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Five Impactful Uses of Graphic Design Throughout History

Look around, and there's a good chance that you're witnessing, or interacting with, an example of graphic design. Social media, television shows, billboards, posters, books, games, and shop fronts everywhere make good use of it; and this is by no means a recent trend. Graphic design has been used, often without much notice, to shape entire social, cultural and political trends throughout history. Below are the best examples of those designs that reshaped their world.

Benjamin Franklin - Join or Die - 1754 - 1776

This political cartoon, designed by American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, began as a rallying cry during the Seven Years War before becoming a central piece of propaganda in years before the American Revolution. In key colonial states like New York and Pennsylvania, it was printed week after week, year after year, as an effort to shift the mood away from simple protest and toward a widespread political movement for independence. This single piece of design, simple and elegant, ranks as perhaps the most consequential piece of design ever crafted. The history and culture of the world would look very different if the American Revolution did not happen, and this cartoon became a potent symbol for colonial unity and freedom in the fight to make sure that independence was achieved. There are hundreds of important designs throughout history, but few held as much sway as Franklin's cartoon in determining the course we are on today.

Eric Field and Alfred Leete - Lord Kitchener Wants You - 1914

This iconic recruitment poster, immortalised in school history books, successfully convinced hundreds of thousands of British young men to enlist for service during the First World War. Since then, countless imitations have been similarly successful during more recent conflicts. The 'Uncle Sam' version released in the United States spearheaded America's late entry into the Second World War, turning the tide of the conflict, and the theme inspired similar posters used in both the Russian and Spanish Civil Wars. Because of all this success, the image has become symbolic of a government's power to rally the people to join up and fight.

Coca Cola - The Pause That Refreshes - 1953

Coca Cola is the reigning champion of soft drinks, holding instant brand recognition across the world. What you might not know, however, is that Coca Cola used decade after decade of targeted marketing campaigns to practically invent our contemporary perception of Santa Claus. The jolliness, the warmness, the cheer, and even the fact that he's draped in red and white are all aspects of Santa's identity that Coca Cola invented to sell their famous drink. It was their strategy, defined by beautifully drawn posters, that has made Santa such a cultural powerhouse in the western world. And what makes this invention so powerful is that most people are absolutely none the wiser.

Jim Fitzpatrick - Heroic Guerrilla Fighter - 1968

This trippy spin on what was already an iconic photograph immortalised the revolutionary Che Guevara as a mythical figure across the globe. The photograph is often referred to as the most recognisable ever produced; and its even touted by some as the defining image of the 20th century. Jim Fitzpatrick's psychedelic version, which you can see right in front of you, inflamed recognition of the image around the world; appearing on posters, t-shirts, and any other fabric you can think of. Few images have become so enmeshed so deeply into our culture. Whether or not Che himself would be happy with this popularity, however, is another story altogether.

Shepard Fairey - Hope - 2008

Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, such as his ingenious use of the internet to fund his campaign through small donations, but the most longstanding success of his bid was Shepard Fairey's incredible series of campaign posters. Taking inspiration from portraits of Abraham Lincoln and JFK, Fairey's simple yet powerful design became undisputedly iconic amongst the American public due to its unapologetically hopeful messaging. The country was rearing from the worst financial crisis in 80 years, and Fairey's design came to represent the core message of Obama's campaign. While many factors contributed to the success of his bid for the presidency, Fairey's poster remains the single most memorable part of the campaign.

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