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There are two lessons behind the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster story; the first one is the strength of the visual message, especially when the message itself has a value to the audience. Visualized messages have a better chance of enduring time and lasting for years. The second lesson is the role of design in serving public aims in times of crisis.

During the World War II, both the Allies and Axis powers understood the role of media as a weapon as powerful as the heavy guns in battlefield. Although the volume of media was much more limited than that of the digital revolution, each country used all kinds of resources, including posters, books, radio stations, and cinema productions, to direct messages to the people.

• The British government provided a clear example of how to direct people in a time of war through different media, including poster design. The characteristics of poster design are to deliver the message to the audience quickly using visual elements and few words. This medium was very efficient during the war due to a number of reasons, including: It was suitable for both indoor and outdoor propaganda.
• It was easy for viewers to catch the idea even from a distance. It was easy to understand and did not include many words.
• It can utilize psychological messages to direct the audience unconsciously.

The British National Archive released more than 2,000 World War II posters to Wikimedia to give the public a chance to explore the design trends and propaganda messages that circulated during the period. Below are 15 poster examples that reflect the British propaganda during the second World War (source of images: Wikimedia).

The first poster is the “Keep Calm and Carry On;” it was part of a three-poster series, also including the “Freedom Is in Peril, Defend It With All Your Might” and “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness and Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” posters.

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“Keep Calm and Carry On”

The poster below is an example of propaganda aimed at inviting skilled workers to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF played a significant role in defending British lands from the Nazi air forces.

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“Skilled hands are needed to keep the aircraft flying. Ex-airmen … join the RAF”

The next two posters send a clear message about the British glory and pride through their design elements and colors.

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“Stand Firm!”

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“It’s Up to You”

The following two posters give British soldiers self-confidence and send an indirect message, “Victory is assured.”

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“We beat ‘em before, we will beat ‘em again”

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“Give us the tools and –”

While in the midst of war, propaganda messages are not limited to soldiers only; the poster below sends a message to workers that their work is important too.

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“Britain expects that you too, this day, will do your duty”

During World War II, the United Kingdom provided a good example of crisis management. In order to serve soldiers in battlefields with weapons and logistics, they employed a plan to reduce the consumption of resources, especially gas.

The next set of posters sent a direct message that saving resources can help the soldiers with the war effort.

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“Turn that gas down”

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“Paper, rags and bones to make more munitions”

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“Take care of your tyres and save rubber”

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“I need bones to make explosives”

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“Still more bones wanted for salvage”

Another message is sent through the following two posters about German spies and how they were eavesdropping on British communications. The poster aimed to increase the awareness of spies and their impact on the war.

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“Furtive Fritz is always listing, be careful what you say”

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“Message to the British troops from the German intelligence”

This last poster message contains no text but delivers the message that both British and Russian troops are key factors in defeating Nazi power and achieving victory.

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All of these posters provide examples of the messages that British government leaders wanted to deliver to their people and soldiers during World War II, and the posters played an essential role in their propaganda.

If you lived in these days and saw any of the above posters and how they affected people, share with us your thoughts and memories to help foster learning about design strategies during this period.