Graphic design is everywhere, from the menus we peruse at restaurants to the newspapers we read and the street signs we follow. In California, and especially in Los Angeles, no occasion is too small for some eye-popping, quirky design — from its proudly decorated donut shops to its sleek gas stations. But graphic design is more than about making things look pretty (though that’s nice too) — it can influence what we pay attention to and how we absorb information. Artists in California have long been aware of the persuasive powers of design, using bright colors, playful typefaces, and bold shapes to push forward their ideas.
For this Sunday Edition, Hyperallergic is excited to be collaborating with Southern California’s KCET and its arts and culture series Artbound in an issue celebrating the history of graphic design and social activism in the region. The issue is being published ahead of five short films that will launch on Artbound starting Monday, June 21, with each highlighting local designers, including Emory Douglas, John Van Hamersveld, Ernesto Yerena Montejano, Dignidad Rebelde, and others. The film on Sister Corita Kent, the beloved “Pop art nun,” premiered exclusively on Hyperallergic, and you can watch it here.
Here are the featured essays in the issue:
- Staci Steinberger traces how grassroots social movements in California in the 1960s and ’70s led to graphic innovation, from Emory Douglas’s posters fighting for Black lives to the proliferation of printmaking studios that became an accessible way to express one’s voice. Today, Steinberger argues, designers continue this legacy of design and activism across the state.
- Allison Conner travels back to 1969, when UCLA students confronted anti-Asian American sentiment on campus and created the provocative magazine Gidra, which reverberated throughout Los Angeles. Over a period of five years, they published 60 issues that were urgent, curious, and, most of all, held nothing back: “Truth is not always pretty, not in this world,” their mission statement read.
- California designers have always been different, Avishay Artsy argues, as they broke away from modernist traditions and embraced the light and colors of the West Coast. From Disneyland and psychedelic posters to the influence of Latin American art, California design is, in Artsy’s words, “unrestrained.”
- In a vibrant photo essay, Samanta Helou Hernandez captures the signage of storefronts in the Latinx enclaves of Los Angeles. The hand-painted signs and murals, Hernandez writes, “create a sense of place and belonging for residents.”
- And last but not least, Matt Stromberg compiles a guide to groups and organizations across Los Angeles — a number of them tracing back to the 1960s and ’70s — that continue to exhibit and support political graphic design.
We hope you enjoy the issue, which, after perusing, you may want to revisit our Sunday Edition from this time last year about Juneteenth.