Hitting the right notes in political design is a difficult balancing act. Campaigns, allegiances and hopes often rest on the minutiae – from a shade of colour to a single line of text. While the relationship between design and politics remains as sticky a territory as ever, Labour Party Graphic Designers believes the two are inseparable. “Design is always political as it doesn’t exist within a vacuum,” LPGD tells Creative Review. “Whether it’s a billboard campaign or posters on the streets during the May 1968 protests in France, a gesture or a fluttering flag – there’s always an element of design”.
LPGD is an independent collective of graphic designers working in support of the UK Labour Party. “We started LPGD as a Twitter account sharing the very best designs across the Labour movement, with the secondary dimension of encouraging the creation of original, inspiring new work,” explains LPGD. This evolved into the inception of ‘artpacks’, a quarterly collection of designs submitted by the public to coincide with a certain theme, issue or forthcoming campaign. The first artpack is centred around the May local elections, and has attracted the interest and involvement of a number of Labour-supporting graphic designers from around the country.
“We want to elevate the quality of design in the party and to create a network for Labour-supporting designers,” explains LPGD. “Historically, the left has been at the forefront of great design, from William Morris to Abram Games and more recently folks such as Shepard Fairey,” says the group, though it concedes that the Tories were “ruthlessly effective” during the 1980s.
LPGD believes its strength lies in the diversity of its talent pool. The responsibility of the task isn’t lost on the collective, and it is well aware of how political design and advertising can backfire. “Oftentimes it can be when trying to seize on a zeitgeist which feels inauthentic,” it says, citing Pepsi’s 2017 ad starring Kendall Jenner as an example.
“Even though we are formally unaffiliated to the party, this can be irrelevant if the work we do is seen to represent the party. It’s absolutely something we’re cognisant of. There’s also the pressure to create something which has a ‘stickiness’ factor to it – if we create something which falls flat, it’s almost equally disappointing as something which may generate a negative response.”
Though it’s not officially tied to Labour, LPGD has garnered positive responses from the party, with Andrew Gwynne MP having written the foreword to the first artpack. “A number of MPs were very early followers of the Twitter account and have been great in sharing content and helping us reach a wider audience.” The collective has also received support from Labour’s in-house design team, and has been in talks over how the two groups can support each other in the future.
The first artpack has only just been released, but the collective has bigger ambitions moving forward, including setting up exhibitions, workshops, panels and meetups for creatives, as well as finding a potential way to raise funds through designs to “support the wider movement and charitable causes”.
It’s also in the process of creating a design toolkit “to teach aspiring designers basic principles of design while working within the party’s guidelines,” in an attempt to make the initiative as accessible as possible. It remains to be seen how – or whether – the initiative will work when it comes to more significant campaigns such as the general or European elections, but for now, it’s refreshing to see creatives shaking up the system.