What goes around…

In the last few weeks I have seen several examples of a typographic strikethrough or other obscuring devices being used as metaphors within different projects. The first I noticed was in a Design Week article about Hope Not Hate’s rebrand, designed by Blue State Digital.


There are echoes of David King’s Anti-Nazi League graphics in this, with the heavy typographic form married to the yellow and black colour scheme. I was initially drawn to the immediacy of its message and direct, unambiguous communication.

Then flicking through the latest Creative Review Annual, I noticed a Department of Education (UK) anti-extremism website for teachers: educate. against. hate. Designed by Breakthrough, it uses a similar, but not so heavy strikethrough on words associated with the problems of hate and radicalisation.


Then, just three days ago, again via an article on Design Week, I noticed Don’t Panic Partners work for Autism Uncut. This is slightly different in that some of the content appears redacted rather that struck-through, (the difference being that the latter allows you to see what was previously there). More than that though, Don’t Panic have reversed the metaphor in some of the material by allowing the reader to reveal what has previously been hidden.


This use of either a strikethrough or the obscuring of pictorial/typographic elements in a design is something I have noticed previously. The first I can recall is in Jonathan Barnbrook controversially placing a white square over David Bowie’s image for his 2013 release The Next Day. I wrote about it then and related it to John Stezaker’s work.

Other examples presented themselves as my awareness of the device grew, including David Pearson’s 1984 cover, and artwork for Jay-Z and Tinie Tempah. Pre-dating all of these is Skream’s Outside the Box.

As graphic marks these can seem radical. They force the reader to question the designer’s rationale, forcing them to ask why something is deliberately obliterated and therefore to intellectually engage with the work’s meaning. The problem arises though in its overuse, as this could lead to the graphic just being read as another stylistic embellishment, a quirk.

Such observations lead me to wonder why these recent examples have come about at the same time. Each is as effective as the others for their individual applications—they make perfect sense as communication tools within the contexts of the separate briefs. That doesn’t explain though, why three different design firms with three different briefs came up with solutions that have clear similarities.

Asking what other aspects the jobs have in common is worthy of consideration, and the obvious answer is that they all have a societal impact—they are designed for what may be considered ‘good’ causes—unlike the examples from 2010–2013, which are all cultural in nature, (one art piece, three record sleeves/artwork, and one book jacket). Does social work walk in the footsteps of artistic culture? Have the designers behind these pieces been channelling references from 4–7 years ago without realising it, only for those concepts to now appear at the same time in work destined for a wider audience? Or are there just obvious solutions to certain briefs and that questions of originality weren’t taken on board at the ideation stage in these cases? These questions, I’m sure, are likely to remain unanswered.

Coincidently though, (or not, as the case may be), when researching online before writing this article, I came across a Creative Review post about Grey London and their ‘anarchic’ rebrand for Creative Circle. In scrolling through the post I stumbled across a poster they had created. 


Creative circles indeed.

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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