Antiwar Communication

And when we just thought the world couldn’t get any tougher after these surreal couple of years, we are facing one of the most challenging times for peace that we can remember in the Western world.

April 2022

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At TM we take a world view and are proud of being engaged global citizens. We acknowledge the conflict in Ukraine is not the only war taking place in the world at moment, nor are Ukrainians the only victims of Putin’s battle strategies, nor the only refugees fleeing for safety in Europe, we must face the fact that the magnitude of what is happening in Ukraine is keeping us awake at night.

As a communication design practice focused on positive impact, and as part of the UST – driving change in the human environment, we have focused our thinking, in reaction to the war in Ukraine around what must be the ultimate solution to war – peace. That’s why we wanted to explore how designers have reacted against this hideous tradition of self-destruction and take a look at the anti-war movement throughout the History of design. For this post, we share a short selection of what we think are some of the most interesting graphic pieces from the movement in our recent history.


World War I
The outbreak of the First World War was largely met with popular support in Britain. Yet from the very beginning, a vocal minority opposed the conflict.  This poster, issued by the Peace Committee of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1914, calls for calm and solidarity in contrast to the widespread patriotic fervour of the time. Quakers have pacifism as one of their core beliefs, and so expressed clearly in this typographic poster.


‘Never Again!’ poster by John J Heartfield
First published in November 27th, 1932 in AIZ (Arbeiter–Illustrierte–Zeitung) this cover was used to protest the Geneva concessions to Adolf Hitler.

Calling himself “an old pacifist”, the artist created one of the most famous and dramatic political statements. The collage of the dove of peace on a bayonet is shown before the League of Nations building. Heartfield’s goal was to use his political art “as a weapon” to awaken the world to Hitler’s expanding power.

The second variation, in 1960 (right image) the artist included the caption that echoes the battle cry of Holocaust survivors – “Niemals Wieder!” [Never Again!]. The message is universal: Bigotry cannot be tolerated, war for profit cannot continue without protest, and now we have another demand.


The ‘Peace Symbol’
Probably the most-know graphic device to represent the anti-war/peaceful movement is the Gerald Holtom symbol. In 1958, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was launched, and its first march took place and the commission to design a symbol for it was part of the planning. As the original sketches show, the symbol he came up with was partly derived from the letters ‘n’ and ‘d’ in the semaphore alphabet, representing nuclear disarmament. It was quickly adopted by many groups of the anti-nuclear movement and has become iconic as a wider symbol of peace across the world.


Eastern March ‘66
As pattern and geometry lovers, we wanted to include this stunning poster from Ian McLaren. Once again, commissioned by the CND to promote the Easter March in 1966. The abstract imagery reflected both the era and the practical need to avoid overtly political imagery so as to be permitted for display at London Transport sites.


Modern Conflict
For some of us this is the very first recollection of anti-war graphics. We all know what happened after the 9/11 attacks on the USA in 2001, and the aggressive military approach to extremist Islamic terrorism (‘War on Terror’) by the US government. In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) was formed shortly after the 9/11 attacks, reflecting a concern that such military action was not the right response.

This poster is based on a placard designed by artist David Gentleman for a major StWC demonstration against war in Iraq in London on 15 February 2003. The protest was the largest of its type in British history and coincided with similar mass demonstrations on the same day around the world.

From this small selection we can take powerful messages and understand the impact design has had in protest and movements for peace in modern history and today. We understand the power of design to make change and hope against hope that communicator’s creativity is not required much longer in this and all conflict. As Edwin Star once said, ‘War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing’.


Source: Imperial War Museum © Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.
Source: © John J Heartfield
Source: Design Week article, March 2017. Image Credit: University of Bradford, © The Commonweal Trustees Original sketches by Gerald Holtom, 1958
Source: Imperial War Museum © Ian McLaren, Easter March 1966 (CND)
Source: Imperial War Museum © Stop The War Coalition - Poster Number 3 (NO - David Gentleman)