100 years of Graphic Communication by Women, an exhibition at Central Saint Martins, through a single window display showed designs, illustrations and works done by women in the Graphic Design Industry, from 1910 to 2016. Works of designers that had been exhibited included Lucienne Roberts and more, and the purpose of the exhibition was to celebrate and empower women in design. Most of the graphic designers in the world are male, but 70% of the students at CSM and 85% of students at UAL are female, we are catching up fast aren’t we!

The exhibition generated a lot of activity in social media about the gender imbalance in Graphic Design history. In comparing the works of women designers from that exhibition (or even in general) and that of men designers, I have always found that women tend to approach social issues and causes more than men, through their work. This is a big contribution to the design industry and welfare of the society in general, because the power of design needs to be used to spread awareness and make people act.

The whole purpose and concept of the exhibition was fairly interesting and strong, but I was quite disappointed by the location; especially the fact that it was just a window display. There are so many women involved in Graphic Design, and all of their works need to be empower, in fact we need to trace back history find these works and present them to the world. A lot of books such as ‘Women in Design’ have been published solely for this purpose. I think the exhibition would have had a greater impact, had it not been enclosed into a window. An exhibition like this had to be well curated with works displayed out loud and as strongly as they are. For this reason I was quite disappointed by the exhibition and representation of women’s work and realised how women are still not valued in this industry.

The Century of the Self is a documentary series comprising of four episodes, Happiness Machines, The Engineering of Consent, There is a Policeman Inside All of Our Heads he must be Destroyed and Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering. Happiness Machines was originally broadcasted on 17 March 2002 and is the story of how Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented Public Relations in the 1920s and was the first person to use his uncle Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses.

Freud theorised that there were primitive and sexual forces hidden deep in the minds of human beings that if not controlled would lead to chaos and destruction. He was on the verge of exploring the unconscious and how the desires and primitive forces embedded in the unconscious can drastically influence human behaviour. However these ideas, that are accepted into the society now were firstly hated by the Viennese society of psychotherapists, mostly because they believed that a knowledge of the unconscious would be a threat to control, but his nephew Edward Bernays proved otherwise. When the Austria-Hungarian Empire let Europe into war, Freud concluded his theories and said that this was ‘exactly the way we should have expected people to behave, from our knowledge of psychoanalysis.’

Psychoanalysis is a system of psychological theory and therapy which aims to treat mental disorders by investigating interactions of ions and unconscious elements in the mind and bringing out repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind through dream interpretation and free association. It was this theory of Freud that Bernays used to manipulate the masses of corporate America and his first experiment was to get rid of the taboo against women smoking. From visit to a psychoanalysis Bernays found out that cigarettes to women was a symbol of the penis and was suggested to find a way to connect cigarettes to make sexual power, as that is what would persuade women to smoke. It was during a New York Easter Day Parade, that Bernays persuaded a group of debutants to hide cigarettes under their clothes and on his signal join the parade while lighting them up. Bernays then informed the press that he had heard that a group of suffragettes were preparing to protest by lighting up what they called torches of freedom. Not only did Bernays empower women through a phrase so strong, created a symbol for strong women whilst encouraging women to smoke and benefiting the tobacco corporation.

Manipulation as such embarked the beginning of controlling masses without them realising. Throughout the history of politics manipulation like this has been used to convince people that each political party was capable of attending to human needs and satisfying human desires. Bernays believed that ‘if you can use propaganda for war, you can definitely use it for peace’, and set a perfect example for industries and corporations, especially the fashion industry to play with hidden desires and the unconscious of human minds and enslave them into consumption. No wonder why so many women today are shopaholics and can think of nothing else but spend money on things they don’t need, as they brands they are buying from through their fashion propaganda make these women realise that spending money on products as such would make them feel better about themselves.

Bernay’s glory came to an end when the New York economy began to collapse in 1929, bringing America down to recession. People got smart for a while and bought just what they needed; not what they wanted. The sudden hit of realisation and recession resulted in chaos and angry masses, once again exactly the behaviour Freud expected from human beings, primitivity. In Europe, Bernay’s ideas were being used for politics against democracy and power in the hands Nazi Germany. Hitler used Bernay’s ideas for manipulation, ethical cleansing and to swipe nations and generations with trauma.

These series of four episodes on Freud’s theories, the use of these theories by Bernay’s and others provide a complete outlook on the impact of manipulation through games with the unconscious. With the middle east crisis it is not even scary to acknowledge that we as human beings have it in the power of our mind, conscious and subconscious to act as primitive as we were, since the start of evolution. At this moment propaganda is only intense in terms of advertising, wherein consumers are absolutely blinded by the desperate attempts of corporations to sell their products, but it’s only a while until propaganda starts expanding the way it did, a century ago.

Surveillance is a close observation, especially of a suspected spy or criminal. This idea of surveillance came into action with the very birth of religion as the omnipotent eye of God. Catholic church and in fact not just Christianity, but all religions over the world instilled the belief that ‘God is watching you at all times’ in the subconscious of humanity, which would thus act as a constant reminder that there is a en existence of a higher being. Artists such as Hieronymus Bosch depicted this idea of the ‘all seeing eye’ or the Eye or Providence in his paintings such as ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’.


Hieronymus Bosch – The Seven Deadly Sins

From the ‘all seeing eye of God’ surveillance was represented differently in the architectural illustrations of Althansisus Kircher, suggesting that surveillance is not just visual but audial too. His ‘Musurgia Universalis’ showed small tunnels between each room where one can listen into other rooms; were originally a theory of sound amplification whereby one can listen to conversation from the courtyard in another room. Nicolaes Maes also portrayed this interference in privacy in his works with paintings such as ‘The Eavesdropper’.


Althansisus Kricher – Musurgia Universalis


Nicolaes Maes – The Eavesdropper with a Scolding Woman


Nicolaes Mass – The Eavesdropper

Fast forwarding to the 20th century, Anthony Giddens defined modernity in terms of four institutions—Industrialism, Surveillance, Capitalism and Military Power. Industrialism brought with it a destruction of nature for transformation and development of an urban environment and this urban environment then required a control of information and social supervision through surveillance. Capitalism gave control to private owners over the industry, trade and products of a country causing capital accumulation within competitive labour and product markets, with rise of capitalism came rise of military power; thus the industrialisation of war.

Haussmanisation of Paris is an example of how modernism was engulfing countries in the early 19th century. Through creative destruction Baron Haussman, cleared slums to open up the city, expanded local business to help project costs, made zones for cafes on commercial streets, parks, public squares and uniform buildings were introduced and roads were made for ease of military movement to survey and maintain control over public activities and facilitating capitalist endeavours. Haussmann wanted people to explore and make use of the city through social activity and tried to emphasise on Baudelaire’s theory of the ‘flaneur’, a man who wonders aimlessly yet observantly within society. Regardless of all that, Haussmann’s main aim was visibility, as he wanted to establish control over the working class of Paris and place strict rules and regulations on behavior and the way people should behave within society. Haussmann’s Paris aimed to create a model of control for its inhabitants with strict regulations on behaviour and use of public spaces but also through changing Parisian lifestyle. This hoped to create a self-regulating system on a basis of bourgeois respectability (Perrot, 1994), attempting to impose a “uniformity and predictability on public behaviour” (Forgione, 2005). The increased illumination of the city by gas lamps allowed for night-time surveillance of public behaviours, whilst also working to empower the bourgeoisies with a nightlife that could be enjoyed in safety.

With modernism and destruction of nature for urbanism, came the rise in population and henceforth the rise in crime rates. Michel Foucalt in his ‘Discipline and Punish’  says that ‘the birth of the prison traces the development of the western system of prisons, police organisations, administrative and legal hierarchies for social control.’ 18th and 19th centuries adopted discipline as a way of controlling the movement and operations of the body in a constant way. Punishment moved from public torture in medieval times to prisons in contemporary society. Goals of containment, force, physical harm in punishment were still present, but now with a much grater focus on surveillance, documentation, correction. In relation to this Jeremy Benthen designed ‘The Panopticon Prison’, a development from the western system of prisons; dismissing traditional methods of punishment and advanced more towards producing the modern individual i.e. one who knows how to act correctly in society. The Panopticon was a circular building entering around a tower, wherein each cell was filled with light and had a glass front. The guard tower had a complete view of all the cells which made the prisoners conscious about being watched all the time, even if it was practically impossible for the guard tower to keep an eye on all cells at the same time. This initiated control as while the prisoners would be crippled under the power of the prison, they would control their actions under the fear of being observed. Discipline operates through an economy in three ways: exerting the least amount of effort to control populations through maximum invisibility ‘if power is not seen it will not be resisted’, bringing their effects to their “maximum intensity” and extending the effects widely and should be accomplished to the fullest effect in as many places as possible; increasing “the docility and utility of all elements of the system”. The effects of panoptic power are crowd vs. collection of separated individualities i.e. guardians can number, document, and supervise the individuals but inmates are sequestered alone and can’t see each other or bond together, visible and unverifiable whereby the inmate constantly sees the panopticon, the instrument of power but does not know when he is being watched, disindividualised power whereby power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, it does not matter who exercises power, and the panoptic power acts directly on the mind/body without the use of physical force.

In modern day terms, we as a nation have been taught to be aware of who we could be being watched by Benthen’s theory of the panopticon. The often cited figures of 4.2 million cameras (and being captured 300 times a day on camera), are based on an academic research paper from the early 2000s. London is the world’s first city with the most cameras everywhere, on the streets, in schools, houses, universities, churches, stores, offices, hospitals, i.e. everywhere. The whole of London is monitored by CCTV, solely based on the concept that if power is not seen, it will be often not be be resisted. Simon, B. in ‘The Return of Panopticism: Supervision, Subjection and the New Surveillance’ has said that ‘the Panopticon is not a vision machine so much as an ordering machine; a kind of socio-material assemblage for sorting and arranging social categories and individual persons so that they can be seen and understood.’ Surveillance and visibility also play a role in social sorting in terms that the idea of surveillance can be used to create and reinforce longterm social differences. Space is divided for ‘desirables’ and ‘undesirables’ and commercial spaces retain their sign value by ensuring a sense of exclusivity.

The idea of surveillance and complete panoptic control also raises questions of the gaze when considering the people who are under this control. Gaze, in terms of art theory and history, is a term used to describe the acts of looking caught up in the dynamics of desire. Theories of the gaze have explored the complex power relations that are a part of the acts of looking and being looked at. The term ‘Male Gaze’ expresses an unequal power relationship between the viewer and the viewed – a man imposing his unwanted gaze upon a woman. Theorists have argued that men who look at women are often sexualising and objectifying them, and there’s an unequal balance of power there. Laurie Anderson a photographer, through a project titled ‘Fully Automated Nikon’, decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to her on the street. Contemporary theories of the gaze have however, complicated the original model and now discuss a variety of different kinds of gazes distinguished by sex, gender, race, and class, that can be deployed by different kinds of spectators. The gaze may be sexualised, but not always. And it is not always unwanted.

In 1949, George Orwell published a novel titled ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’. The story of takes place in a nightmarish dystopia of a State led by Big Brother, enforcing perfect conformity among citizens through indoctrination, fear, lies and ruthless punishment. This novel at that time was very controversial as it made people think about whether they are under control or being watched all the time and if they actually want to be watched all the time. But living in 21st century London is like living in an invisible version of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’. Google knows more about us than we do, our personal information and data is under dataveillance all the time, especially more with people signing up for everything all the time, and agreeing to terms and conditions without even having read them. There are CCTVs in every corner of London, more than one in fact, so how do we know there is no ‘Big Brother’ watching us?

The modernist society of the end of 19th century was radically changing because of urbanism and industrial revolution. With industrial revolution, mass production was being advertised by corporations, through prints, posters, television adverts, etc all over the city. But the chaos of spammed advertising had to be organised in a better way to make the advertised products more appealing to the consumers. This is where Graphic Design started to evolve through a search for balance between the interaction of text and image and understanding of consumer psychology, which completely changed the face of advertising. Advertising became the sole purpose of Graphic Design. It started with propaganda for war and then propaganda by Edward Bernays to encourage women to smoke. Eventually he helped big corporations figure out a way to make people want things they didn’t need, using Freud’s theories, through a play with their unconscious. Not only is it brainwashing, but advertising has driven people away from reality, it has made them ignorant, because they are overwhelmed by consumption and slaves to these corporations who are playing with their desires.

Modernist Graphic Design principles of the interaction between text and image, after war propaganda, played a greater role in fashion promotion. These fashion promotions have been circulating alongside wider cultural discourses and hence have been reflecting and constructing ideals about class, style and gender. Fashion advertisements have always been a social mirror and the most powerful tool employed by fashion industries to display these advertisements are fashion catalogues e.g. The Kay’s Catalogue. Through the 1920s to 1960s the success of Kay’s catalogues was quite controversial because it was not just a catalogue providing adverts for their products, it became a set of unwritten rules for how one should act and live in order to be ‘fashionable’ and acceptable at the time. In the Kay’s catalogue it appears that as the years go by, design moves away from a rational approach to implying suggestion of a particular lifestyle. Not only did this affect people’s lifestyle, but it played a major role in affecting class and gender and at some point enhancing/ encouraging issues in class and gender.


Women were photographed for the issues, by themselves taking part in some sort of leisure or household activity, most of the times in a vulnerable manner to the male gaze, often staring back at the viewer knowing they are being looked at. On the contrary, men were photographed selling suits or expensive goods, connoting man to wealth and high status and as a powerful figure which is to be looked up to.  Many images would place two or more men together in pyjamas or underwear, hinting to possible undertones of homosexuality. And so men were often photographed in groups to avoid a conflict with the gaze there is commonly a subtle presence of a female figure to avoid any accusations of homosexuality but perhaps to also suggest that buying into their product will improve your lifestyle and attract the opposite sex. On some spreads there would be a clear gender imperative, with use of casual script fonts in conjunction with phrases such as “Like father like son!” wherein the reader is being told that this is simply the way it must be. This can be seen once again with the spread of a family happily gazing at a copy of the catalogue, by placing the male with his hands on the catalogue and writing “you buy wisely…you buy well” one can clearly see the male assumptions about the reader.

Kay’s catalogue employed the seven main ideas of modernism i.e. the bias factor (use of diagonal lines), the kinetic silhouette, the flattening of a space, the expressive distortion (abstraction and symbolism), fragmentation (creating unresolved tension) and simplicity. Flattening of space was introduced through use of colours and negative space in the layout following the ‘less is more’ motto, thus achieving simplicity. The success of catalogues like Kays was partially the result of responding to modernist principals in balancing text and image and, to some extent, borrowing from the psychological techniques used in advertising.

Fashion catalogues are intact worse today. In the 20th century, these catalogues are their irrational advertising was enhancing gender inequality, focusing all power and wealth in the hands of a man; woman were shown involved in leisure activities or housework while being photographed for the advertisements, or flaunting their bodies. This ‘flaunting of bodies’ rule adopted by corporations at that time, had already planted the seeds for body image issues for generations of girls to come. Fashion industry today, and its promotion strategies are influencing young girls in the worst ways possible, this is all the more reason why advertising is exactly what went wrong with Graphic Design. Young girls idolise models on the ramp, the way they dress, the way they look, the way they talk and most importantly their bodies. This has not only set a limited standard for beauty, but is also blatantly calling every woman who does not look like these models and doesn’t have a perfect ‘figure’ ugly. Moreover depression rates in girls are increasing from a very young age, bullying rates are increasing, number of girls with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are increasing, anxiety rates in women and girls are increasing. As if gender inequality wasn’t already enough, that the fashion industry has turned women against women. I don’t particularly know who set standards for beauty, and hence wouldn’t blindly blame either of the genders, but it has turned women against women; to an extent also enhanced gender inequality. Makeup and hair wigs and all these underlying industries of fashion are just driving women away from accepting themselves as they are; instead of empowering women which is what our gender needed anyway since the beginning of time, these industries have completely diminished their self-esteem and confidence levels.

However, it would be unfair to leave out companies like Dove who are through their advertisements encouraging women to accept themselves the way they are. But women need to start empowering each other, there is such so much gender inequality out in the world, and not just against women but men too, that we need to start acting. But the first step of any of this, is that we as women need to stop making other women feel low.

The Imperial War Museum put up a very interesting exhibition on Peter Kennard, a British ‘unofficial war artist’ and activist who uses photomontage, photography, installations, painting, drawing and exhibitions as a political weapon since the Vietnam War; he has been holding a mirror up to war, poverty and human suffering. Kennard describes his propaganda-like work as an attempt to ‘rip apart the smooth, bleached and apparently seamless surface of the media’s presentation of the world and to expose the conflict and grubby reality underneath.’ The exhibition is a collection of his works wherein he has confronted issues in world politics and British government policy both in the UK and abroad. The imagery that Kennard creates through his work is very expressive, honest and provocative while representing the reality of war as it is, along with all the pain, disturbance and torture it comes with.


The exhibition impressively had a series of works by Kennard in almost every medium, each portraying exactly the same amount of torture and pain felt by victims, veterans and soldiers of war, if not less. The exhibition started with a series of six large photographic prints of war medals; the ribbons of which were battered and the medal heads of which were replaced by gas masks, the head of a bandaged soldier, skulls, an empty helmet and a dead soldier. This strong imagery, not only portrayed the disastrous irony of how all the medals of war on soldier’s shoulder don’t make him feel triumphant, but instead make him feel remorse for all the death that has been caused, but it also prepared the spectator for similar strong imagery that was displayed throughout the exhibition.


The exhibition also displayed a series of magazines and zines the Kennard has printed to voice his political opinions on the adversities of war. There was a collection of his photomontages framed, but what I found more intriguing was his works on newspapers. He produced these works in two different series, one included large A2 landscape portraits of people of all sorts of ages that stared the spectator right into the eyes; the second series included charcoal drawings of hands on newspapers wherein Kennard had cut the ends of the newspaper to make it seem like the hands are tearing the newspaper. This was another demonstration of strong imagery, which could also relate to John Heartfield’s ‘Whoever reads Bourgeois newspapers becomes blind and deaf’, suggesting how media has literally blinded everyones opinion on war and does not even remotely cover the catastrophe of war.



The exhibition was very well curated, especially having been exhibited at Imperial War Museum which adds to the context of Kennard’s work. Another very strong aspect of the exhibition was a little installed room at the end, which displayed a collection really strong imagery in various mediums of veterans, victims and soldiers of war. This installation really highlighted the effect of Kennard’s work on the spectator and demonstrated the artist’s well controlled use of the relationship between image and text. The lines between image and text in Kennard’s work are blurred, because it includes a range of work wherein he has used just image which proves to be as strong as the work where he used just words, or both.


Google, the sole answer for all our questions, but if you search Google for ‘notable British graphic designers’, most of the results were designers that were, mostly men and mostly white. Design today is being perceived as a nation, by this I do not claim that designers from other cultures do not get any recognition, but stereotypes in society has introduced preferences in every world, even that of graphic design. Graphic Design today is not only influenced by the patriarchal society, but is also culturally biased and satisfies minimum or absolutely no social purpose. Graphic design, in fact, is the consumerist and industrially revolutionised side of art, but it did serve a purpose in the 19th-20th century.

Patriarchy influences Graphic Design as much as Graphic Design influences patriarchy. Ruth Sykes (@RegDesign_Ruth) through twitter, argued, by tweeting to Design Week (@Design_Week) that the symbol created to represent the jobs page of their website was too masculine as the ’tie’ as symbol suggested that jobs were only for male figures. Leading companies and organisations still are gender biased when choosing employees for important positions or conferences, women and their abilities are looked down upon in comparison to men. In some schools or even companies women are paid a lower wage than men for the same position, even if they are more qualified. In Dubai, if a couple gets divorced, the woman gets no alumni and has absolutely no rights. In Saudi Arabia, Starbucks banned woman from entering the cafe and put notices outside requesting for them to send their drivers or husbands to place orders.


These are the issues Graphic Design should be addressing to make socially reactive work, instead it is has been focusing on absolutely useless things such as sexualising fonts, yes why don’t all voluntarily feed the patriarchal monster of our society. Amy Papaelias, a professor of Graphic Design at the State University of New York, carries out typographic research exploring type in interactive environments, and published an article on how the typeface ‘Lust Hedonist’ completely sexualised the promotion strategies for the typeface. A few microsites describe the type as, ‘the flowing curves of a woman’s body’, ‘all wrapped up in the leggy body of a Brazilian supermodel’, ‘Like a supermodel, it can’t be squeezed into every situation’, ‘packed with alternates to play with… enough to turn you on and satisfy’, ’it looks good dressed down or in a little black dress.’  The images that show up when you search the typeface are even worse, because through this they are not only supporting gender inequality, disrespecting women, but have also presented the type using sexualised advertising with a seductive visual language.


A large part of advertising is Graphic Design, and hence the blame of supporting sexualised visual language and sexist anti-feminist theories does not go to just the advertising industry. Graphic Design does play  part in it, even though it should be focusing on doing exactly the opposite. Beautification of reality, impressing the customer, and materialism of money has clouded the minds of Graphic Designers who work in these ways, I’d rather they not be a part of the industry at all. In fact the whole of the advertising industry is corrupted and seems like one big desperate robot that will sell anything and everything without respecting any sort of human ethics.

Screenshot 2016-05-06 12.48.02

Screenshot 2016-05-06 12.43.39

These are screenshots of the most controversial and most sexist advertisements for this year. I don’t think the designer’s of these can really call themselves as designers if they are making work thats, selling sex and not the product or highlighting abuse to sell a product; they call themselves designers because they are making money off the label that they’ve been given, of a ‘designer’ by the companies that hire them. Most of what today’s advertisements are selling (especially those routing in the United States) is not even a certain product, they are selling the idea of sex. Everything is sold on the roots of sex, lust and women. Advertising is feeding the sexual desires of mostly men, and to some extent women. The media has dehumanised the idea of a woman and her rights, and every problem from abuse to body issues of obesity or anorexia in women has been printed onto this consumerist world in insulting ways.

As I discussed in the text on the social role of a Graphic Designer, there are so many issues that we as designers should be increasing awareness of and trying to fight them, but only a minority of us are actually making an effort to do address social issues. We as designers have skills, and we are not using these skills in the right places, and that is what is wrong with Graphic Design. Out of approximately 376,214 Graphic Design businesses, only about 15-20% are actually designing for a cause.

Now actually considering the Graphic Design industry and what is wrong with it, just as any other industry in the world, it is partial to women and other ethnicities. Organisations such as ‘womenofgraphicdesign.org’ and ‘@graphics_uk_women’ (twitter) and publications such as ‘Women in Graphic Design’ by Gerda Breuer and Julia Meer have been made available. The Alphabettes (http://www.alphabettes.org), are a group of women graphic designers (106) who created an entire blog dedicated just to female designers. And all this, obviously because women designers and in fact even artists have not been receiving the recognition they deserve to. Has there a book on men in Graphic Design ever been published? Or are there organisations to support men in Graphic Design? Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) is a club of the world’s leading graphic artists and designers, with 451 members from 37 countries, today. There was a time when AGI was a open to just men designers, Lucienne Roberts fought against this, was accepted as a member and created a gateway for other women designers to be accepted too. Any industry cannot just be male dominated because the world needs a woman’s brain just as much as a man’s brain.

Social media is very closely related to Graphic Design and yet we are not using it to its absolute extent. The initial key purpose of social media was to give people a potential voice that they would not have otherwise, to share their opinions on important matters and support causes; move the nation forward. But all social media is being used for is useless gossip, fan culture, and by all to receive recognition for their business even if they are not providing anything great to the society. Social media is a very strong tool for us to come together a s society and bring about changes, influence opinions and we need to use it to promote those who are making work for better of this society, not works that we think are decorative and well done.

This is what is wrong with Graphic Design today, we have great power to be able to manipulate image and text in ways that was once able to bring about a propaganda; today, we are wasting away these skills by using them to contribute to the consumerist culture of this world.