XR and the power of graphic design to amplify an urgent message

Can graphic design, a strong bold typeface and distinct colour palette, coupled with forceful universal words help drive a movement? This has been the case for Extinction Rebellion (XR). This exploding international collective is calling for urgent action on climate change through acts of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption. From its first public action in October 2018, when it successfully urged the UK government to declare an ecological emergency and commit to reducing emissions to zero by 2025, XR has expanded to 363 groups active in 59 countries. What appeals to a creative agency like ours is that the strength is not only in the unified message but in the delivery of this message. It has been hard not to take notice of XR.

The group has forged a strong brand identity voiced through a logo and design that is at once memorable and understood universally. A coalition of graphic designers and artists, all volunteers at XR, are responsible for formulating this visual identity. The graphics are characterised by four core design elements: the use of the extinction symbol, the XR logotype, and a colour-palette of 12 playful tones including ‘lemon’ yellow and ‘angry’ pink – influenced by pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi – and the fonts ‘FUCXED’. XR is thus balancing joy and anger and with a tongue-in-cheek approach, juxtaposing imagery of the natural world with skulls and bones.

Now, the V&A in London has acquired a series of artwork. Collectively they reveal how XR has harnessed the power of open-source design to develop a coherent and impactful visual identity. The rebellion to save this planet is a global protest and XR has shown that design can play a crucial role in amplifying the message. The group’s urgent visuals articulate hope, simultaneously outlining the grave consequences of climate change.

The strong graphic impact of the extinction symbol, alongside a clear set of design principles, have ensured that their acts of rebellion are immediately recognisable,’ says Corinna Gardner, senior curator of design and digital at the museum. ‘Punchy colours, woodblock prints, and carefully worded slogans available for download empower members of the public to produce their own creative responses that collectively amplify the XR’s call to action.’ She says XR’s design approach stands in relation to earlier protest movements, namely the Suffragettes who encouraged the wearing of purple, green, and white to visually communicate their cause.

Images © Chris J Ratcliffe Getty Images for the V&A

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