Why Do Fascists Have Such Good Graphic Design?

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It is a paradox that the Nazis, Italian Fascists and Spanish Falangists had some of the most alluringly powerful graphic design. But there is a certain authoritarian aspect to design, isn’t there?

Although each movement was revolutionary and attracted rebellious artists, their work was strictly proscribed. Rules dominated but that did not entirely inhibit the allure. The Nazi’s was powerful because it was dictated by skilled propagandists. The Fascists allowed artistic modernity to define the youthful aspects of the regime, until it was no longer useful. And the Falangists seemed to understand the power of deco and photomontage to tell their story—until Franco’s rabid conservatism took precedence. Of course, the early Soviets inspired the Avant Garde as well, but it died under the yoke of socialist realism.

Spanish Falangist graphic design as seen in the posters and magazines of the Civil War period of the mid- to late-1930s was streamline in an heroic manner. The magazine Vértice (or vertex, a point where two or more straight lines meet) was beautifully art directed with appealing art and startling photography. But it wasn’t just the political ephemera that was designed with flair, fashion and entertainment, like the magazine Camara (below), which was also graphically and typographically superb. Perhaps it was a way to deflect the dictatorial iron fist by giving the people some beauty in their lives. Maybe good design was a function of controlled content.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →