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Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State Hardcover – December 1, 2008
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''Steven Heller's Iron Fists makes a sophisticated and visually arresting comparison between modern corporate-branding strategies -- slogans, mascots, jingles, and the rest -- and those adopted by 'four of the most destructive 20th century totalitarian regimes': Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and Mao's China [...] Iron Fists has the dimensions and dazzling illustrations of a coffee-table book [...] Heller's prose is as clear and uncluttered as the graphic design he admires.'' --The New York Times Book Review; ''Designing Dictators''; Christopher Benfey; August 3, 2008
About the Author
Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, was a senior art director at the New York Times for 33 years. He has served as contributing editor to several magazines, including Print, Eye, Baseline, and I.D. and is currently editor of AIGA VOICE: Online Journal of Design. He is the author, co-author, and/or editor of over 100 books on design and popular culture and has produced and curated a number of exhibitions. Heller is the recipient of several design awards including the AIGA Medial for Lifetime Achievement in 1999 and the Society of Illustrators Richard Gangel Award for Art Direction in 2006. He lives in New York City
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Of the four countries surveyed maybe the odd one out is Italy, the images in the book don't seem to have any distinctive feel about them, perhaps Mussolini was content to have his face everywhere and that was enough. So completely different to the Nazi way of presenting their leader and political culture. Pages fifty-two and fifty-three show a 1938 graphics manual published by the German Labor Front showing the correct types to use: Fractur; Rotunda; Futura. Rotunda in particular seems the type of choice in so much printed matter throughout the German chapter.
The Soviet Union is the clear winner for eye-catching persuasion. The 1917 revolution swept away existing design styles and new European art 'isms' influenced several designers to start afresh with bold graphics and especially photomontages. Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Varvara Stepanova produced posters and photobooks that still look exciting today. Photography was an important part of Soviet propaganda but this didn't seem to influence the revolution in communist China where paintings inspired the masses, paintings and illustrations were part of their culture for centuries. Chairman Mao, peasants and the military were always shown striding confidently into the future (with or without Mao's Little Red Book).
Most of the images are reproductions of printed matter: posters; book covers (and some inside spreads from illustrative ones) newspapers; magazines; postcards and more. Non-printed matter includes badges, paintings and statues. There are several interesting whole page photos, rather wasted because they are just used to carry smaller images of print material. Though the book was published by Phaidon it was designed by a New York company so avoids the usual tiny text and plenty of empty page space that is typical of their titles.
Especially insightful was the intersection of the styles more broadly employed world wide.
Those interested in graphic design and the people who capably labor in anonymity have a great champion in Steven Heller and his several collaborators.
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