It’s hard to wring anything heartwarming out of Donald Trump’s relentlessly negative presidential campaign, but protesters managed to do exactly that yesterday morning. Thronged outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, they held 40-inch-by-60-inch signs of bold, graphic letters that together spelled “Build Kindness Not Walls.”
The signs, referencing Trump’s bizarre plan to bar illegal immigrants from the U.S. with a giant, statistically implausible wall, were the work of graphic designers Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh. Best known for tracking their ill-fated attempt to date in the solipsistic, if astonishingly addictive, online experiment “40 Days of Dating,” the pair have recently turned empathy into a design exercise. “Instead of building walls and creating fear, we need to build more kindness, love, and acceptance in our country,” they write in a blog post about the project.
The project included yesterday’s public demonstration, a post lambasting Trump’s dictatorial rhetoric, and two microsites: a guide to Trump’s most telegenic insults and a BuzzFeed-style poll asking readers what they’ll do if Trump wins (which, frighteningly, is looking ever more likely).
Alone, none of these amounts to anything groundbreaking. Together, they constitute a fresh, multimodal way to convey a political message.
Graphic designers, of course, have a rich history of wielding their craft as a protest weapon. Moreover, elections have given us some of the most compelling political graphics of recent memory. Scott Thomas’s work for Obama was inspired. But the graphic design community has been oddly quiet this election cycle, and the best provocations have come from the digital realm. Take MIT’s DeepDrumpf Twitter bot, which uses neural networks to tweet like Trump, or Gawker’s Twitter bot, which fooled Trump into retweeting a Mussolini quote.
Walsh and Goodman demurred when I asked what role they thought graphic design played in fomenting political action. “While we do feel graphic designers can have unique abilities to make statements and tell stories in ways that haven’t been done before, we don’t feel there should be some responsibility for this,” they write in an email. “Graphic designers can play a role in anything they like.” That said, they envision more activism among peers in coming months: “We think that might start to pick up more and more as we get closer to the general election, particularly if Donald Trump becomes our president.”