I’ve just finishded reading Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild’s history of the British campaign to abolish slavery. It’s the story of what was essentially the first ever large-scale campaign for human rights — and as such, it still holds many lessons for advocacy campaigns today.
One aspect of the campaign that really interested me was its use of images to mobilise people and turn public opinion. Too often I think, we place far too little emphasis on the power of well-constructed images. I’m one of the guilty, as I tend to be a word person.
One of the turning points of the anti-slavery campaign was when someone unearthed a diagram of a fully loaded slave ship, the Brookes. This image had an enormous impact on everyone who saw it, and proved to be one of the most powerful tools of the campaign. These days, almost everybody who has been to school, has seen the Brookes diagram.
Another tool in the campaign was a logo of a kneeling man in chains, bearing the slogan, Am I not a man and a brother?, which was put onto items of clothing such as cufflinks and hatpins — the precursor of T shirts and lapel buttons so common in present-day campaigns.
Well thought-out and designed images can often be used to instantly convey a message that can get lost in words — and with huge emotional impact. One of the best introductions to the use of visual elements in a campaign is a little booklet called VIsualising Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design. It’s available for free download here and is full of interesting examples and good advice.