A Look into Concepting Key Art for DO NOT RESIST
Before we begin, I wanted to be very clear about something: this post is meant to explore socially responsible design with the ultimate goal of passing along some lessons I learned while working on the key art campaign for DO NOT RESIST. This is not a political post and I have no ulterior motives.
Over the past few years, the use of excessive force and the militarization of police in America have become hot topics for debate and public scrutiny. These topics have been on the forefront of many discussions, from the publicly televised to intimate conversations between friends and colleagues. And as a result, both necessary and responsible questions have been brought to light. However, there’s also a great deal of misinformation in the mix and it can be hard to distinguish facts from fiction regarding these topics.
When Variant was hired to develop a key art campaign for DO NOT RESIST, a new documentary that explores the militarization of police forces across the United States, my mind jumped to visions of what the media overwhelms us with day in and day out. I was transported to those horrific visuals of police brutality, stories of lives lost due to excessive force, and the almost common sight of police officers dressed for war at a peaceful protest.
The filmmakers behind this project, Craig Atkinson and Laura Hartrick, were extremely helpful in educating me about the current state of affairs, as well as the path our country is currently heading down. Most importantly, we discussed the main objective of the key art: developing something compelling, yet responsible. Our aim was to create something both evocative and conceptual, that could create an open dialogue, rather than a piece with a clear and present agenda.
One thing that I really respect about Craig and Laura, is that they are both committed to educating the public on the root of these problems and why they believe these things are happening. Craig didn’t set out on a platform to prove that the police force in America is our enemy; he actually comes from a police family—with his father serving almost 30 years on the force. However, Craig did notice some unsettling trends, which is what he wanted to bring to light. Most important to mention: this is not a straightforward problem. In fact, it’s extremely complicated—and that’s what the artwork needed to convey. We wanted to create something thought-provoking with stopping power; not something that evoked fear or perpetuated incorrect information. We all agreed: we had a responsibility to paint a complete portrait of the issue and not misallocate blame to those in blue.
It’s safe to say, this was one of the most challenging creative projects I’ve ever worked on. I was inspired by what was around me—meaning, the current state of affairs regarding militarization and police brutality. In fact, my first few initial concepts were biased, as I was initially unable to see the full picture. Sometimes, it’s not just as simple as putting a provocative design together to garner an extreme reaction. The “shock factor” isn’t always the best idea; for this case, it definitely wasn’t—I needed to remain unbiased.
This piece needed to align with the goals of the documentary and it was our responsibility to create something that evoked conversation, but also was without prejudice. There are certainly cases where art and design should ask tough questions and rage against the machine. However, in this case, I was designing something that needed to align with someone else’s vision—which is why I had to be so mindful and responsible while creating.
As for the details…At the forefront of the key art, I placed what many grew up with—the small toy soldier figurines. But in this piece, they are splashed with blue spray paint—to symbolize that the police and the soldiers are almost overlapping in the current day. Backing them, are old-fashioned officers; leading the “toy officers” to appear as pawns in play. In the very background, behind the officers, is the Capitol Building. It represents that there are larger players involved. It’s not just what we see, the police forces, at fault. It’s bigger than that. It begins with our government and their actions—as ultimately, they are the ones making the majority of these big moves.
The goal of the piece was to have this stopping power—have someone look, think, and decide to experience the documentary to form their own opinion. If someone looks at this piece and it results in a negative feeling about a police officer; then I believe we’ve failed. Craig and Laura were complete collaborators and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with them. They were able to push me, have me think harder and bigger, and ultimately, help us land on a piece we can all be proud of.
Making moving posters is my job; yes, it’s awesome. And most of the time, my collaborations are pretty straightforward. However, every once in a while, I get the opportunity to work on something more involved and complicated that feels really important to discuss. This was one of these instances; I felt like it was important to share my thought process behind the piece.
DO NOT RESIST is a powerful and thought-provoking documentary that needs to be seen. It’s currently available on all major VOD platforms and I highly suggest you seek it out. For more information on the film, please visit: www.donotresistfilm.com.