Design of Dissent



One of the main themes this week throughout Mirko Ilic’s presentation and from the book Design of Dissent by Tony Kushner, is that designers have the capability to use art as a catalyst for change.

Mirki Ilic’s work, since moving to US, is mostly illustration and graphic design, typically with political or social relevance. His work from Mirko Ilic Corporation, founded in 1995, can be viewed at A specific example of a socially and politically charged graphic is “Lady of Liberty Kissing Lady Justice”, making the statement for gay and lesbian rights with the Statue of Liberty kissing the Lady of Justice statue. The use of popular icons for liberty and justice, with their appropriate colors, helps translate the meaning of the image without using many words. The subheading says, “Sponsored by Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Bar Association,” and from here we come to realize this is a legal resource advocating gay and lesbian rights.


Ilic designed the cover for Design of Dissent; the two black bars over the title reference censorship, which he also speaks of in his lecture. Ilic firmly believes in the role of the designer as a communicator–to convey a message effectively to reach as many people as possible to spark change. Censorship is an issue when designers make bold or “offensive” statement through imagery and text. It takes a courageous person to stand behind his/her design.

As described by Tony Kushner in the introduction of Design of Dissent, imagery in this book is considered political art and thus, has the ability to speak to the collective community; using a humanist approach by appealing to our emotions and forcing us to empathize with the victim.
Kushner goes on to say that effective design includes wit, shock and clarity using simple forms that are instantly recognizable. We can appreciate these designs because they have the power to address fear and deal with the need for change. The posters include powerful images that speak for the oppressed, and the images tackle a variety of issues ranging from peace, animal rights, gun control, women’s rights, religion, the corporate world and the Iraq war.


Co-writer Milton Glaser says that in taking the opposing view of a political issue, a powerful message is visually fueled by empathy and by the idea that other people matter. “… and if one person is hurt or victimized, we are all hurt or victimized.”  This idea relates to cosmopolitanism, a term in the reading by Appiah, because of the concept that there is a shared notion of being and belonging to the community of the world.
Exploring three artists mentioned by Kushner, I found work that stood up for the oppressed and took a stand against the government.
John Heartfield was a German designer during WW2 who used art to protest against the government control of Hitler and the Nazi Party. He was the first to explore photomontage as an artistic expression. This technique strips down iconic images and combines them with text. The imagery is powerful because the realistic image is distorted in a dramatic and disturbing way to convey meaning.
• In The Hand has Five Fingers poster, the text on the orginal says, “Five fingers make a hand!” With these five, grab the enemy!” and below says, “The hand has five fingers capable and powerful with the ability to destroy as well as create.”
• Blood and Iron is Heartfield’s take on the Nazi military slogan. Blood dripping from the swastika infers that the military, made of weapons and soldiers, are all Germany needs for victory.


Kathe Kolliwitz was an influential expressionist female painter, printmaker and sculptor. I show her work here because it had an expressive language that was proven to be understood worldwide. A broad spectrum of her work expresses aspects of suffering, either with poverty and death or hunger and war.


Silence=Death is a project and a logo designed by a group of six gay men who wanted to get together and talk about what to do in the age of AIDS. Several were designers. They decided to get the word out by plastering posters, like these, around New York City. The pink triangle was a pro-gay image created by activists in the US during the 1970’s. Previously during WW2, known homosexuals were forced to wear an inverted pink triangle as an identifier, like the yellow star of David. Homosexuals were considered at the bottom of the camp social system.

The appropriation of the pink triangle shown here turned upright, was an attempt to transform a symbol of humiliation into one of resistance, gay pride and liberation. The slogan spawned other phrases like Action=Life and Ignorance=Fear. These graphics found their way onto t-shirts and buttons and became a valuable source of fundraising for the organization. These men later joined the protest group called ACT UP and offered their logo to the organization. The goal is to turn fear, anger and grief into action. This organization was started in NYC, but became nationally known. This is another example of how powerful images can help spread ideas quickly and easily across borders.
Ilic brought up the point that images can be more powerful than words. This is an example where a simple line drawing can conjure up memories of the events on September 11, 2001. This picture has 1,000 words.
These images, with political and social meassages, strive to unite people and evoke change for the greater good. They reminded me of the ideals of cosmopolitanism for two reasons: abolishment of censorship and using image as a universal language. The public can learn so much by being open-minded to different points of view, to international designers’ perspective, and political statements. Co-author Milton Glaser makes a statement before the exhibition of Design of Dissent at SVA by saying, “it is necessary for the opposing view to be expressed to protect democracy. It’s the only hope we have.”


Rock the Vote is a positive image/logo that I found played an active role in the change of the 2008 election. Backing a successful idea, the logo was designed to empower young people to vote. Rock the Vote has become a trusted source for information on politics. Their logo is fresh and simple and gets to the point. The check mark makes it seem easy and effortless to vote–just by checking a box. The “rock” term is also a great way to connect to young people through music. Bands play an important part in this campaign, and promote voting at their shows and concerts. Rock the Vote was successful this year with a record number of young voters–23 million 18-29 year old people voted!

Here, a picture says 1,000 words.



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