In an age of heavily marketed multinational brands, consumers regularly encounter graphic symbols that are capable of triggering quite specific responses. Yet there is one especially potent mark that may be Western society’s agreed logo for evil; a work of simple geometry that acted as a propeller for the 20th century’s most feared killing machine: the swastika.
Yet despite it provoking widespread revulsion, in his latest publication, Steven Heller acknowledges that the Nazi seal still remains a source of fascination for graphic designers. Not least for Heller himself. In fact, this book, The Swastika and Symbols of Hate: Extremist Iconography Today, is certainly not the first time that you will have found him writing about it. As one of, if not the, most prolific critics of graphic design, it was perhaps inevitable that he would have accepted the difficult task of explaining how this ancient form – once a sacred religious motif – was unearthed by the Third Reich and turned, as he puts it, into “a visual obscenity”. That challenge already culminated in Heller’s The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? almost 20 years ago. He has since contributed other articles on the topic to the likes of Print magazine and Design Observer, each attempting to come to terms with both the historical aspects of the swastika and the writer’s own engagement with it largely as an emblem of the past. What makes it different this time is that, alarmingly, he is forced to challenge the swastika’s recent resurrection alongside a whole range of other symbols signalling newer nationalist movements.