GDE710: Week 3 - protestography

Updated: Jun 6

This week, the topic of globalism was introduced as a side piece to the main challenge of exploring different terminologies used in graphic design. Whether globalism is a positive or a negative in the field of design is perhaps a topic that might have been more beneficial to discuss 10 years ago. It is now permanently ingrained in our way of living and working, due to a variety of factors, such as the boom in social media usage, wider accessibility of cultural media, and cheaper travel.

Left to right: @Jitterbug_art, @Shirien.creates, @MonaChalabi

The year 2020 marked a significant global change to the usage of communication tools, deepening the presence of globalism in societies. While COVID restrictions changed the way we operate in our daily working lives, there was a significant point that brought about the way we use graphic design to convey important political and societal messages. Following the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, activists took to social media platforms to express their rage at the ever-growing injustices towards black people in America.

Left to right: @eisellety, @futurafreedesign, @madison.utendahl, and @domrobxrts. Collage by Tilden Bissell.

Maxine Wally explains in an article on W Magazine that this form of protest, posting images containing vital data on allyship and news on social media, was more conducive to the current Black Lives Matter movement. Wally explained that these graphics, usually featuring stylized text set on an eye-catching background, were not only an effective way to disseminate information, but they were also chic and beautiful. (Wally, 2020)

“We saw what happened with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, so many people over the years. It was the last straw for me as a designer, and it was a wake-up call—my design must have activism built into it.” - Quentin Swenke, Futura Free Design

Global vs. Local

Fémme by Yoai; branding by Pearlfisher

In this week’s guest lecture, Harriet Ferguson mentions a project Pearlfisher worked on –– the branding for a subscription-based Chinese tampon brand FÈMME by Yoai. Ferguson states that Yoai chose Pearlfisher for their Western approach to design, as the "aesthetics of the West are seen as premium in China."

The branding is beautifully delicate and minimal in its aesthetic. Ferguson mentions that Chinese speakers were involved in the design process. Additionally, they visited China for cultural immersion to further inform the solution. She asks the questions: “Can you tell where a design was made in today’s melting pot of cultures? What would it have looked like if it was done in China?”

As an outsider, I would not be able to tell where this design was made. However, my immediate response was invoked by personal experiences and having seen similar situations happen in my own country. Local design studios and designers are shunned for what the client feels is a more “premium” treatment from the West. Sometimes it is (unjustly) justified by saying that a Western design firm would be able to provide more valuable insight than what a local design can offer.

Are these practices harming local design communities? Is there a sense of superiority by designers in the West? Is a Euro-centric education of design muddling other cultural design identities?

An interview with Sadie Red Wing, a Native American student advocate and retention specialist and indigenous design researcher, reveals that indigenous and marginalized students might not be given the space to develop their tribal communities’ design practices in art and design schools.

Design for Indigenous Peoples Day 2016, by Sadie Red Wing

“The majority of the curriculum in design research is dominated by European theories, methods, and pedagogies. In order to create a greater impression on cultural aesthetics, designers need greater exposure to design practices being done outside of western tradition.” (Long, 2020)

Dismantling Oppressive Power Structures through Design

“For nearly every injustice in the world, there is an architecture that has been planned and designed to perpetuate it” - Bryan Lee Jr.

Bryan Lee Jr., founder of the movement Design Justice, explains that design is not just about the visual and the end result of the design; it’s about the process of how we get to the design. For Bryan, design is a pursuit for racial, social, and cultural justice through the process and outcomes of design. (Lee Jr., 2020b)

The Paper Monuments project (2017)

In his movement, Design Justice, Lee outlines key points that must be taken into consideration in environmental design that align with the demands of the Movement for Black Lives:

  • Cities and towns should reallocate funds supporting police departments and reinvest in the critical needs of disinherited neighborhoods and communities. Anyone who has worked with marginalized communities knows of multiple projects unable to find footing due to the lack of investment and resources. The design profession must be an actor in the visioning of these spaces.

  • Cease all efforts to implement defensible space and CPTED crime prevention through environmental design tactics that often promote unwarranted interaction with the police.

  • Architects should stop supporting the carceral state through the design of prisons, jails, and police stations. All of these spaces inflict harm and extraction on black bodies far beyond that of other communities.

  • Stop using area mean income, or AMI, to determine “affordability” in our communities. Instead root the distribution of state and federal resources in a measure that reflects the extraction of generational wealth from black communities.

  • Advocate for policies and procedures that support a genuinely accessible public realm, free from embedded oppression.

  • Ensure communities’ self-determination through an established procedure that incorporates community voice in process and community benefits agreements in action for all publicly accountable projects.

  • Detangle our contractual relationships with power and capital to better serve neighborhoods and communities from a position of service and not from a place of extraction, freeing ourselves from the fee-for-service model and building power through black and brown development of the built environment.

  • Invest in and secure the place-keeping of black cultural spaces.

  • Redesign our design training and licensing efforts to reflect the history of spatial injustice and build new measures to ground our work in service of liberating spaces.

The take-away from this is that design processes that are inclusive provide better outcomes to both the designers involved and the people it serves. It hands power back to communities that had it stripped from them. It gives back voices to the voiceless. It’s a process that brings justice and equality to marginalized communities suffering from oppressive power structures.

Workshop Challenge

In this week’s Workshop Challenge, we were asked to look at the D&AD 2020 winners and select one to use as an example of how different usages of graphic design disciplines can effectively work together.


The Tampon Book: A Book Against Tax Discrimination

The Tampon Book by the Female Company

The Female Company, a German tampon brand, decided to raise awareness of the unfair practice of taxing feminine hygiene products more than luxury goods.

“In Germany, these are still considered “luxury goods” and therefore taxed with the top value-added tax rate of 19 percent. Meanwhile, actual luxury products such as flowers, truffles or oil paintings are considered daily necessities and earn the reduced rate of only 7 percent.” (The Female Company)
"The Tampon Book" by Scholz & Friends for The Female Company: The One Show 2020

To find a loophole around this, they packaged their tampons as a book to avoid this hefty “luxury” tax. The book also contained 46 funny stories about menstruation. Their efforts resulted in massive support of the public campaign, and eventually, Germany abolished the tampon tax. (D&AD)

The project, which won numerous D&AD 2020 pencil awards, could be listed in several categories. Yes, it was essentially just packaging design, but the concept ended up incorporating publication design, PR and gorilla marketing, a little bit of advertisement, and most importantly, activism design. It helped incite a fundamental tax law change, making hygiene products for women more accessible.

Excerpt from the Tampon Book - Ana Curbelo @Untepid

Protestography - graphic design as activism, a manifesto

Inspired by Bryan Lee Jr., I’ve written a manifesto as a call to action for graphic designers everywhere.

The idea that design can bring about change owes itself to the redefinition of the design process. Design is a tool to aid activism. Design is the art of producing a visual form used to further social or political change. Design is Protestography.

Graphic design is your tool for justice. Use your words to convey important messages strikingly. Allow the genuine identity of those words, to be informed culturally. Let the truth be known and allow it to be seen easily. Draw what is difficult to be spoken or written, but do so respectfully. Capture and document important moments of history. Make it easier for others to find their way, digitally or physically. Package the message effectively and attractively. Provide a platform for those seeking to speak their truth. Publicize those platforms in easy-to-access formats, both in print and online. Amplify the message to reach those who can help you make that change.

Workshop Challenge

To express my thoughts visually, I first chose the colors that would represent the efforts of The Female Company in their protest against the unfair tampon tax. Pink for “the Pink Tax”, an almost global practice of increasing the price of products marketed towards “women”. Red for menstruation, and because it’s a loud, bold, and angry color that would pair perfectly with the manifesto.

I chose to illustrate “Protestography” typographically. Because the word was not so pretty in English, I decided on transliterating it to Arabic. The font I chose, called Watad by Hey Porter!, is an Arabic display font utilizing a contemporary Naskh letterform with unusual gaps indicating where there might be a change in direction or connection to the next letter.

Version 1

I started off by hand-drawing the title in Procreate, attempting to give it the look of squishy flesh.

Hand-drawn, warped, mirrored, and layered

In InDesign, I created a Master template for the numbering system and other furniture on the page.

For the layout, because the title was in Arabic, but the text was in English, I dedicated the top half of the spread to the title, both in plain text and the illustrative form. The title in Arabic on the right was given a really tight leading so that the diacritics would merge into the text on top of them.

The English text was extracted from the main body of this week's notes. I choose Georgia, a standard serif font, for easy readability. On the first page, it was centered in one column, while on the second page, it was split into two columns. The result was this editorial layout:

Unhappy with the way it turned out, I decided to keep the concept but rework some of the elements of the design.

Version 2

I re-outlined the words by hand, again in Procreate, and added highlights to make the font look glossy or even wet, like period blood!

The previous colors didn't provide an adequate enough contrast to make the text on top of the background legible. The red was kept the same, but I went with a more blue-toned pink and lightened it. To ensure the colors were suited for print, I also chose their equivalents in Pantone.

Updated color palette

In InDesign, I started by creating a master for the pages, with opposing sides for a page numbering system. The numbers, also featured in the font Watad, were blown up to take up a good portion of the page. The margins were extended to 30 on all sides to allow for breathing room. The layout was kept simple with a single block column of text.

For this version, I decided to layout my written manifesto, which was written in English. Instead of using Georgia again, I decided to work with Helvetica as it provided the neutrality I needed as a contrast against Watad. Design terminology which was featured in my previous text was highlighted using a beautiful display font called Eklektyk, which I chose because it looked quite similar to Watad. The tracking of the words was increased by 200pts as this font was quite dense.

Quick export to .png

Overall, the design is intended to be loud, bold, and striking, in the same way, that its message aims to be.

Printed and scanned


D&AD 2020 Winners: The Tampon Book: a book against tax discrimination

Lee Jr., B. (2020a). America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress. [online] 3 Jun. Available at:

Lee Jr., B. (2020b). Bryan C. Lee on Design Justice and Architecture’s Role in Systemic Racism. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].

Long, M. (2020). Cultural appropriation: Can Designers Ever Responsibly “borrow” from Other cultures? | Design Week. [online] Design Week. Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2021].

Tampon Book, The Female Company.

Wally, M. (2020). The Graphic Designers Defining the Aesthetics of Black Lives Matter. [online] W Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].

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