The March for Our Lives took place on March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C., with almost 1,000 other demonstrations taking place simultaneously around the world. It was the largest collective statement made against gun violence in history. For our May installment of Hot Poster Gossip, Poster House reached out to local branding agency ThoughtMatter to discuss the posters their design team created in support of the event.
Poster House: As a branding agency, what is ThoughtMatter’s mission? What sets it apart from other branding organizations?
ThoughtMatter: We’re an agency that does what many others just plain don’t. While it’s true that there are plenty of people in other firms who have similar ideas, often they aren’t encouraged to express them. We’ve cultivated a culture where we put our skills to use by encouraging those ideas, bringing them to life and ultimately doing work we think is worth doing. What sets our mission apart from others is we want to work with brands with purpose because we are people with purpose. We like to think the public and marketplace recognize that point of view and value it.
PH: The company’s first political posters were created for the Women’s March last year and were financed via a Kickstarter campaign. How was that process different from the one used when creating the posters for the March for Our Lives?
TM: Our process for creating posters for the March For Our Lives was inherently different from the one for the Women’s March because the circumstances of each required a unique approach and response. The political climate and dialogue leading up to the Women’s March demanded us to be deliberate in how we got the posters out into the world. It wasn’t done on the fly. The March For Our Lives, on the other hand, was a collective, nationwide reaction to a shocking tragedy. We were driven by the need for a swift response, and the call-to-action was immediate. As soon as we learned about the shooting and the planned demonstrations on March 24, we set the wheels in motion, designed the posters, and made them available for free download within a week. Our response as a studio supported and aligned with the spirit of the march itself.
PH: Do you feel you’ve gotten a bigger response from the Women’s March posters or the March for Our Lives posters? And, if one campaign was more successful/better received than another, do you think that had to do with how the posters were presented and promoted or with something else?
TM: The overwhelming reception of the posters we created for both marches matched the turnout for each. The public response to our Women’s March posters was bigger by virtue of the sheer scale and significance of the worldwide protest and movement. The platforms we used to present and promote our posters were tailored to the intended audience for each campaign. To seek out activists and sister march organizers for the Women’s March, we used Kickstarter, Slack, and Facebook groups. To reach students and teenagers we turned to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook event pages, and our own website. For us the question became: where do march organizers and demonstrators congregate online? How can we be where they are and spread the word about our posters organically?
PH: In an era where many companies are being seen as trying to “cash in” on various social movements (the whole Pepsi commercial/Kendall Jenner controversy comes to mind), how do you walk that fine line between showing support and solidarity for a cause and potentially cheapening it? What is your opinion on companies and brands getting involved in social protest movements? Moreover, how do you feel mass-created posters (as opposed to ones made at home by the individual protestor) may affect protests and people who participate in them?
TM: Companies and brands today can no longer afford not to take a stand or not to have an opinion on pressing issues. As for the fine line between showing support for a cause and cheapening it, it comes down to whether the brand actually believes in the stand it’s taking. No strategy in the world can save a brand whose communications aren’t thoughtful, intentional, and genuine. One aspect of the success of our March For Our Lives posters is that they inspired other people to create their own. We were happy to see ours side by side with theirs on the street, since we share similar values. Our posters employed the principles of design to elevate a core message that people had already expressed: school safety isn’t up for political debate, and mass shootings can’t be fixed by thoughts and prayers. For us it was about accessibility.
PH: Do you see ThoughtMatter as continuing to participate in social movements as they develop? Is that a core value of the company?
TM: Our participation in these social movements is consistent with our company’s name: ThoughtMatter. We allow ourselves to look at the big issues of our time, think them through, and decide whether using our talents as designers will make them matter more. We consider, then create, based on the conviction that our contribution will make those ideas more visible and better understood. “Purpose” is core to our company whether we work with brands, people, or movements, and we will continue to use our skills to amplify their cultural relevance.
PH: Do you have a favorite poster that ThoughtMatter has created? If so, what made it special for you?
TM: On March 23, the day before the March For Our Lives, we had the chance to host a pop-up poster-making workshop with students in partnership with the Teen Program at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our favorite posters weren’t just the ones we designed ourselves but the repurposed, redesigned posters by the students who were inspired by our work to create their own. Isn’t that what design is all about?
PH: Are there any more poster projects on the horizon that we can either hear about or of which we can get a sneak peek?
TM: At this point, the rise of the digital age is a given. That said, we still believe that posters – the physical manifestation of ideas – have powerful value. Our posters have been exhibited at The Design Museum in London, and we’ll continue to partner with The Met, Poster House, and other institutions to harness the lasting power of graphic design. To us, posters have and will always be prized relics of protest. We’ll continue to keep an eye out for how posters can respond to the crucial issues of today.
ThoughtMatter’s Hot Poster Gossip! window will be on view throughout the month of May. Stop by 119 West 23rd Street to see it in person. Copies of all of ThoughtMatter’s Women’s March and March For Our Lives posters are in the permanent collection of Poster House. Images on this blog post were provided by ThoughtMatter.