Walking around downtown, I’m noticing a number of businesses flaunting their politics. Below are a few random snapshots.
In New York City, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 5 to 1 it probably does not harm your business much to wave a Democratic flag.
But what’s notable is that these banners do not seem to be branding or trying to create a niche. I don’t think these businesses are trying to position themselves as responsible corporate citizens. It seems more like someone wearing a political pin, though for each the context is a bit different.
Click on a thumbnail to view a larger image.
Via Della Pace, Italian café
The T-shirt reads “Romani Contro Bush.”
Bowery Bar and Grill
Who also pioneered the gentrification around Cooper Square 10 years ago.
Banners outside the Public Theater
Pentagram, a design studio
They usually hang a banner with a big red P.
Ben & Jerry’s
They actually did have voter registration forms.
Cookies at Once Upon a Tart
“After all,” says the owner, “we’re French.”
On a related note, a year ago a handful of lefty bloggers were abuzz about this:
a label from a bag designed by Tom Bihn, an American company located in Port Angeles, Washington. The French repeats the English care and handling instructions, with an additional two lines:
Wash with warm water.
Use mild soap.
Do not use bleach.
Do not dry in the dryer.
Do not iron.
We are sorry that Our President is an idiot.
We did not vote for him.
Few bloggers followed up to point out that the grassroots buzz actually produced record sales for the company.
From AFP, April 26, 2003:
Handbags insulting “president” in French sell like hot cakes in US
“There is no doubt that sales are hot for handbags bearing an insult — in French — aimed at ‘our president.’ The question is: Which president?
The bag’s designer Tom Bihn never guessed that purses with the message, ‘We’re sorry our president is an idiot. We didn’t vote for him’ — inscribed in French — would be blowing out of the stores.
‘It is a mystery, but since we launched the bags with the label sewn, sales have doubled,’ said Bihn, 43. ‘It is a record in the history of the company.’
He denies the message is targeting US President George W. Bush.
‘It depends on either your nationality, or the president you think is an idiot; you choose.’
Clients throughout the United States have flooded his offices in Seattle and Port Angeles with calls and e-mails to order for the bags, he said.
The company received ‘varied reactions’ including ‘hate mail from a French citizen who thought the label was addressed to (French President) Jacques Chirac.’
But 80 percent of the Americans think it is an amusing message, he said.
On his company’s website, he said: ‘Everyone seems to have a ‘president’ that they think is an idiot. Take your pick: Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton, George Bush.’
Neither Bihn nor his 10 employees have yet taken the situation seriously, but have launched a series of T-shirts, selling at 20 dollars each, with the same message, with funds to go to a war veterans’ center in Seattle.”
Classic book cover design on display in the streets in New York City.
See the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently banned books.
“A protest sign is held up behind U.S. President George W. Bush as he delivers his speech to the delegation during the final night of the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City on September 2, 2004. The protester was removed from the convention hall by authorities. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters”
Several grassroots groups are publishing maps of the New York City to guide visitors and residents who want to participate in the protests and events around the Republican National Convention next week.
Cited in The New York Times on August 9, 2004:
“Included is information of the sort that could be of use to any traveler: a street map of Manhattan south of 59th Street and addresses of restaurants, bookstores, libraries and places to rent bicycles.
Other elements are specific to the convention: hotels where various state delegations will be staying, sites of official convention events, and times and locations of planned demonstrations. There are also the words of the First Amendment, phone numbers for the New York Civil Liberties Union and information about bail bondsmen.
The three creators said they spent $6,000 of their own money to print the guides, but are distributing them free.
‘The main reason we made the guide is so that people have enough information to get in the way or out of the way,’ Mr. Chan said.
On Thursday, he and his friends began distributing 25,000 copies to bookstores, community groups, churches and other places.”
You can order or download the map here.
The 2004 RNC Protesters Map is more up-to-date, and features a large list of protest, art, and RNC related events, convergence spaces, and trainings. Icons on the map indicate hotels, police stations, navigation landmarks, parks (both active and passive), and the march route and rallying points. Updated on August 20, the map can be download here (792 Kb PDF).
First published in March 2003, the Map of War Profiteers in New York City showed the beneficiaries in our midst, plotting the locations of government and military agencies, corporations, media profiting from the war. At the meeting of the M27 Coalition, the map helped locate the discussion determining a place for the March 27, 2003 action. Rockefeller Center ultimately was chosen for its proximity to several points on the map.
Unlike the other two color multi-page maps, the War Profiteers map has a distinctly low-tech, underground, DIY aesthetic. It is designed to be reproduced in black-and-white on the front and back of an 11"x17" piece of paper. The icons are composed of cut paper, arranged on a found map. The map was available at progressive bookstores around town, and was distributed at organizing meetings for various protest events.
Graphic designer Wendy Brawer produced her first Green Map in 1991. The Green Apple Map of New York City charted 143 ecologically and culturally significant sites: community gardens, parks, greenmarkets, eco-centers, green businesses and buildings, transportation options, and toxic hot spots. It was well received and quickly inspired a second edition. Wendy writes:
“This Map encourages people to explore and understand out city — helping expand our community of environmental stewards who understand the interconnections between the natural and built environments. It can help build a network of links among people of different ages and backgrounds by highlighting places that are important to our common future. It promotes and fosters replication of successful projects. Moreover, it challenges the assumption that this intensely urban setting has little redeeming ecological value.”
Activists and designers in other cities, particularly colleagues in the o2 Global Network, were eager to make their own Green Maps.
Green Map Systems was born in 1995 and became a U.S. registered not-for-profit organization in 2000.
Wendy and her team produced a shared set of icons, and a Mapmakers’ Agreement which sets some parameters and includes small royalty based on the proceeds — 1% to 3% depending on if the project is all volunteers or has paid staff, and 1% of printed maps. Some “scholarships” are available where needed.
After that, the projects are fairly autonomous. Each Green Map is locally organized and designed, and independently produced. The maps may highlight parks and green spaces, bike paths, gay and lesbian resources, notes on wheelchair accessibility, recycling centers, or sites of energy production and consumption.
“Printed and digital Green Maps identify, promote and link eco and social resources. Each merges the ancient art of map making and new media in creating a fresh perspective that helps hometown residents discover great ways to get involved with the urban environment, and guides tourists (especially virtual ones) to special places and successful greening initiatives they can experience, and then replicate back home.
The maps are generated with a wide range of techniques, from GIS to Illustrator, to simple drawings by hand.
As of this writing, there are now there are now 241 Green Map projects, including 45 by youth. 151 different Green Maps have been completed in 39 countries. The maps are listed here.
Map makers can also develop local variations on global set of Green Map Icons (a shrine icon for Japan, a Capoira icon for Brazil.) After a global discussion on the Green Map email list, several of these have been incorporated into the global set. The set of 125 icons and 50 youth icons have been released as digital fonts for easy placement.
Launched on February 29, 2004, the Green Map Atlas highlights the ten map making projects in Asia and North America. With the goal of promoting sustainability and greener living worldwide, the Green Map Atlas showcases the work of diverse Mapmakers in Tokyo, Toronto, Jakarta, Pune (India), Kyoto, Hiroshima and Hakodate (Japan), Robeson County, NC, Milwaukee, and New York City.
My own personal economic indicator is the number of vacant storefronts I pass on my way through New York City. Lately it seems worse than ever. Many of the stores that have been in my neighborhood since I moved here 13 years ago have closed in the last year or so.
But this turns out to have one unexpected benefit: vacant storefronts aplenty, available for short-term lease... to progressive groups during the Republican National Convention:
“The New York Civil Liberties Union today formally opens its Protecting Protest Storefront just two blocks from Madison Square Garden. The Storefront, at 520 Eighth Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets) will serve as the NYCLU base of operations for monitoring protest activity during the Republican National Convention.
‘This location will be important for those who will witness democracy in action outside the Garden,’ said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. ‘As thousands of demonstrators take to the streets in peaceful protest, the NYCLU will be in constant negotiation with police to ensure that all problems are immediately resolved.’
In addition to housing the NYCLU Protecting Protest office, the Storefront will serve as a meeting place for our volunteers. The NYCLU will also host ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings and press briefings at the Storefront. Leaflets detailing the rights of protesters also will be distributed. The Storefront will also serve as the location for participants to submit information about policing tactics at the demonstrations.
‘We will be watching the NYPD night and day doing our very best to protect the right to protest,’ said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director. ‘The NYCLU Storefront is the First Amendment’s beachhead to the Convention.’
During the week of the convention, the NYCLU will provide resources at the location for the media to file reports. The organization asks that those who are considering using the Storefront for this purpose contact the NYCLU at your earliest convenience. Overseeing all Storefront activities directly will be Steve Theberge, the NYCLU’s Protecting Protest Coordinator.
The NYCLU Protecting Protest Storefront is operated by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is the New York State Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Storefront will serve many purposes between now and the end of the Republican National Convention (RNC):
In the weeks leading up to the Convention, the NYCLU Protecting Protest Storefront generally will be open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Starting on Thursday, August 26, the Storefront will be open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.”
The route for the big August 29th protest actually turns west on 34th Street so the Storefront is not directly on the march route, but two blocks from the Garden is pretty damn close. I just hope the NYPD doesn’t close off the street.
Found via kottke.org:
“Enter your work in the First Annual Idealist Nonprofit Design Contest. Winning entries will be showcased in an online gallery on the Idealist.org website and in an exhibition in New York City. In addition, winning entries—gold, silver, bronze, and student in each category—will receive prizes donated by our sponsors.
Gold winning entries will receive Apple laptop computers donated by Aladdin Knowledge Systems. Silver winning entries will receive 15GB iPods donated by Tekserve and other sponsors.
This competition seeks to promote excellence in design in the nonprofit sector and to reward and acknowledge those designers who move beyond limitations to create works that are functional and aesthetically powerful while also promoting social impact.
Any work implemented for a nonprofit that fits in the categories of web, print, or multimedia and was completed between January 1, 2003 to August 31, 2004 can be submitted. Each work MUST be accompanied by its client’s information, including the organization’s name, mission, a copy of the organization’s tax exempt certification or its latest newsletter or brochure, and contact information for a person from the organization.
The entry fee is $25 per entry for those located in the United States. Submissions mailed from outside the U.S. do not require a fee. The deadline is August 31, 2004. Please make your check payable to Action Without Borders and include it with your entry. Entries from the U.S. that are received without payment will not be considered in the contest. Entry fees are nonrefundable.
The jury is being finalized, but will ultimately include both nonprofit and design professionals.
On a couple of occasions I’ve noted my admiriation for the design used by United for Peace and Justice to publicize anti-war events in New York City. The simple flag and globe motif on a bright blue ground and its bold sans-serif type are eye-catching, clear, and instantly recognizable.
However, the consistency and repetition of such a strong image in the same context (via stickers and flyers) over nearly three years may be diminishing its impact. As one UPfJ organizer notes:
“We love the blue flag standard, but have heard feedback that the design has been the same for too long... folks think it’s for an old demo.”
I wrote the essay below for the Design Issues column in the May/June 2004 issue of Communication Arts. I profile a couple of folks using graphic design for advocacy. I didn’t call it out explicitly in the text, but it’s of some relevance that the projects here are generally not pro-bono projects “for charity,” but are organizations started by designers generally working with broader communities. Check it out.
Walking the streets of New York City in February 2003, one couldn’t help but notice all these little blue stickers. Stuck to walls, phone booths, bus stops, scaffolding, mail boxes — they popped up everywhere to announce the February 15 march against President Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
The blue stickers were just one of the many anti-war graphics circulating at the time. Around the Web, activists were posting free, easy-to-print designs using a variety of techniques: clever slogans, typographic play, dramatic photos and the ironic use of vintage propaganda imagery.
But the February 15 stickers on the streets of New York were different — simple and bold, a little blue banner announcing the time and place of the march. They did not make an emotional appeal with pictures of scarred and armless Iraqi children or U.S. soldiers, nor was there any argument about why the war was wrong.
The February 15 posters were not intended to change people’s minds in a direct way, but to notify the public about the upcoming protest — and to make dissent visible. The mainstream media had entirely avoided covering the anti-war movement prior to February 15. In the face of this de facto censorship and police obstruction over the route of the march, the stickers acted as thousands of little acts of civil disobedience. And with the urban landscape as a medium, the stickers set the stage for even larger acts of defiance.
In recent months, there have been several open calls to designers to help stir up the electorate.
Designs On The White House
“Designs On The White House is a grassroots fund-raising organization in support of the John Kerry 2004 Presidential campaign. We aim to mobilize the creative community through an online design contest, judged by designers, celebrities, and activists. Winning designs will be available for resale on T-shirts and other products, and all proceeds after expenses will benefit the John Kerry Presidential campaign. Designs on the White House Organization (DOTWHO) is an independent political committee and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
Each design will be entered in only one category.”
Anyone with a valid email address can register with the site and cast their votes on the contributed designs.
The site also features blogs about the DOTWH campaign and the Kerry campaign. A recent entry encourages non-designers with design or slogan ideas to post them.
The deadline for entries is May 22, 2004.
Let Down By Labour
‘Labour isn’t Working’ fast became one of the most famous posters in advertising history. Imagine if you had been able to have a crack at that brief? Just as in 1979 when Labour wasn’t working, today swathes of the population feel let down by Labour.”
The final date for submissions was April 23, 2004.
“We have received a massive response from the people of Great Britain and we would like to thank all of you for your contributions. We will be displaying the best ideas in a gallery so that everyone can see how let down by Labour the British people feel. The large number of submissions we have received means that it will take some time for us to sort through the ideas. But as soon as they are ready to be unveiled to the public we will be presenting a selection of them here. Once again thank you for your support.”
And from the comments of VoxPop:
One thing CCO isn’t shouting from the rooftops is that they opened this competition to the "creative industries" (i.e. trendy spec-wearing ripped jeans fans) the week before they opened it to the public.
Also, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll use any of the entries.
Honestly, this scheme could not have been met by more incredulous stares had it been announced on April 1st - Saatchi coming up with a scheme whereby members of the public do his job for him? Shurely shome mishtake.”
Blogged here previously, that famous poster also turns out to be a fake.
AIGA Get Out the Vote
From the AIGA Atlanta Web site:
“AIGA will again mount a campaign to demonstrate the power of design in the public arena by encouraging designers to contribute to a coordinated get-out-the-vote campaign for national elections in the fall of 2004. The objective is to demonstrate the value of design to the public, public officials and business by providing a clear call to action for an activity that is important to everyone.
The campaign will have two elements to it. The first will be a selection of designers who will be asked to create nonpartisan calls to action that will bear a national AIGA campaign identity. AIGA’s national coordinator will select six designers and each AIGA chapter will be encouraged to select a designer to develop a design, for a potential total of 53 different designs.
The second element will be an open gallery of member designs that will be posted on the website and available for local printing, specifically by our members and also available to any visitor to the website. Any member will be entitled to post a design in the open gallery. This will become the largest gallery of available designs in support of this critical civic function. Some of the unsolicited submissions may be selected to be included among the collection of posters that AIGA will print and will distribute to all chapters for posting locally.
After careful consideration of the success of the previous campaign, this year we are proposing a slightly smaller-scaled window card format rather than posters, since the potential for actual posting in public places increases substantially if the designs are of a scale that can be placed in small shop windows and on public bulletin boards (places where a larger poster would not be posted). The scale also allows for printing out on local color printers as well as commercial printing. Our intention is to demonstrate the strength of our communication design, regardless of the production values of the print. This is in the spirit of civic postings since Revolutionary times....
The purpose of this campaign is to encourage voter turnout. There is no single message, although the intent is a call to action, motivating people to register and to turn out to vote. The visuals and the text of the message must be nonpartisan—we are supporting the basic democratic premise of citizen participation, not a partisan position on candidates or issues. Messages or images that are likely to offend substantial numbers of citizens will not be selected nor included on the site, since they would be counter to our intention of developing messages that encourage voter participation through effective use of images, text and ideas.”
The deadline for submissions was April 1, 2004. You can view or download the posters here.
I also note that the designs must include the AIGA logo:
“All posters must incorporate the required branded band (this will be embedded in the supplied template). The band will include the AIGA logo and the tagline ‘Good design makes choices clear’ along with sponsor information.”
No RNC Poster Collective
“No RNC Poster Collective is a small collective of friends with experience in graphic design and independent media. We came together with the goal of facilitating visual resistance for the anti-RNC activities in NYC this summer. We want to make protest beautiful and connect artists with organizations working against the RNC.
Our goal for the project is to create a visual blitz in New York City against Bush and the Convention, and to blend art with politics in the finest New York style.
We are putting together in a free book of posters relating to the Republican National Convention in New York City, August 29th -September 4th. We are mass producing these posters on newsprint for distribution across New York City and the country in bookstores, apartment windows, picket signs and pasted up on the street.
We are looking for artists who can make posters with themes anywhere in the range from anti-Republican to anti-RNC-being-held-in-NYC to anti-Bush to antiwar to anything else you think is relevant. The plan is to have some posters about specific marches and actions and others that communicate a general anti-RNC message.
We are printing the posters in early June so that we can circulate them all summer. Submissions should be in black and white. Dimensions are 14" x 21" (that’s 15" x 22" with a half inch border). Deadline for submissions is May 30th. If you are at all interested, please e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In mid-June, we’ll head to the printers with the best designs we get, and then set up a distribution network to get thousands of them up on the streets, in storefronts, in apartment windows, on picket signs.... everywhere there’s room.
We’re also setting up an online gallery to display all the great work that people are sending in. In addition to that, we’re working on a gallery show-style event where we can show everything together, which will hopefully also act as a small fundraiser for the project.
We’ll also be doing stickers, stencils, pins, and more over the course of the summer, so please keep in touch if you have other designs or ideas.
Also, one of our goals in starting this project was to hook up artists with organizations — if you think you might be interested in designing a poster for a specific group or event, let us know, it’d definitely help. Info on all the events and groups is here: http://rncnotwelcome.org/logistics.html. Check it out and see if anything leaps out at you.
We hold regular meetings in Brooklyn every Wednesday night, which people are welcome to come to — e-mail us if you have any interest. We’re currently working on fundraising and other logistics,
We’re working closely with the fantastic folks at Arts in Action, who are planning all sorts of fun, creative, and challenging work in the city this summer. Check them out at http://www.thechangeyouwanttosee.org for more info on what they’re up to.”
The budgetary and printing limitations will also give the No RNC posters a consistent, low-tech aesthetic despite the variety of designs and designers.
You can view the final posters here.
Though the projects follow much the same format, the politics differ considerably. And though each is an open call for entries, distributed primarily through email and the Web, each seems to target participants much like the organizers themselves, though each in the end aspires to influence a broader public.
Designs On The White House is a grassroots initiative endorsing a major political party. They are rallying a younger crowd seeking to inject a sense of style and hipness into the stodgy, elitist political machine.
Let Down By Labour is a top-down initiative, probably financed by the political party. As noted by the commentor, they seem to be looking for free labor, particularly from other advertising professionals.
The AIGA, a national professional association of dues-paying designers, while explicitly non-partisan, is encouraging participation in the electoral process. The competition was only open to members, and is as much about promoting the AIGA and the public value of design as it is about getting out the vote.
The No RNC Poster Collective, an a grassroots, open, volunteer collective is explicitly partisan, and while challenging the Republican convention, is tied to the protest and civil disobedience to take place around the convention. They are accepting contributions from anyone.
Judging for Let Down By Labour is secret and closed. The judges are unknown. Judging for the AIGA and Designs on the White House are via celebrity panelists, though Designs on the White House does open some voting to the public through the Web. Judging for the No RNC Poster Collective project is open, though one has to physically travel to Brooklyn.
The motivation pitched by each also varies: Let Down By Labour promotes pure self-interest and the prospect of fame for oneself; The AIGA sells the high ideals of civic engagement; Designs on the White House pitches the fun of it; while the No RNC Poster Collective provides a place to focus one’s outrage.
I also note how the choice of media plays into the politics.
Designs On The White House focuses on T-shirt design, seem to implicitly target an audience in their 20’s and 30’s that would wear cheeky political T-Shirts. T-shirts with the winning designs will be put on sale for anyone to purhcase.
Let Down By Labour focuses on advertising, specifically national television and billboards, expensive media generally only accessible to wealthy corporations, advertising agencies, and the big political parties themselves. While this might seem to be an opportunity to the grassroots to gain access, it is still corporate spaces purchase by corporations in the service of a conservative, corporatist party.
The AIGA Get Out the Vote initiative and the No RNC Poster Collective both focus on poster design. Both will have open distribution via the Web, and printed posters will be distributed on an ad-hoc basis. The AIGA posters will probably have perennial use for future election campaigns, though the RNC posters are specifically located towards the convention in New York City, the walls and public surfaces of the City, setting the stage for the massive civil disobedience.