Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video World War I propaganda, part of Foundations of Graphic Design History.
- On June 28, 1914 the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assasinated in Sarajevo. This effectively began World War I in Europe. Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain all now needed to promote their own message to recruit volunteers, rally the troops, and convince the public that their fight was good, and victory was possible. There was no radio, television, internet or social media. But new cost efficient printing technologies allowed for mass production of posters, and these became the primary tool for war propaganda.
The explorations and stylistic approaches of art nouveau and arts and crafts were quickly set aside. The British, French, and American governments commissioned the work and preferred an approach that favored realism and traditional images. Britain, France, and America relied on messages of patriotism, home, family, and a man's role in society. British poster questioned a man's masculinity if he did not enlist, as in the poster, "Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?" Others appealed to a man's sense of honor for the Women of Britain.
American posters used images such as Uncle Sam and the American flag for patriotism. Four million copies of James Montgomery Flagg's "I Want You" poster were printed and distributed across America. Unlike the British posters, the American posters are direct and straightforward. Uncle Sam looks directly at the viewer and commands the viewer to join the Army. A Marine stands before the flag and demands that the viewer become a Marine.
Even President Woodrow Wilson stares directly at the viewer and commands them to stand by him. Before the war, an average American would not go farther than 20 miles from their home for their entire lives. Recruiting posters promised the idea of adventure and excitement overseas. German posters continued to use the simplified plakastil approach. Simple symbols and typography communicated messages of strength and victory.
Hans Rudi Erdt's poster for the film "U Boote Heraus" or the "U-boats Are Out," uses the simplified form of a sans serif U to frame the abstract figure of a U-boat commander. The strong shapes and dramatic action depict the commander as a new type of hero. The poster uses hand drawn lettering and bold areas of flat color, integrating image and text into one message. Other posters appeal to Germany's medieval past, and the honor of the country.
While these posters are aesthetically strong, the abstraction and lack of realism, had little or no emotional impact. To date, we are bombarded with images and messages. It is difficult to imagine a time when a poster was the most critical propaganda tool for the war effort. The era of World War I was the first time that the power of design was used effectively on a mass scale. These posters did the job of radio, television, and the internet combined.
Beginning in the Victorian age, Sean explores the need for design in Industrial age advertising, the use of graphic design as propaganda during the two world wars, and the rise of the massively influential Bauhaus school. He sheds light on the development of poster, film-title, magazine, and album-cover design; the changing relationship between design and typography; and graphic design's role in various art movements, ranging from Art Nouveau to new wave. Get started with Foundations of Graphic Design History and discover the power of imagery.
- Why study graphic design history?
- Art Nouveau
- The Arts and Crafts movement
- The Soviet Revolution
- European avante-garde
- New Typography
- The great age of posters
- American modernism
- Post-war optimism
- The rise of the corporate identity
- Exploring the fused metaphor and the "big idea"
- Reviewing Swiss typography
- The West Coast shift