Propaganda is often thought of in negative terms. It evokes thoughts of wartime and misinformation campaigns by governments trying to deceive people or bolster support for what might otherwise be unpopular policies. But propaganda and the techniques it uses are prominent throughout our modern lives.
Every time you see a political poster, you’re seeing propaganda. Advertising in all forms almost always uses at least some of the usual techniques used by propagandists. Virtually anything created to persuade a person to do a certain thing or think a certain way has roots in propaganda.
As designers, it’s important that we understand the principles behind propaganda and the way it’s designed if we want to create more effective designs. After all, most designs are created with the end goal of getting people to take specific actions. Even if your designs don’t outwardly resemble propaganda, incorporating the techniques and principles behind successful propaganda pieces can greatly improve the effectiveness of your designs.
It’s important, when studying propaganda design or designing your own propaganda, to have a basic understanding of what ‘propaganda’ actually means and what its goals are. The resources below have some excellent background information.
This is a great primer site on propaganda. It covers common techniques, wartime propaganda, and modern examples.
Another analysis of what propaganda is and how it works:
Before we get into any propaganda design tutorials and resources, let’s take a look at some propaganda from the past hundred or so years. Below are collections of propaganda from around the world, most of it war-related. There’s also a section of fictional propaganda, mostly created around pop culture.
Amazing Propaganda Posters
This post from Oddee offers up a bunch of examples of propaganda posters from around the world. Included are WWI and WWII, posters from Cuba, Vietnam, and Chile, and even modern propaganda posters from the last ten years.
This gallery from FirstWorldWar.com offers a ton of propaganda posters from the US used during WWI. There are roughly 400 posters included in the collection.
This site offers up propaganda posters from around the world, mostly from WWI and WWII, thought some date from before and after.
This post from Cracked.com pokes fun at a number of propaganda posters from around the world. It provides great examples of what not to do when designing propaganda.
This collection from LIFE magazine includes some of the most graphic and intense propaganda posters from both sides created during WWII.
Soviet Posters: Revolution by Design
The International Poster Gallery offers not only a collection of Soviet propaganda posters, but also a fairly extensive history of the time periods in which the posters originated. The posters on the site are all for sale.
This short roundup from The Inspiration Blog showcases some very high-quality propaganda posters from WWII, all from the Allied countries.
Here’s another roundup of Soviet propaganda posters, with a bit of explanation for each one.
Here’s a Flickr set that’s filled with propaganda posters from around the world. There are more than 500 images included.
Propaganda Inspired by Pop Culture
The propaganda posters here are based on video games, TV shows, and movies, but display many of the same characteristics of real-world propaganda designs.
The posters here have been created by graphic designers from all over the world. Some are based on fiction but others are based on previous real-world conflicts (and some combine the two).
Here’s a propaganda poster created based on the Dalek race from the TV series Doctor Who. It’s designed in a style that would fit right in among WWII era posters.
Star Wars has been such a huge part of popular culture since it debuted in the 70s, that of course there would be propaganda posters created to exist within its world. There are posters here from both sides: the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
This roundup from Abduzeedo features Soviet-style propaganda posters designed by Propagit (The Department of Propaganda and Agitation).
Tutorials and Techniques
The tutorials featured below teach you how to create mostly vintage-style propaganda posters, reminiscent of posters created during WWII.
This tutorial walks you through step-by-step instructions for creating this Hope is the New Black poster in Photoshop.
This Photosohp tutorial from Psdtuts+ shows you how to create this poster in the style of Russian Constructivism.
This Illustrator tutorial shows how to create an Obama Hope-style political poster.
How to Create a WWII Propaganda Poster in Photoshop
This tutorial shows how to create a patriotic WWII War Bonds poster.
Here’s another tutorial for creating a Russian Constructivist-style poster, this time based around the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign.
Make a Russian Propaganda Poster in Photoshop
This tutorial shows how to create a Russian-style propaganda poster in Photoshop using filters, shapes, and other tools.
While not strictly a propaganda poster, the imagery is definitely in line with traditional propaganda design in the poster in this Illustrator tutorial from Vectortuts+. Just add a propaganda message and it would fit right in with posters from WWII and the Cold War era.
Tools and Resources
Here are some tools and resources for creating your own propaganda-style artwork and designs.
American Propaganda Fontpack
This fontpack from Chank includes more than a dozen fonts reminiscent of those commonly seen on propaganda posters. The only downside is that it’s $99.
A free, slightly-distressed free font from DaFont.com.
Many propaganda posters, especially those that are meant to look vintage, make use of grungy textures to give a more authentic look. This site offers up more than 1400 free grunge textures.
A lot of propaganda designs use military imagery. This collection of photos from the Australian War Memorial is available through Flickr’s The Commons project.
This collection of panoramic photos from The Library of Congress is available through Flickr’s The Commons.
DaFont has a number of Cyrillic-style fonts, perfect for a Russian or Soviet-inspired propaganda design.
FontSpace has a small collection of interesting fonts for propaganda design, including some really great symbol fonts with appropriate imagery.