Design + Politics = Huge Turnout of Young Voters?

To begin, a rambling aside.

When I was a younger person, filled with lofty, creative enthusiasm, and surrounded by edgy, creative people, said people and myself would put on events – open mics, gallery shows, multimedia productions, etc. Of course, we always put up posters and handed out flyers for these events, and at first, we created the designs and printed them out at home.

But as our production skills, and our design skills improved, the charms of desktop printing faded. Printer paper, even nice printer paper, tore easily, turned to pulp in the rain, and more often than not looked like we were advertising a yard sale rather than a high-concept art event.

Eventually, we found an extremely low cost printer, and we started to advertise using glossy, full color posters. Not only did we see great turnouts at our wacky events, but to this day, I sometimes walk into a totally random party only to find one of these fondly-remembered prints displayed on the wall. Sometimes in a frame. Wicked cool.

Today, I was reminded of this early experience with the world of printing by Design Observer. According to this illustrious design blog, at the AIGA Design Conference last month, an elimination-round-based design competition was held. The final challenge was to design a strategy to get voters between the ages of 18 and 24 to turn out on Election Day.

Graphic designer and illustrator Nichelle Narcisi proposed a poster printing campaign. Her all-text poster designs are intended to confront young voters with a sense of powerlessness, essentially offending them into taking action. With taglines like “Everyone counts, except you.” And “Everyone can save the environment, except you,” the message is about as straightforward a challenge as I've ever heard.

Also on the poster is a URL where, I gather, people will eventually be able to go, design their own “except you” posters, and download PDFs for printing. Anyone interested in “engaging our political system,” as Narcisi puts it, can print out posters and shove them in the faces of their lazy / apathetic / distracted peers.

Okay, that might have sounded a little ennui-rrific, but the truth is that I think Narcisi is on exactly the right track. There's no reason to leave all the campaigning during this election season to the politicians. With the extremely low cost of full color printing that anyone can get through printers like Hotcards, a poster printing campaign can be run for a couple hundred bucks, and a flyer printing campaign can cost less than half of that.

Imagine putting 1000 glossy, 18″ x 24″ copies of Narcisi's posters up all over your city. Could it get hundreds, or even thousands more kids out to vote? Could the impact of the campaign stretch into the future, as people take the posters down, bring them home and put them up on their own walls as daily reminders of how important it is to take action? To be a doer, rather than an observer?

I often wonder how different the world would be today if I and my friends, who put so much work into our shows and galleries, had funneled that same energy into the political system as it stood four years ago, six years ago, eight years ago. Maybe instead of pushing art for art's sake, we should have been designing print campaigns that spoke to the political issues that concerned us.

Hmm, “the designer as politician.” That sounds a lot better to me than “the politician as designer.” What do you think?


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