Milton Glaser's Darfur Campaign

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Rob King's picture
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Milton Glaser's Darfur Campaign
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There is a media campaign in New York's subways designed by Milton Glaser to raise awareness about the massacres in Darfur. What's interesting about these from a design standpoint is the avoidance of the expected shock photos of poverty, violence, etc. Instead, the solution is completely type-based, and quite effective, I think. By avoiding the heart-wrenching people-as-victims photos, I think the people in question retain dignity and the "coversation" transpires at a rational level. (Although one could make the point that the disaster has passed the point of "rationality" being appropriate.) Any thoughts?

Here is a story with some photos of the ads:

http://www.designdrivethru.net

Ch's picture
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first thought: brilliant. second thought after this discussion and some squinting: good, but not great. i think i responded more to the sentiment than the design.
interesting topic there: wherein lies the "response" to design ?

glaser has always been a hero to me. i was fortunate to meet him once and like a true master he said just a few things but they still resonate with me. understatement is ultimately more powerful than overstatement.

too bad about the fat yellow logo thing in the corner, but overall the poster is striking enough to hold my attention. crossing out the names of relatives is genius; we all have grandmothers.

the hand keeps it human, but i admit it's a bit "mixed". i like it because the ambiguous upward reach is potent in a way that only understatement can be.

thanks to those who ask me to think. and rethink.

Simon Daniels's picture
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Does anyone else find the word DARFUR badly spaced?

Stephen Coles's picture
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Yes, Si. It's too bad. Fortunately, this will be like any other instance of bad spacing: the public won't notice. Great poster otherwise.

Ch's picture
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what's the problem ? it appears rhythmically even to me. wide, but even.

Simon Daniels's picture
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Opticaly seems to fall apart towards the end of the word, esp evident in the smaller posters. Granted its a difficult word to set.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I'd have nudged the F to the right a little.

I like these but have found the "We Are All African" campaign a bit misguided at times, in particular the pic of Gwyneth Paltrow with a smudge on her face. She is about as un-African as it's possible to be.

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re: gwyneth / non-african - that's the whole point ! by using the ultimate "non-african" they ask what it means to say: we are all african. evolutionary or just compassionate identification? sounds like it worked.

the phrase is not original to this campaign. i saw it on a t-shirt about 15 years ago.

i see the letter spacing now - thanks. that's why i love this site. nailed by the ol' F U !!
;)

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Well I know that's the point! I just think it falls flat. A rich white actress who starves herself?

Anthony Rubolotta's picture
Joined: 13 Apr 2006 - 10:41am
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I saw these poster on the subway about a month ago, and I have to admit I thought they were just rubbish. I gave them a pass because I thought they were student work, connected with SVA. I'm surprised now to learn they were Glaser's creation. Truly uninspired, ugly and conceptually garbled. I really hate the oh-so-literal visual interpretation of "We Are All African." And playing off the Vegas tourism tagline... um... just a little inappropriate? I dont know what message the designer wants me to walk away with except maybe poorly written, poorly executed design. Staring at these for the half hour I was on the train only made me angry... but not at the situation in Darfur.

Of course that's just my opinion, they could be brilliant to someone else.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that the people who create campaigns like this are most emphatically NOT african. Or at least that's my issue with them. There is no way any of us sitting here at our computers can possibly understand what it's like to be in Darfur right now. So while I applaud any and all efforts to raise awareness, money, and outrage, I think the campaign misses the mark. It just serves to remind us how totally un-African we are. I'd rather see the faces of the Africans themselves and hear their stories than stare at an undernourished actress who thinks she can identify with their plight (and congratulate herself for her effort). I am so tired of celebrities and the idiots who need to take their cues from them.

Linda Cunningham's picture
Joined: 26 Jul 2006 - 3:55pm
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I am so tired of celebrities and the idiots who need to take their cues from them.

You mean there are lots of crazy women shaving their heads in New York now? ;-)

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I assumed she had headlice.

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We Are All African

Right, but Barack more so :-)

Patricia Fabricant's picture
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Oh but Nick, he's not really black!

I saw that Stephen Colbert piece again recently and it's even funnier the second time around.

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The ads are weakened by having two "big ideas" -- crossed-out words and the two-tone hand.

Ideally, they should have made the choice of one concept, but perhaps there could have been separate ads in the same campaign: one with words, one with the hand, but with the same type style (probably not the exceedingly tired Franklin Gothic) and emphasizing the IRC logo as the signature/brand, not Darfur.

William Berkson's picture
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My problem with the poster, aside from the spacing of 'Darfur', is that it's false. I don't think hysterical exaggerations are very helpful. What happens in Darfur doesn't happen to us, and those in New York city, with the exception of African immigrants, aren't African.

The real point is that we should be compassionate, and we should act, in spite of the fact that it's far away and doesn't affect us directly. I went to the rally in Washington and have sent the e-mails to congress and the president. I'm very frustrated, as usual, that nothing, it seems, is happening.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Well put William, I agree. We should act precisely because what is happening there is so completely unthinkable to us.

You can basically count on our president to do exactly the opposite of what is desired.

darrel's picture
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"Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that the people who create campaigns like this are most emphatically NOT african. Or at least that’s my issue with them."

I believe the point of the message is: We are all African = we are all human.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Yes, I get that, but it just doesn't work for me. The fakeness of Hollywood is too at odds with the all-too-realness of what's happening over there. It's too self-congratulatory.

I think Glaser's campaign is somewhat effective, despite the lousy kerning, because it does spark the imagination - what if I had no brothers/sisters/parents/children - and touch on our real compassion rather than make me think "What the **** does Gwyneth Paltrow know about being African?"

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I took "We are all African" literally in that all of us are descended from common African ancestors* - except for the cavemen in the Geico ads.

* Edit: “We now have convincing evidence that all humans descended from common ancestors in southeastern Africa who began migrating northward 60,000 years ago.” via http://ga1.org/cfi_oncampus/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=3533982

Also of interest - http://miltonglaserposters.com/pop/new08_africa.html poster and essay.

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huh ??

it's not false, and it's not hysterical. it's true and it's rather understated. it's an idea.
we can all relate to the crossed out family members. "we are all africans" is obviously a symbolic, empathetic connection. your second paragraph is exactly to the point.

i do think the posters might be stronger as a series with one family member per poster.

i don't understand this gwyneth bashing either. we don't really know anything about her.
she may have donated lots of money to the cause, and the very "idiots" who are obsessed with her celebrity may be the ones who need to get this message, and if she helps, more power to her. i think the anti-celebrity rant is just another way of being obsessed with them.

darrel's picture
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"she may have donated lots of money to the cause, and the very “idiots” who are obsessed with her celebrity may be the ones who need to get this message"

Good point. As always, know your audience, and if this audience is 'general American Population', seems that celebrity endorsements are a sure bet.

Patty...you're just too smart for this campaign. ;o)

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Actually I remember defending Bono in a thread some months ago on a similar topic. To me it doesn't matter if he is a huge egotist or what his motivations are, as long as he's doing something good, raising awareness, etc. Ditto Bill Gates.

I just found the image of a too skinny white actress calling herself an African jarring and a little offensive. She may be a wonderful and generous person - this is not a personal attack on her character. It was big of her to contribute her time and effort to this campaign. But as the poster child for Darfur... she doesn't work for me. Sorry.

Anthony Rubolotta's picture
Joined: 13 Apr 2006 - 10:41am
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Not sure what Gweneth Paltrow has to do with any of this. I think you may be talking about another campaign. Curious to see how this ties in, please post pic or link if you can.

This is a PDF of Glaser's Darfur campaign. Link is to SVA site, multi-page PDF, may be slow to load.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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Well as I learned here, it's a different - yet similar - ad campaign.

Here's the image and a blog from someone who agrees with me

http://www.mshairi.com/blog/?p=311

James Mark Hatley's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2004 - 11:00am
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One legalistic tangent—I believe many states still have "one drop" clauses in law, which basically says that if a person has a single drop of non-white blood in his/her tree they are black. In a country where we campaign to have creationism taught in schools and fling ourselves under the authoritatian train with such zeal I can in a way empathize with the "all African" sentiment just as I refuse to check the caucasian box on various forms while such inane laws remain on the books. Still this line of thinking can turn on itself. I remember meeting a woman at a party with a swastika tattoo who claimed to be "reclaiming the symbol". Something about seeing Ms. Paltrow in the add sends me off in the same way.

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I was just in Tulum, Mexico, where someone had drawn a huge swastika on the beach. Reclaiming the symbol? It upset me pretty bad.

Anyway, tell the above to Debra Dickerson who thinks Barack Obama isn't black.

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I bought the poster as a contribution to the cause but frankly, I think it is a ho-hum poster. I am sure Glaser could have done better but sometimes, we just do better than others.

ChrisL

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Alex B's picture
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as for "we are all african" being uninspired, I remember right after the september 11th attacks Le Monde ran "nous sommes tous américains" (we are all americans) as the headline.

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>nous sommes tous américains

I think this statement was more on point.

First French and others in Europe did in fact empathize with the suffering of those in the US. The fact is that the US is a derivative of European culture and the majority are of European ancestry, and through the media and travel French have some familiarity with the US.

In the case of Darfur, for most Americans Darfur was so unknown and alien that it took an effort to empathize. The point of the campaign was to say we should empathize, as those in Darfur are human too--which of course is both true and important. But instead of saying we should--which some do, but not in massive, effective numbers--they say 'we are all africans' which is true neither literally nor in the sense of empathizing reflexively.

Secondly, it was evident to French and other Europeans that they wouldn't be exempt from the threat of groups who were terrorists in the name of Islam, such as those who had attacked the US. This was also unfortunately true.

The immediate threat of the Sudan government-sponsored violence against the people in Darfur is not a threat likely to be immediately redirected at the US and Europe in the same way.

The poster campaign gets it very right by emphasizing the common humanity of those in Darfur, but the 'We are all African' is wrong enough to detract from the message, IMHO.

Joshua Lurie-Terrell's picture
Joined: 2 Apr 2003 - 4:37pm
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pattyfab: Tulum is in the heart of Mayan country, and the swastika is visible at Copal and Chichen Itza and many other places in the area. I've seen it tattooed in bands on a young man in the area, too, as part of indigenous art pattern ... don't be alarmed. I don't think there's any rising neo-nazi movement in Tulum.

---

jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com

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True the symbol has a long history outside of its usual associations.

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I believe that in Hindu and Buddhist iconography, the swastika always has a horizontal-vertical orientation, which gives it a sense of repose. Hitler rotated it to the diagonal orientation, with gives it an aggressive dynamism, as if it's whirring toward you. I don't know if the American Indian use is also in the horizontal-vertical orientation, but I would be surprised if it's on the diagonal.

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>nous sommes tous américains

I seem to recall that (then German Chancellor) Gerhard Schröder also expressed the same sentiments, saying (I don't have the exact German quote), "today, we are all Americans."

I was in Berlin at the time, and found that particularly pertinent. It was clearly a reflection on Kennedy's statement in front of the Berlin wall, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Patricia Fabricant's picture
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 - 9:40am
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I'm well aware of the swastika's venerated history as a symbol (and remember a thread on that topic here awhile ago dealing with logos that look like swastikas - c.f. Sun Microsystems). I saw swastikas all over Bali as well. But I doubt the symbol I saw on the beach was drawn by a Mayan. And frankly, I don't think the swastika can be "reclaimed" as a symbol just yet - too soon, too loaded, too upsetting, and still used by skinheads and neo-Nazis in its perverted meaning.

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this raises a very interesting but sensitive topic - "the art direction of fascism" -
which i tried to (very carefully) introduce to my graphic design students back when i was teaching.

i used albert speer and the nazi materials as a disturbing but important historical example of the ominous power of design. there's no doubt that speer made some very arresting visual choices. designers can have influence, often subliminal but also overt.

i was mainly discussing symbols and colors and monumental scale. i know less about typographic history... i've heard rumors that hitler called serifs "decadent" and promoted san serif typography. that seems odd given the nazi's fondess for old german gothics. anyone know more ?

i understand patty's sensitivity. we've discussed it, and i sense that the symbol might never be "reclaimed". just as the cross predates christianity, the six pointed star predates israel, the crescent predates islam, but the associations are so deeply reinforced that it might as well be ownership.

too bad, in a way, but also fascinating. symbols become the symbolized. the power of reductive design.

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thanks for the reference - i've browsed that blackletter thread - i'm interested in information on the sans-serif connection - the bizarre notion that serifs are decadent but blackletter is... historical legacy ?

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The reference is buried there in the thread, but again the key document is the Bormann decree.

I think you'll also find more in Steven Heller's book The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? I haven't read the book.

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Apparently this thread went a little off topic...

I'll try my best to get it back on track:

It bothers me that the poster uses the DARFUR logo, the flower, and the hand all at once... I think it would have been a little more effective if they handled it with a "less is more" approach

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It seems that the most significant obstacle campaigns such as this face is the sort of paradoxical relationship between their message and their environment. Billboards, bus sides, magazines, posters all play host to objects of our desires and fears, and as consumers we are accustomed to thinking of these as liminal spaces containing fantasies, lies, distortions, all sorts of salesmanship, and much of it already very intimate and presumptuous. If you want a message about a real emergency in the real world to really cut through the fog, you've got to do better than clever, and be more daring than elegant.

The "acceptability" of Glaser's solution lies in the fact that you could use the poster for cancer, wearing a seatbelt, clean drinking water, or a variety of other issues. The tactic of presenting a destroyed version of something valuable (be it the word "daughter" or a Lexus) as a way of illustrating personal responsibility is typical of public service announcement scolding (there is also here the authoritarian threat that this could happen to you and your family). To the degree that it reinforces the general message that you as an individual ought to think about the larger world, Glaser's solution probably works just fine.

But I think there is a real missed opportunity here. "Innocent people just like the innocent people in your family are dying in Darfur in an arbitrary fashion as though they are being crossed off a list" is not a very motivating message. Afterall, innocent people die in random, senseless ways all the time. And in a time of war (our own or Sudan's) we may even have an elevated tolerance for such deaths. Instead, the message ought to have been concerned with the injustice with which these people are being killed.

The people of NYC don't need to be encouraged to be more compassionate or more caring than they already are. They're fine and I trust them to know injustice when they see it. What they generally don't know is who the Janjaweed are and what they are doing. If the headline "Genocide in Darfur" isn't furious enough and won't win any design awards, I might suggest a campaign that features some photos of the Janjaweed's criminal brutality with the tagline "Mind your own business." Not on a dare, they wouldn't.

William Berkson's picture
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>the Janjaweed’s criminal brutality with the tagline “Mind your own business.

great idea.

But the underlying problem is that the campaign is not for a specific action to help stop the killing, but giving money to an organization--to do what?

Reflecting on this further, what I really have a problem with the campaign that it is only an appeal to people to feel righteous by empathizing, not a call to specific action.

The sad truth seems to be that only armed intervention by the outside world will stop the killing. And given what is happening in Iraq, the idea of entering into an on-going civil war is pretty horrifying.

I admit that I don't know politically and militarily what exactly is going on--other than a huge massacre and displacement of people--and what to do about it. But this makes me none the wiser.

Giving money to help refugees is a very good thing, but stopping the killing would be far better. This seems to address that, but doesn't really.

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A little comment to the swastika side track. A straight version was actually a sign of the Finnish Air Force before WW II. For ovious reasons it's no longer used.

http://www.sci.fi/~ambush/faf/faf.html

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typophile is truly fantastic. i'm not being sarcastic; i mean it. you've helped me see (again) the difference between a gut reaction (i support the cause) and a well thought out critique.

thomas cooper: excellent points. i felt my head expand.

william berkson: yes, why don't we know more about this ? is it because there is very little (obvious) economic incentive for us to act ? who are the janjaweed ?

a disturbing question: how ironic or terrible would it be if we acted on the grounds of tying the darfur atrocities to "the war on islamic terrorism?" i hate that phrase. a horrible situation would be made better or worse by more military action ? (i fear the worst.)

mili : yeah, i got us off the thread but that is fascinating. the funky flying finns!

thanks to all and cheers, i hope.

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I think Glaser is presenting a safe design/composition that is in keeping with his somewhat dated and tired style.

Where's the passion? I don't see it.

There's an ominous urgency prevalent in today's world. And I don't get that feel from the Glaser comment either. The rhythm of the piece is too demanding and not spontaneous. The balance of the piece smacks of colonial middleclass compromise. In short - it's got no soul.

Perhaps Glaser is no longer hungry - no longer pissed off - and has become set in his ways - become too commercial. This poster is stale, lame, and is without a pulse.

If I was to graphically speak of Darfur - I would speak in terms of brute force and play off that. Darfur struggles with massive brutality - lives shattered and ripped apart, sorrow crushing childern. There's an enourmous weight to what is happening in Darfur.

So when I see Glaser's little words with little lines comfortably arranged amoungst far to much blank space all of which wants to 'discuss' with me some kind of loss to us all, I see a graphic coming from someone who is NOT empathetic to the great weight of brutal killing on an enormous scale.

________
Hiro

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