As part of the VisitBrabant annual nighttime celebration #BrabantNacht, I visited the Graphic Matters design festival in Breda, Netherlands. The festival features topical works by international designers, with an emphasis on political and social works in public spaces.
Graphic design is an important part of our lives—it’s often hidden underneath text and images the untrained eye doesn’t recognize as designed. Without even noticing it, design shapes our lives and our thoughts while our brains and our eyes make snap judgements based upon these visual representations. And as the world changes and our society becomes more and more fractured, so have our designs. It’s important for designers as well as non-designers alike to be more aware. And more responsible.
The Graphic Matters design festival in Breda takes this understanding of design and presents it to an audience in an easily discernible way. In the program brochure, the Graphic Matters founder Dennis Elbers writes, “We share our thoughts, comments, and likes online 24/7. Heated discussions, spontaneous protests and even riots; imagery is key in today’s protests. Graphic design is meant to communicate with the masses. Whether it’s activism, satire or optimism, critical imagery triggers urgent issues and challenges people to form their own opinions. Therefore, graphic designers have a social responsibility towards representing bold opinions.”
Graphic design is meant to communicate with the masses. Whether it’s activism, satire or optimism, critical imagery triggers urgent issues and challenges people to form their own opinions.
Today, social issues are front and center of our lives. The news dominates so much of what we do and how we act. New resistance movements are popping up in every aspect of culture—from sports (#takeaknee) to movies. And why wouldn’t the same happen in design?
Milton Glaser’s exhibition The Design of Dissent is a survey of these graphic representations of protest movements throughout history. Issues presented in the exhibition range from war and racism to human rights, poverty, the environment, gun control and capitalism.
The range of works (from the very iconic to ones with historical significance) prove that protest has been and will always be an important part of our world. The most successful designers are able to take these ideas for change, for social movements, for protest and dissent, and they’re able to convert them into iconic messages of hope, resistance and resilience.
The Design of Dissent premiered in 2005 at The School of Visual Arts – NY and was revitalized in 2016 with additional posters and protests. The exhibition at the Graphic Matters design festival is the first time this body of work has been shown in Europe.
Walking through the exhibition space is a journey through time, a reminder of how far we’ve come as a society and how far we still have to go. The posters, pins and other designs are shown with little commentary, but rather a chronological timeline of different social movements throughout history.
The series starts off in the 1960s, highlighting prominent movements such as the Vietnam protests, the space race, the rise of feminism, and rock & roll. The full collection (and the earlier 2005 book based on the original exhibition) is both inspiring and motivational. Rather than the news which often depresses, these designs are meant to inspire and move you to action.
The Graphic Matters design festival is on from September 22 to October 22 in Breda, NL. Tickets are available to buy online and more information is available on their official website. Graphic Matters was founded in 2008 and features events aimed both at professional designers and a general audience.
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