Why neutrality is a powerful tool for grassroots abortion campaign graphics

Designing graphics around abortion is a tricky balance: too strident, they further alienate the people a campaign needs to reach; too plain, they risk being ignored

It seems there are two main reasons people create abortion campaign graphics: the most obvious is supporting a cause they believe in by utilising the skills they have, but the secondary motivation is necessity — all too often, the designs leave a lot to be desired.

Caoimhe Doyle started working with Irish all-volunteer, non-hierarchical organisation Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) in 2013, while still a design student. For the following three years or so, they volunteered as a facilitator and designer, collaborating with the other graphic design group members on leaflets, posters and videos, as well as the branding for ARC itself. 

“Me and a few friends were thinking about what we could contribute, and that was graphic design skills,” says Doyle. “In the early days of the movement a lot of the design that I was looking at was rough and ready and ‘leftie’ looking — lots of black and red, a sort of torn paper aesthetic, that kind of thing. That can scare off people from certain demographics, whereas the campaign was trying to target a much broader spectrum of the population.”

Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) logo
Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) logo

ARC’s branding looked to neutralise rather than provoke: it uses a simple wordmark, abstract graphic device and a palette of three main brand colours. The designs prize simplicity and inoffensiveness, but as with any other branding project, each element has signifiers beyond mere decoration. Created following a number of group meetings about what the overall tone of the campaign should be, the key consideration that emerged was to reach a far larger audience through employing a “softer visual language.” 

Founded with the ultimate  goal of ‘achieving free, safe and legal abortion care everywhere on the island of Ireland, for everyone who wants or needs it’, in its early days ARC’s aims were seen as achievable in three main steps: the first was around the ‘X Case’ legislation (giving Irish women the right to abortion if their pregnancy risked their life, including from suicide); next was initiating a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment (the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland); and the third step was establishing free, safe and legal abortion. The logo therefore uses a three-coloured, half-rainbow ‘arc’ graphic device.