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Poster Inspiration Design: Propaganda vs. Propaganda


"The principal battleground of the war is not the South Pacific. It is not the Middle East. It is not England, or Norway, or the Russian Steppes. It is American opinion." –Archibald MacLeish, Director of the Office of Facts and Figures. 1942

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Propaganda is such an ugly word, and yet some of the best posters I’ve ever seen have been given that label. There is, however, a science to propaganda and a formula that not only influences using images and words, it connects on a very emotional level, inciting people to engage in a number of activities including protests and violence.

The image above was produced by the Kroger Grocery and Baking Company "in the interest of the war effort" in 1942. World War II (WWII) was given unlimited support from the government and large companies around the U.S. encouraging participation that would most certainly lead to victory.


Perhaps the most famous WWII propaganda poster is "Rosie the Riveter," although she wasn’t called Rosie until much later and the poster wasn’t done for the war effort. Instead, graphic designer, J. Howard Miller, was hired to create worker morale posters for the Westinghouse Company in 1943. Because of the timeline and its production during the war, it has been associated with propaganda posters of that era. It actually didn’t get attention until four decades later when it was discovered and became a mantra for women everywhere.


Stephen Heller and Mirko Ilić have taken the complex subject of propaganda and made it easier to understand in terms of design, art and politics. Posters that appeared nearly 70 years ago would not translate as powerfully today, in fact there would probably be a backlash. Still, it shouldn’t be dismissed. Read Inside Print’s Guide to Political & Propaganda Design, to understand ways design and copy can influence others through emotional triggers and even change the world – or at least change what customers are buying. Learn More.

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