Operation Vote

As the UK hurtles towards another big collective political decision, we ask, what function does the printed poster have in modern campaigning? And we hear from Studio Operative about its graphic-design led Corbyn campaign. 

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Pro-Corbyn poster by Pavillion for Studio Operative

Studio Operative is a UK-based arts publisher run by Alice Lindsay and Peter Willis. It publishes bi-annual critical journal of illustration, Limner, as well as regularly collaborating with practitioners from a range of creative disciplines on research driven publishing and communication projects.

In May, Studio Operative launched a poster campaign to bring together the visual talents of artists and designers in support of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn in the approach to the UK General election – voting takes place tomorrow (Thursday 8 June).

Poster design contributions quickly came in from designers and illustrators including Pavilion, Peter Nencini, Kiosk, Wai Wai Pang, Jay Cover, Thomas Dowse, Eilis Searson, Sinead Evans, work-form, Colin David Stewart, Sinae Park and Darryl Clifton.

Ahead of the big vote, we asked Alice and Peter to tell the story behind the campaign and their hopes for the power of the political poster as a medium. 

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Pro-Corbyn poster by Peter Nencini for Studio Operative

What prompted you to start a political poster campaign?
It came about pretty organically and quickly – we were both thinking of various ways to get more involved in the campaign for [Jeremy] Corbyn and Alice suggested asking a few of our friends and collaborators to submit some quick posters we could print and distribute. It was about utilising the means at our disposal – we have a network of designers and illustrators we know through Limner and our publishing output, and we have a risograph machine and a tonne of leftover paper at the studio, so it made sense.

We sent an email out about ten minutes later and that was it.

Who would you like to reach with these posters?
I think we’re very aware that their reach is limited but I think this general election campaign overall has seen much more individual creative engagement than in previous political campaigns. I tend to think of it more that posters like these are probably quite unlikely to completely change peoples minds, but they are more about giving visibility and strength to people who are already inclined towards those policies or ideas.

Certain factions would love to have you believe that voting for Corbyn is an idealistic and naive waste, but constantly seeing other people who believe in his campaign goes someway to making you feel, "no, actually this is possible and I’m not alone in thinking it’s the right thing to do".

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Pro-Corbyn poster by Tom Dowse for Studio Operative

What is the place of the political poster in a digital media landscape? 
I think people learnt a lot from the 2015 election about your social media filter bubble that can come about through online spaces, and the response to the posters has been about 50/50 digital and physical. We’ve been sending physical printed posters to marginals all over the country and gave away a few thousand at DIY Cultures and Offprint.

The posters have been available to download online for people to print out and share themselves too, so I think it was a conscious thing for us to try and reach beyond a profile picture or Instagram post and into the real world as much as we could. We’ve also tried to avoid the posters becoming design objects for their own sake as much as we can too, that they have to be used within the context of the campaign and serve a purpose rather than being a collectible image or to promote us or the designer. Though I do think a great deal of this election has been fought through memes, shareable videos and images, so the traction they’ve got as part of that has been great too.

I have pals on my Facebook and twitter who are sharing stuff constantly, so adding some more variations of imagery to these campaigns also drums home the message we’re trying to get across.

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Pro-Corbyn poster by Wai Wai Pang for Studio Operative

How do you think the power of design could be better harnessed in politics?
Similarly to above, I think the days of Saatchi & Saatchi billboards being the key element in political campaigns is finished. From a visual communication point-of-view seeing all of this amazing individual work spring up through genuine engagement with a campaign has been really refreshing. We’ve privately lamented a lack of political work in illustration in the past so its gratifying to be proved wrong. Like I say about online image culture being a prime factor in this election, I think more than ever design and images have a power so we need to really engage with that and also acknowledge the responsibility that that warrants.

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Pro-Corbyn poster by work-form for Studio Operative