoming the primary source of news and information in the modern world, and graphic design is evolving with the new dynamic.

The Trump presidency has been one that has courted more controversy and debate than any other in recent memory. But it is not simply what America’s controversial and opinionated leader has said that has been so remarkable – it is how he has said it. From the moment he announced his candidacy, Trump has used social media to express his views, and they have often appeared unfiltered by the usual political advisors and spin doctors. Barely a day has gone by without some new controversy. The result is often shocking, but it is also refreshing in its forthright honesty – for better or worse, nobody is in any doubt that the President is saying what he thinks.

This is just one example of the way social media is changing our approach to news and politics, and the work of graphic designers has never been more important in a world that has a growing obsession with imagery. Next month, the Design Museum will unveil a new exhibition that explores the relationship between graphic design, social media and politics over the past decade.

The exhibition covers three broad areas: Power, Protest and Personality. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the highlights.

The notion of graphic art to promote messages of power is nothing new. Perhaps the most famous examples come from the Soviet era, and the Stalinist propaganda machine of the mid 20 th century. But in the social media age, it is all about everyday people taking back the power and turning it upon the authorities. Some of those very Soviet posters have been appropriated by gay rights campaigners, for example.

Power and protest are very much two sides of the same coin. The eye-catching protest placard has been a familiar sight for decades, but today, the most imaginative and striking images are not just glimpsed and then forgotten. The “kissing Trump” image, showing the American and Russian leaders kissing on the lips was taken from a mural in Lithuania and found its way onto a placard at a protest march in Portland, Oregon. From there, it swiftly went viral across social media and was still popping up on laptops and smartphones weeks and months after the event.

Political protest statements go far beyond party politics, though. Following the terrorist atrocities in Paris in January 2015, the world united behind the Je Suis Charlie slogan. The white on black image became synonymous with solidarity in the face of adversity and is one of the most popular hashtags in Twitter’s entire history. It also catapulted creator Jean Julien into graphic design history.

The use of graphic art to support or lampoon personality in politics is another practice that goes back years but has achieved greater momentum in the digital age. Again, President Trump springs immediately to mind, and has been the subject of hundreds of images, both positive and negative. But sometimes, the depiction of personality can transcend individualism. The hacktivist Anonymous, depicted by the Guy Fawkes mask made famous in the movie V for Vendetta, has become one of the most instantly recognisable personalities of the digital age.