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Accidental Hate Symbols

I don't consider myself a hateful person. I don't hate anyone, in fact. I may disagree with some peoples politics or religious beliefs, but I am a firm believer in having the freedom to think and believe whatever you want. I would never demonize someone for who they are or what they believe.

Recently I worked up a design for the Fall Collection of the company I'm a part owner of, Star Cadet. It was a smiley face with lightning bolt eyes. We were all very excited about the design; it was bold, clear, and had (what we thought was) good energy. It fit in with our vibe of modern streetwear, but also lent itself to the grunge 90's/Y2K trend.

I didn't realize it could be taken offensively.

The day came for the launch, everything was ready on the website and we were starting to advertise. We sent out our usual email, filled with pictures and information, but almost immediately got back a response pointing out how the double lightning bolts was reminiscent of the Nazi SS symbol, of double lightning bolt S's.

We responded immediately. We took that comment seriously. The very idea that any of us could be associated with a hate group was so wrong, and so gut wrenching, that we immediately adjusted the design and removed the lightning bolts, and changed every instance of it through our branding we could.

But then my anguish set in.

I felt (and still feel) responsible for this. Even though I wasn't the only person who saw and approved this design, even though I am not the first person in the world to put lightning bolts in the eyes of a smiley face, and even though I never intended anyone to take a hateful meaning from a design, I was still the person who used my mouse and keyboard to create the design. I was still the one who presented it to my team. I was still the one who supported using it as a brand symbol.

In our modern society, people are hyper sensitive to negativity in our media. After surviving a year where we all spent a lot of time being terrified and frustrated, it doesn't take much to rocket us back into those feelings. And for an artist or graphic designer (who doesn't wish to offend), it can be annoying as hell to try and tiptoe around so many land mines.

And what is even more frustrating is, looking for symbols of hate gives them just as much power as actually using them.

But we, as designers, have to. So we can delete them.

In getting my degree, I had a class about symbolism. We discussed the history of symbols, through unique sources like Tarot cards and archetypal personality. But we never touched on hate symbols. It was never drilled into us that we have a social responsibility in regards to what we create.

Because what we create perpetuates an idea that already exists somewhere. There are rarely novel ideas anymore, because as humans we are drawn to things we relate to - that we already have some familiarity with. And because of this, everything has an underlying meaning.

More and more things are becoming off limits. But no matter what your opinion is about it, that doesn't change the fact that it's off limits. Because it's usually off limits for good reason. And it's our job as designers, as symbol makers, as brand creators, is to recognize the impact of our work, and to remove these symbols whenever we can.

It is our responsibility as artists to remove the hate.

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