Design and Propaganda

Graphics is the only global language, understanding which knows no language barriers for people from any part of the world. Graphics works like a universal means of communication, because visual images can be easily perceived and understood intuitively. Along with traffic regulation and multiple other fields of graphics application, propaganda is another purpose, where graphical design plays a leading role. There is no country in the world that wouldn’t use graphic art as the powerful weapon to influence people and their attitude toward a particular idea or situation.

Propaganda is as old as a human society. The earliest signs of it can be found in the times of Roman Empire and ancient India. Though, the word “propaganda” itself first appeared only in 1622 with the formation of Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. The key goal of the organization was to spread the Christianity; the head of the Congregation received a huge power and became known as the “red pope”. In the next centuries, the role of propaganda shifted to the side of political applications, such as public relation and social opinion manipulation. That is why with every significant event, such as political elections, revolution, or war, propaganda received a new push to its development and practical implementation.

Propaganda at the Dawn of the 20th Century

The beginning of the 20th century was marked with the World War I and the revolution in Russia. During this period, Edward Bernays (by the way, a nephew of Sigmund Freud) published a book “Propaganda”, which became literally the first Bible of propaganda techniques and principles. During the WWI Bernays and Walter Lippmann (a journalist) worked for the USA governmental project, called Creel Commission. Their mission was to influence public opinion and persuade people in the necessity of USA joining the war on the side of the United Kingdom. The mission was completed in 6 months. Below is the example of graphic propaganda in the early 20th century.

Many posters, like the one below, are examples of propaganda, calling people to join military forces. For example, this one is an American poster, created by James Montgomery Flagg:

… and this is the example of the similar propaganda poster, created in 1920 on the other side of the world, in the Soviet Union, calling people to join Red Army during the Civil War:

Propaganda in Nazi Germany during World War II

As many other tyrants, Adolf Hitler paid much attention to propaganda and implemented many of its techniques to achieve his own goals. After becoming a German leader, the Ministry of Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebbels, was created to manipulate the public opinion of the German society. During this time, printed leaflets and posters remained the major media for propaganda graphics. All the artists and painters had to receive an approval from the Ministry before publishing their works in Nazi Germany. Several examples of propaganda designs from that time are presented below:

Offering benefits of bright future with Hitler (the text reads: “Before: Unemployment, hopelessness, desolation, strikes, lockouts. Today: Work, joy, discipline, camaraderie. Give the Führer your vote!”):

Calling people to support Hitler in building a new world by purchasing German-made products:

Germany is free!

The following graphic propaganda poster shows Germany getting ready for war. It contains the address of the SS recruiting office.

An example of propaganda poster, explaining the purpose of war as the protection of Europe against communistic Soviet Union:

At the end of the World War II, Nazi used propaganda to create a horrible image of the liberators:

It is interesting to note, that not only posters were used as the carriers of propaganda messages in Nazi Germany. Another popular media was postage stamp. Below are the several examples of graphics on stamps.

Propaganda in the Soviet Union

By its core nature, Soviet Union was not far from Nazi Germany. Both countries were ruled by dictators, both of them implemented extreme censorship, and both operated propaganda efficiently to promote new ideas and make people reject their previous life concepts and values.  Propaganda in the Soviet Union was under the closest attention of the Communist Party. It was treated as the most effective way to create a new nation of faithful communists. Just one fact to support this statement – in the 1930th during the regime of Joseph Stalin, Soviet Union built a huge aircraft equipped with multiple technical means to serve the purpose of propaganda: powerful radio station, machine for printing and dropping leaflets, film projector with sound, library, etc.

Most of the graphic works of the Soviet epoch was called to popularize the ideas and values of communism.

This one creates a close link between Communist Party, led by Lenin, with such values as peace, democracy, and social progress (the text reads “Communist Party is the intellect, honor and conscience of our epoch”).

The next poster calls women to fight the previous life set and build a new socialistic life.

A lot of propagandistic efforts in the Soviet Union were directed for military purposes. The following poster says: “Komsomol (youth organization) member, be ready to protect USSR. Learn to shoot neatly.

The text on the following poster calls young people to enter the military schools and become pilots.

Below the text simply says: “To the defense of the Soviet Union.

Army and people are together.

However, propaganda can have multiple forms and serve multiple purposes aside from politics, ideology, or warfare. To illustrate this statement we are offering several examples of graphic works, namely pocket calendars, which were also used as the media for propaganda. Many of such works addressed such social problems as alcoholism, unprofessionalism, improper behavior on the road or in the working environment, etc.

Propaganda in Modern Days

Being commonly used by Nazi and communists, the word “propaganda” received some negative coloring. Though today propaganda still remains a powerful technique to influence the social opinion in all the countries around the globe, the word itself is not that widely used, being substituted by some modern terms, such as public relation, marketing, promotion, advertising, etc. According to Pratkanis and Aronson, ours is an age of propaganda, for better or worse. Furthermore, modern days gave propaganda multiple new media to use and Internet is among them. Anyway, modern propaganda has become much more sophisticated than ever before. There is an extremely thin border between propaganda concepts and, for example, those of advertising. That is why it is really hard to say whether posters of Coca-Cola or McDonalds, you see every day, should be treated as propaganda or advertising.

Though, we still have examples of pure propaganda – for example, posters, promoting safe sex and those against spreading of HIV/AIDS.

Finally, to give you a bit of relax from military themes and politics, a few words should be said about shock marketing or provocative advertising. Indeed, looking at some of the modern advertising, it is getting unclear whether it is an effort to sell some goods or an advanced form of propaganda for some particular actions :-)


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After trying myself in multiple spheres, I have decided that the bigger part of my soul clearly votes for the humanitarian sciences and art. Thus, following the call of my soul and mind I received the University education and now I am fully involved in multiple web activities. I am deeply interested in the novel web technologies, design, content development and management, optimization and marketing.