Are Propaganda posters the dark past of designers?

I went on vacations and visited Prague, Vienna, and Budapest at the beginning of the month.

Besides the usual touristy places, the one that I enjoyed the most is the House of Terror Museum in Budapest. This museum is about the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary and all the unjustified actions that happened during these regimes.

If you think anything like me, you’re probably wondering how could someone support and believe in such lies. Especially in the beginning, there was no established military force to oblige people into submission. It doesn’t make much sense. How do they manage that? The answer is simple; Propaganda posters.

Propaganda posters were one of the primary mediums to persuade people because they were cheap, easy to reproduce and reach all levels of society.

So there’s no doubt that intentionally or not, the designers of those posters played a huge role in persuading people on a grand scale and contributed to some of the biggest atrocities in the 20th century. Here’s how:

1. Size matters in Propaganda posters

If you look at some of the first Soviet Poster from Russia, you’ll notice that often times images were more significant and more relevant than text.

You might think that this was stylistic, but actually, it’s because most of the Russian population couldn’t read.

The scale was also a very significant aspect in propaganda posters. The leading figure (either a military officer, a farmer or the dictator) took a central and more prominent place in comparison to the rest of the elements. The human figure was present most of the times so that people could relate more.

2. Make it Pop

Red, white and blue. These are the primary colors used in Propaganda posters. They served to convey messages such as nation, color flags, regimes, and ideologies. Also, they persuade to take action, to trust and to believe.

Back then, people already attributed general meanings to colors, and designers knew very well how to use them to their advantage.

3. Meaning is everything

Other than color, designers knew how to use symbols that each population could relate to and understand. In Russia, for instances, they used some religious icons because people were familiarized with them.

Also, symbols of agriculture and factories falsely conveyed prosperity and national growth.

4. Keep it fresh

Although under a dictatorship, designers were sometimes allowed to give their personal taste and style to Propaganda. Some posters were produced in a more avant-guarde style and are still considered pieces of with tremendous value to the history of design.

5. Familiarization is king

There’s a reason why Nazi posters were (and still are) highly recognizable as being Nazi posters.
 Other than the more obvious reasons like Hitler’s image, they played with crucial elements that were familiar to German people.

The use of Fraktur typography and the adoption of the Swastika as a Nazi symbol aren’t mere coincidences.

Fraktur was a type font introduced in German in the 16th century. It was used by Protestants to print the bible and it became a very popular in books. So Hitler probably chose this font consciously.

On the other hand, the Swastika was a symbol recognized and used all over the world before the Nazi flag. It was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and in Europe, it was a symbol of good luck.

Also, artifacts with swastikas were among remains of the Aryan culture, which resulted in the fascination of the German people with it. All things considered, it was the perfect symbol in the eyes of the Nazi Party and its ideologies.

By imposition or not, there’s no doubt that designers played an undeniably important role in fascist and communist regimes.

As with most things, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we have the power to change the world but, unfortunately, we don’t always do it for the better. This is one of those cases.


Originally published at Melted.