Focusing on Design With A Conscience – Theoretical Assignment – Week 10

Sheppard Fairey

The 2008 poster of Obama


From Wikipedia: «The Barack Obama «Hope» poster is an image of Barack Obama designed by artist Shepard Fairey. The image was widely described as iconic and came to represent Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.[1][2] It consists of a stylized stencil portrait of Obama in solid red, beige and (light and dark) blue, with the word «progress», «hope» or «change» below (and other words in some versions).

Fairey based on the design on a photo taken by former Associated Press (AP) freelance photographer Mannie Garcia. He created the design in one year and printed it first as a street poster. It was then more widely distributed—both as a digital image and other paraphernalia—during the 2008 election season, with approval from the Obama campaign.[3] By July 2008, Sticker Robot had printed over 200,000 vinyl «Hope» stickers, 75% of which had been given away to support the cause.[4] The image became one of the most widely recognized symbols of Obama’s campaign, spawning many variations and imitations, including some commissioned by the Obama campaign.«

The Obama candidacy for the presidential election in 2008 brought hope for change to especially the young Americans. Bush had taken the country into a global war on «terror» and changed the global daily life forever. As a result, the USA was no longer held in high regard, people did not trust the leader of the world to speak the truth, and the common man was being surveilled and controlled. 

Many people saw Barrack Obama as someone who would end the wars, improve daily life and welfare for the Americans and bring back the decency in American politics. One of these people was Sheppard Fairey. For years he had made political street art and his Obama poster «Hope» became iconic. These are, in my view, the reasons why:


These are propaganda posters from the Russian revolution and early Soviet era. We can see the cheap use of two-tone prints. The compositions are solid and striking; the people in them are full of determination and action. We get the feeling of progress and hope for the future. The head of Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader and later first leader of the soviet union, fills the poster, iconic and instantly recognisable. Both the use of colours, composition and facial expression links directly to these old graphics. Obama looks determined, iconic and recognisable. He looks up and right, into the future, with a slight smile, indicating that he is kind and optimistic. He looks like the definition of hope for a nation needing a new leader, just like the Russian needed, in the eyes of the revolutionaries, a new strong leader to take them into the future. 

The two posters above are famous examples of propaganda images in the western world. Please note the use of patriotic colours. These are repeated in the «Hope» poster.

Another famous image to prelude «Hope» is the photograph of Che, taken by Alberto Corda in Cuba in 1960 and the graphic made after that. It was not until after Ernesto Guevara’s death in 1967 that the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick made his version of the picture world famous. He wanted to honour the revolutionary leader.
Argentine-born Guevara became Castro’s right-hand man during the revolution in Cuba and later went on communist crusades to Congo and Bolivia. He was captured and killed by CIA-backed Bolivian soldiers.
On Corda’s photograph, Fitzpatrick made posters to give «Che» a rougher look and colour. They were exhibited at a memorial exhibition in London. However, Fitzpatrick’s failure to take over the rights to the poster caused it to spread like wildfire in revolutionary circles. Today it is one of the world’s most famous icons.

This official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy, 1961, is strikingly similar to the original photo of Obama, made into «Hope». Thereby Americans might connect the image of Obama with the beloved former leader.


The type used is a sans serif, in line with the Modernism esthetics.


The artist used effective propaganda esthetics developed around the beginning of the 20th century, combining it with the echo of well known iconic images of famous strong leaders, created a striking poster impossible to forget or ignore. It is a perfect poster for the Obama campaign and the hope rosed in the people. Interestingly, it enhanced the very thing it portrayed, thereby becoming propaganda, just like its inspirational sources.

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