Propaganda serves to rally people to action, take up arms and fight, vote for someone or something, make a change socially or politically – propaganda is a relevant and effective tools used everyday by government and private industry.

Do you believe smoking is bad for you? You can probably thank years of targeted propaganda for that. Unless you’re one of the few people that base all their decisions on fact and science, you probably feel a certain way towards smoking because of an anti-smoking campaign. Maybe everyone around you hates smoking too and that help, but it wasn’t always that way. 50 years ago smoking was regarded as healthy, mostly do to propaganda. These campaigns can shape the way society views issues and makes decisions. Recall the anti-smoking poster still in use today, “Mind if I smoke… Care if I die,” this suggests that because second hand smoke is so dangerous it’s alright to be rude to someone to prevent them from smoking around you. It uses charged language and glitzy glamorous images. The point is, this is just as much propaganda as anything we saw from the World War II era.

smoking advertisement

smoking, poster

Propaganda is a style of communication with political intent, utilizing emotion and suggestion to sway opinion and action. While it can be misleading, it’s not always negative. When you look at the famous Hope Obama poster by Shepard Fairey from the 2008 campaign there are no facts, simply a feeling that this man will bring hope and change to America. For a more in-depth definition of propaganda visit

Creating dynamic and effective graphic pieces to sway someone’s emotions is key to advertising or even just getting a job in the graphic design field. An employer moved emotionally by your portfolio is more likely to remember you and call you in for an interview. So how do you harness the power of propaganda in your design? Start with the elements of propaganda.

  • Target areas of sensitivity: during the height of WWII propaganda we saw lots of images playing up patriotism, manliness and family. Now a days we like our media to be a little more subtle, playing our heart strings without us really knowing it.
  • Raise questions and insecurity: hone in on what people are afraid of, then imply whatever you’re trying to do will stop the impending doom.
  • Play to egos: “join the army because you’re awesome and the army is awesome,” that sort of reasoning. This imagery usually features some good looking man or women who the viewer can relate to or wants to be.
  • Have a clear call to action: the point of propaganda is to convince people to do what you’d like them to do. So action point should be clear, “buy war bonds,” vote for or against something, water your lawn less in the summer.

Now that we have a clear frame work for what propaganda is it’s time to take a look at effective propaganda design and learn from the masters.

J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” is probably one of the most iconic pieces of war time propaganda. Created in order to encourage women joining the work force. Commonly mistaken for Rosie the Riveter. According to Ed Reis, Volunteer Historian for Westinghouse, as interviewed by California Federation of Teachers Publications Director Jane Hundertmark, February 5, 2003:

“For the past 60 years, the popular image of the World War II-era female worker in the “We Can Do It” poster has evoked strength and empowerment. The American public identified the image as “Rosie the Riveter,” named for the women who were popping rivets on the West Coast, making bombers and fighters for aeronautical companies like Boeing. But history tells a different story. In 1942, the Westinghouse Corporation, in conjunction with the War Production Coordinating Committee, commissioned the poster. It was to be displayed for only two weeks in Westinghouse factories in the Midwest where women were making helmet liners. They made 13 million plastic helmet liners out of a material called Mycarta, the predecessor to Formica (which means “formerly Mycarta”). So, more aptly named, this woman is Molly the Mycarta Molder or Helen the Helmet Liner Maker.”

Despite the confusion this image is synonymous with women’s empowerment and the feminist movement. That’s some powerful imagery.

propaganda, WWII

Normal Rockwell, best known for his covers of the Saturday Evening Post produced quite a large body of war time propaganda images, including the original Rosie the Riveter. His illustration style is realistic and lends its self to deep emotional responses from viewers. This Save Freedom of Worship appeals to core American values like freedom and faith.

One aspect of propaganda imagery is the power, these images aren’t subdued, not something you’d hand in a nursery. Here’s a collection of powerful propaganda images from Lava360. Like this modern propaganda piece, done in an old soviet style based on the book Animal Farm. The block letters, the bold colors with high contrast just screams power and evokes emotion, no wonder designers are drawn to the style this style for posters about everything from events to video games (although not nurseries).

With all this knowledge you’re ready to go out there and create your own powerful piece of design using these principles of propaganda. Check out’s propaganda design tool collection to get started with tutorials and make something memorable and emotional.

Melody Stone writes and designs for, a custom t-shirt company based in Sacramento, Ca. When she’s not manning her post at Fibers, likes riding her bike in dresses and high heels.

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About the Author

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Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic and web designer based in Fribourg, Switzerland, as well as the co-founder of We Jobshare.