At Wide Eye Creative, a purpose-driven digital design agency, we’ve cut our teeth and built our reputation on working with campaigns and organizations in the progressive community. We’ve worked with Democratic races from the top of the ballot to the local level, clients like Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, the DCCC, NARAL, and more. For years now we’ve worked on an array of design projects (logos, websites, social graphics, ads), refining a visual style for campaigns by eek-ing every last drop out of “red, white and blue”, riffs on Hoefler’s Gotham font family (Obama), waves (Bernie), stars, stripes, scenic images of American landscapes, the cutout shapes of states, and images of hopeful but intently listening candidates surrounded by diverse constituents. Each project was creative and fresh, but had to operate within a set of invisible boundaries; a sweet remix of an old song.
It didn’t come as a surprise that shortly after the end of a devastating 2016, and still weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration, we heard from a number of potential clients looking to gear up organizations committed to resisting Trump and his agenda. It was clear that a groundswell of action was brewing pretty quickly. It was loud, inspired and not entirely organized. The motivating factor was not just upset over Hillary Clinton’s loss, but a desperate fear that America had slipped over the precipice into a dark place where democracy, truth, freedom and the rule of law would start to fail in favor of a new authoritarianism.
So, naturally, as a creative design firm — one that values and prides itself on good aesthetics, style, and smart design — we found ourselves asking a sort of odd question:
Relative to all of the safe, hopeful conventions of a million red, white and blue, stars-y and stripes-y campaigns, what the heck does the “resistance” now look like?
One thing was sure — the old conventions and approaches are no longer appropriate. Is the resistance gritty, distressed, punk, and angry? Is it wrapped in the American flag? Is it built off of classic images of Americanism: our monuments, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers? What are the new rules in this upside-down paradigm?
What it looks like as of March 2017
The initial answer to those questions is, of course, “all of these things and none of these things” — but a certain visual vernacular is starting to come into focus less than two months into Donald Trump’s Presidency.
In January, we were commissioned to design, brand and launch a new online presence for one of the more prominent of these startup organizations, Stand Up America. At the time they were only on Facebook with some temporary branding, but nonetheless growing an increasingly impressive community. In getting started on the project, we set out to detail in one place the motifs we were already seeing, with some unexpected sources of inspiration.
1. Darker tones
A base color palette that is notably darker — as exemplified by the Women’s March or Run For Something (branded by Jennifer Kinon’s team at OCD). Dark blues, charcoals and blacks expressing a confidence and strength, but also recognizing the seriousness of the moment.
On Stand Up America we decided to deepen this convention with nearly black and white hues — the suggestion being that the resistance isn’t a confused, nuanced or complex idea. It’s a movement whose moral stance is clear, stark, and, literally, black and white.
2. Distressed rips & tears
A common motif has been the distressing or ripping of design elements (see: Our Revolution logo designed by Wide Eye or Revolution Messaging’s Daily Action) to indicate a grassroots, organic activism and inspired by street posters and protest signs. Particularly near my own apartment in the U Street corridor of Washington, DC, resistance-related posters and messages are everywhere. Ripped by passersby and weathering. The groundswell of the resistance is on the street, not orchestrated from some ivory tower or K Street office.
The inspiration for the Stand Up America logo was to subtly evoke a sign or poster that might plaster a city wall. We also set a rule for ourselves not to use true white (#ffffff) on any design element — instead using a cream color to suggest a fading or weathering.
3. Broad spectrum of secondary colors
To contrast the darker tones, some resistance groups have employed a broader spectrum of secondary colors (like Here to Stay) beyond the traditional red and blue that one might expect (although Swing Left, the Women’s March and Indivisible have stayed safely within this convention). While the resistance is morally clear, it’s also inclusive and emotional. We were particularly inspired by the display of colorful post-it notes in New York City’s Union Square subway station that popped up after the election:
For Stand Up America, we introduced an expanded palette to play on this vibrance and energy.
4. Tall, narrow, all caps sans serif typography
The resistance isn’t quiet or subtle. It’s about bold, decisive action. As such, we’ve been noticing frequent use of tall, narrow all caps typography to communicate the voice of the movement (Run for Something, Women’s March, Daily Action). We found this extremely effective with Stand Up America in using Hoefler’s Tungsten Bold typeface.
5. Focus on people power
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a key motif of the resistance has been a focus on the power of diversity and inclusion. Nowhere was this better exemplified than the collage of faces in AirBnb’s now famous super bowl ad or, of course, the Women’s March logo featuring the silhouettes of different women:
But beyond these sorts of interesting stylistic choices, there lies a much deeper question:
What “should” the resistance look like? Where do we go from here?
What messages will bind it together? What will propel it forward? To what degree will it be absorbed into the American mainstream versus being made more fringe?
There are countless individuals who are, and will continue to, shape the visual identity of the resistance. Here’s what I’d like to see more of:
1. Reclaim American ideals
The resistance is patriotic and our opponents and their potential... ahem, likely ties to Russian interests, are not. The resistance should be wrapped in the American flag, should evoke symbols of American-ism (Statue of Liberty, our national parks, monuments, etc.), and establish a continuity with the Founding Father’s vision (Hamilton, et al). The resistance is about freedom and fairness — quintessentially American ideals.
2. Celebrate a collective identity and democratize everything
The resistance has been and should continue to be unwaveringly positive, inclusive and accessible. It welcomes Americans of all backgrounds, identities, shapes, and sizes. Designers, developers and UX designers should emphasize accessibility for audiences who speak other languages and have disabilities. Artists should represent diverse faces and perspectives. Check out the Art of Resistance account on Instagram. Openness, inclusion and humility are key.
3. Be brutally honest, direct and speak with confidence
Progressives have a knack for complicating things. The resistance needs to speak clearly, be brutally honest, and not pull any punches. That means simple, emotional calls to action with clear outcomes, and messages that are direct and to the point. Make America Great Again, to its credit, was clear and outcome-focused. Stronger Together was a nuanced ethos and needed to be parsed to be fully understood. No more parsing.
4. It’s about Freedom
These are things that our team at Wide Eye Creative thinks about everyday. The resistance needs to be more than just scrappy, it needs to be aspirational, it needs to lead, and it needs to bring as many people as possible along on its journey.
As other agencies, strategists, designers, digital and communications professionals embark on creative work for candidates, organizations, resistance groups and brands in this new era — I hope we all take a moment to question our assumptions, challenge convention, and recognize our power to inspire the resistance forward.