At various points in Umlaut's history, particularly around the time that I was getting the company off the ground, the advice was loud and it was clear: do not get into politics. Whatever you do, they would say, do not associate, or disassociate, with any political faction, leaning, or persuasion. Act as if you're in perpetual stasis when it comes to politics, and you'll do fine.
I can see how such advice would percolate to the front of my mentors' minds. Don't rock the boat, was the message. Or at least, don't rock it until you're big enough to withstand the waves. Don't draw some close by pushing others away, by overtly assigning your allegiance to one side of the political spectrum over another. If you do, they'd say, you risk your entire future.
I took this advice to heart, and for some time now, have actively quashed an association with politically-motivated projects. 'The wise old men of graphic design said not to', I'd tell myself, and I wouldn't. 'You have a livelihood to build, just don't get involved'. So I didn't. Well, turns out, as the old adage goes: some rules are meant to be broken.
Firstly, I'm a highly politicised individual. Well, as much as an armchair raconteur can be, I guess. You only have to look at the last twenty tweets I've posted on my personal Twitter account and it's as clear as the nose on your face that I have quite a lot to say about British and American politics, with the odd sprinkling of German and Japanese carryings-on, just for good measure. While others are posting their favourite cat memes and healthy-living-Dry-January superfood to Facebook, there I am almost every day with the an update on the latest nonsense to leave the lips of Donald J Trump.
But the personal ramblings of somebody not happy with the state of the world is hardly a reason to start encouraging political projects into the day-to-day of your business.
But don't take my word for it.
Graphic design has been used to establish political messages since the birth of graphic design. Take recent examples from Rima Massasati and her intelligent work discussing the Syrian refugee crisis, or if you want the ability to trace back further the political bent of graphic designers, then check out the work of Abram Games or El Lissitzky; it won't be long before you happen upon what I mean.
And let's face it, our world is filled and directed, by the work of graphic designers. Every logo, every poster, every billboard, every website, has invariably been refracted through the lens of graphic design somewhere along the line. So why then, would I accept this fate of remaining quiet; isn't it true that graphic design is here to broadcast messages, to communicate the oftentimes incommunicable, to be the conduit through which the messages of humans are passed from one to another?
Isn't it then that to deny political projects is to deny an incredibly important element of what constitutes humanity?
On the eve of Trump's inauguration, I released two posters that I'd been working on for some time. I'd been messing around with Adobe's new mobile apps for iPad, chiefly Draw and Fix and Mix, doodling this and that to try out the features and see really if they could be viable options to bring into our studio's workflow. I don't know how, or why, but in doing so, I began to move from passing the Apple Pencil over the iPad screen in vaguely interesting ways, to coalescing strokes of the pencil in meaningful, composited illustrations. At the same time, I'd been reading an article about Hillary Clinton from the March 2016 edition of Vogue and saw the picture of Clinton photographed by Mario Testino.
Illustration was something I loved at school but given at the time, and every day since, I've been a fully-fledged computer nerd, I'd abandoned hand drawing early on as it didn't have the same allure to me as, say, digital graphic design. So for me to be illustrating again was exciting, and reawakened memories of how much I enjoyed the medium, however the result was not something I'd ever anticipated.
What started as a random drawing of a political figure, soon became much more than that. Tensions were building around the success of Hillary's campaign, and the beginnings of concerns that Trump could actually clinch this thing were becoming more and more abundant.
I finished the illustration of Hillary. But rather than that being the end of it, archived away on my iPad as something that had come and gone, I then set to work on drawing Barack Obama. Whereas with Clinton my drawing was random, consciously at least, when it came to Obama, I now had a purpose in mind. These drawings were not just random thoughts passing through my head, but representations of the uneasiness of my political brain: the Democrats were going to lose. What would such an outcome do to the landscape of America's politics? What would such an outcome mean for Europe? Hell, what would happen to the world?
Once the illustrations themselves were completed, I then moved to the backgrounds. I'd used block colours and shaping to form the drawings, so it seemed rational to continue that theme throughout the piece. Originally though, the backgrounds were much less voluble, more demure, and ultimately portraying a straightforward bleakness about how I felt events were unfolding, however I quickly dismissed this tack for something perhaps more abstract, and a lot more vibrant.
The thinking here was multi-layered. Firstly, candy is an American staple, or at least us Europeans are led to believe that, so it seemed much more in-keeping with an American political message to draw on cultural aspects of American society. Likewise, it became fairly obvious fairly quickly that the inversion of happy-go-lucky, candy-coloured themes described my fears more clearly: what looks good for you on the outside, in its packaging, is neither good nor wholesome for you once you fill your mouth with sugar, and cavities.
The dripping, perhaps, melting away of both Obama and Clinton came much later. I was almost ready to release the illustrations as-was when it suddenly struck me that while the backgrounds in all their vibrancy described an uncertain future, the melting away of the players the world had assumed would pass power from one to the other, were slowly becoming less and less relevant as this strange, new, political landscape began to unfold; thus I was simultaneously describing a past many wanted but was eroding, and a future most could never have contemplated, now bursting out of its fictional genesis towards becoming an absolute reality.
The posters received fairly widespread praise from both the design community itself and my weary, worn out friends and family who have endured my private political onslaught for quite some time now; proving, no doubt, that banging on about something the same way over and over again until people become bored or switched off is not a recipe for success; change things up a little, and look what response you get then.
Now that the posters are out there for the world to see, I think back to what I was told sometime ago about not allowing my political proclivities to feed into my professional life.
Those sermons were wrong.
In fact, when I think about what Umlaut stands for: a conduit for change, to look at things differently on behalf of our clients in order to improve their businesses, their relationship with their customers, or to widen the potential of their brand, I can't help thinking that politics fits squarely within our wheelhouse. The divisiveness of modern politics, even if you disagree with the machine itself, has the potential to champion change for us all. Change then, is what's important. And change is why Umlaut is here.
I guess then, to think otherwise, for me to hide what drives me as an individual in a professional capacity, would be to ignore the fundamental tenets of why I got started in this profession in the first place.