WHY DO DESIGNERS FALL FOR LEFTWING CATCHPHRASES?

A lesson for designers & conservatives.

Why are so many designers enamored with leftwing slogans? You know the ones I’m talking about right? The quintessential leftwing catchphrase today is “Hope and Change,” but there are so many more. President Trump’s first term whipped leftists into such a froth that new phrases were birthed daily. Here’s just a quick list of the left’s slogans that are so popular with designers, after which we can explain why they are so popular.

Eat The Rich • Defund Hate Follow the Science • Believe Science • Slow the Spread • Spread Facts. Not Fear. • We’re In This Together. • Alone Together • Love Your Neighbor. Wear a mask. • Distance Makes Us Stronger • Mask Up • I’m With Her • Love is Love • We Are the 99% • Fight for 15 • Healthcare is A Right • Feel the Bern • My Body. My Choice. • Pussy Grabs Back • Black Lives Matter • She The People • I Can’t Breath • No Justice. No Peace. • Silence Is Violence • Say Their Names • Speak Truth to Power • Choose Eco Not Ego • The World Is Watching • Don’t Trash It • Used Once. Lasts Forever. • March For Our Lives • Planet Over Profit • Fuck Racism • Si Se Puede • There Is No Planet B • Hope is a Renewable Resource • Fight The Power • Organize Agitate Educate • Time’s Up • Resist • Punch A Nazi • Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. • Grab Em By The Patriarchy • The Future Is Female • Hear Our Voice • Medicare for All • Believe Women

Now, hopefully you didn’t lose too many brain cells after reading that list. Assuming you’re still functional, here are three factors that explain why these slogans are especially popular among designers. There is a lot to learn from this overview for both designers and conservatives.

Many of the left’s slogans just sound nice. Unfortunately, a designer’s empathy becomes a double edged sword when they need to evaluate these slogans. They are prone to accept the statement at face value, or to assume the best about it. It takes a skeptical mind to question the merits of a slogan like “Defund Hate,” “We’re In This Together,” or “Love is love.” A well read conservative can see all kinds of problems with them but most designers are not well-read conservatives. Their instinct is to assume that a nice-sounding sentiment is actually a nice sentiment. Even something vulgar like “Fuck Racism” is ostensibly good. Who actually wants racism? The typical designer only sees that level, and few ever ask if what they are calling racism is actually just the founding principles of American society — liberty and justice.

Ok, so we understand now why a nice-sounding slogan is popular to designers. But what about slogans like “Punch A Nazi” or “Organize Agitate Educate’ or “Grab Em By The Patriarchy?” These are not nice statements, actually they are pretty gross. But that’s where some of design school teaching comes into play. As I wrote about in a previous newsletter, design schools teach their students that if they are not “designing for change” then they are not really good designers worth paying attention to. If you aren’t edgy, you aren’t really a designer. This mentality is self-destructive and will always mean that designers are drawn like moths to the flame of a provocative slogan. Does it matter that “Punch a Nazi” encourages violence against people who are not actually Nazis, or that the people who shout that slogan are much more like the Nazis themselves? Not as long as the designer has an opportunity to be edgy.

The final factor is that the left’s slogans are nearly all simple statements. Look at the list provided in this article. Only one slogan is more than 5 words long, with most being only 3 words. Designers love this. In any context, the shorter a tagline is, the better it is for a designer because it gives them the flexibility to do clever things with the design. Just think for a minute about what goes into designing with text. If you have a short phrase, then there are opportunities to play with the arrangement and spacing of the words. You can mess with the size of words, or do fun tricks like turning the tail of a “y” into the crossbar of a “t” in the line beneath it. But when a designer is given a large body of text, they are prevented from doing these things because they are instead focussed on typesetting practices like kerning, margins, balancing lines of text, and adjusting leading. Basically, most Designers want to do more than typesetting. Short slogans give them that creative license.

Whenever a slogan can check off any of the boxes above, it will probably appeal to designers. Leftwing slogans tend to check off at least two at a time. Therefore, designers love to work with those slogans. But we can’t overlook the fact that these slogans all promote an evil agenda. There is a lesson here for both designers and conservatives. First, designers need to start educating themselves about history, morality, and economics. This may not be your cup of tea, but designers should develop a code of ethics regarding the messages they promote. It is not enough to assume that “designing for change” means designing for good.

Second, conservatives need to learn that short, provocative, and nice-sounding slogans are the way to win minds. There are plenty of great 500 page books, as well as organizations like Heritage Foundation, Mises Institute, and Hillsdale Collegethat publish white papers explaining deep concepts. Hitting difficult topics in deeply informative ways is something that all of these organizations excel at. However, when it comes to a snappy slogan, conservatives fail to accept that simple is best. Ultimately something short and sweet like “Power to Parents” is abused by a committee until it becomes “It’s time to give parents, teachers, and concerned citizens the platform to speak and influence the way their children are taught in schools.” Perhaps “Power to Parents” doesn’t say all of that, but no one is driven to action by the latter message. Maybe the left has an advantage here, because when they say “Speak Truth to Power,” there is nothing deeper to uncover. You cannot get a white paper on what that phrase means, but it is a good way to open a door to activism. Conservatives have plenty of deep stuff, but they have failed to accept that a simple slogan could open the door without explaining everything.

If you are interested in understanding how to fight the left, then look at why their messaging appeals to designers. The synergy between a simple message and a strong visual presentation is hard to beat. My favorite example of conservatives doing it right is PragerU’s video “Gun Rights Are Women’s Rights” because it is simple, empathetic AND edgy. A leftist has a hard time debating the argument because it pits their empathetic position for women against their loathing of guns. The same qualities make it appealing to independents. Another great slogan was “Make America Great Again,” to which the only response was “America Was Never Great” — which sounds petulant and hardly counters the idea that greatness is something to aim for. However, conservatives rarely achieve such a synergy and their slogans rarely become popular among designers. Conservatives won’t be able to change this until their messages harness the power of edge, empathy, and simplicity.

Illustrator / Motion / Graphic Design. Director of Design at @prageru. Writes about design + culture. Designs & opinions are my own, not those of PragerU.