Keep Calm and Design On

Left: British Government. Keep Calm and Carry On. 1939. Right: Anthony Burrill. Work Hard & Be Nice to People (in Red). 2004–2011.

Come Up With Your Own Ideas” — Anthony Burrill

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster produced and distributed by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War. The poster later resurfaced and became popularized in the early 2000’s and was subsequently reproduced and parodied in mass by designers and retailers. Anthony Burrill’s poster Work Hard & Be Nice to People (2004) underwent a similar copycat phenomenon around the same time. It’s interesting to note that graphic design was seeing a major revival of letterpress printing processes during the 1990′s to early 2000′s.

Work Hard is Burrill’s most notable poster to date, one of several posters in a series of self-published work spanning 2004–2011. Work Hard uses a phrase that Burrill overheard a woman say while waiting in line at his local supermarket. The poster’s phrase and visual composition have since been copied and replicated in droves. With widespread use of the internet and ideas now being exchanged at lightning speed, it’s no wonder how ideas become xeroxed into oblivion. The cycle of copycat redistribution can quickly transform an idea’s intent. You see this with internet culture as a whole. The internet can be thought of as a giant game of telephone; only design plays the game visually.

Keep Calm and Design On image collection

In reaction to the mass replication of his most iconic work, Burrill continued his series of posters with phrases that act as friendly provocation, such as “I Hate People Ripping Me Off.”

keepcalmstudio, an image template website

Is it a designer’s responsibility to wholly own ideas as being unique only to themselves? Designs will always be copied with honest and dishonest intent. There’s much to be learned from copying and studying the works of others. Creation should embrace influences, embrace history, embrace trends. We need influence in order to advance and build upon what already exists.

The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On, 2012.


This blog post was made in relation to Mini Index, an ongoing archive of over 1,000 visually similar images from design and culture.