Kevin Kennedy Ryan, founder of Labour Party Graphic Designers (LPGD), recently launched a fundraiser with the admirable aim of building an online Labour Party archive. LabourList was too late to help with reaching the £500 goal, as the funds were secured in less than 24 hours, but we thought this would be a good moment for our editor Sienna Rodgers to catch up with Kevin…
Sienna: You’re the founder of Labour Party Graphic Designers, which we interviewed you about in April 2019. What has your collective of artists and designers been up to since then?
Kevin: We’ve released eight art packs to date, on everything from the climate emergency to the local elections. We did several key workers ones when the pandemic first hit. And then during the local elections and the general election in 2019, one of the big functions we were fulfilling was matching up candidates and campaigns with designers who were willing to volunteer their time. Between the two of those, we matched up dozens of candidates with designers.
That’s great. Are you planning to do that for local elections in May 2021 too?
I think that’s something we’re going to look at doing again. We try to link up candidates with people who are, if not local, at least in their region. One of the things we’re hoping to do further down the line is strengthen ties with the regional parties, and have regional hubs of designers. But that’s a bit of the way out right now.
Have you been in touch with regional parties and started that process?
The party approached us about it, then hasn’t really followed up with us since the initial conversation, so we’re waiting to hear back on that.
I think everyone online has really enjoyed your art packs. Which one were you most proud of?
I think the first key workers one, mostly because it had a quick response. Before we’d always done them with a long lead time of sometimes three months, whereas this one we launched it in two weeks. It was one of our biggest ones and in terms of the quality it was one of the best.
How big is your collective of designers now?
It’s like layers of an onion. There’s four or five of us who are core and keep everything ticking over. Then there’s the more organised periphery of that, which is about 20 people in the group chat. Then there’s the group of people who only submit to art packs every once in a while, and I think we’ve had over 60 designers now who’ve been involved in that.
I wanted to ask you about the Labour Party’s own output, too. The party graphics sometimes attract quite a lot of criticism on Twitter. What do you think needs to change about the party’s approach?
There’s a few parts to it. One is process-driven. The quality of stuff that was going out in the 2019 election was a lot better than what has been going out recently. It’s still the same people who are doing it, but people are working from home, they’re not in an office together. I think one of the things they really need to look at is the sign-off process, more than anything else.
I also think the party can sometimes use brand guidelines as too much of a crutch, rather than a source of inspiration to jump off from. That’s really stifled pushing out anything that is too creative or imaginative. I think social media hasn’t helped with that – you might need to get a brief out in five minutes, if it’s a PMQs response or something. But there’s definitely more space for imagination.
My understanding is that the leader’s office is conducting a (not particularly formal) review of digital stuff in the Labour Party at the moment because they’re not sure who is responsible for what and it is all quite fragmented.
I think that’s quite accurate, especially who signs off, who briefs, where does autonomy lie and where does signing off lie. Any large organisation, whether it’s academia or the health service or a political party, you’re going to get that disconnect in various ways. If they can improve it, that’s a hell of a place to start.
I’ve now lobbied the new leader’s office about getting a new Labour logo. I’ve found it’s really difficult to work with that cut-out rose to make other graphics. Does that call have the support of LPGD?
It thoroughly has the LPGD seal of approval. The logo that we’ve got was a temporary logo created for the 2010 Gordon Brown election, and it was never intended to still be in use a decade later. It’s difficult to work with, and it’s not particularly imaginative. No-one in the party likes it either.
It would be great [to get a new logo], but we get tagged a lot on social media being like: ‘Oh, let’s do an art pack on rebranding the party or creating a new logo’. It’s important to know that it is a process with a lot of integrity that has to happen in order to do the branding exercise and come out with a visual identity that reflects the party’s values and appeals to an audience. That’s not the kind of thing that a bunch of dorks on Twitter can do.
Turning to your latest project: you launched a fundraiser to buy up and bring over some rare Labour materials. I noticed that you reached your goal in just one day. Talk me through how you came across these items in San Francisco, and what you’re planning to do with them.
One of the things we’re working on at the moment, which we’re hoping to launch in correlation with the next art pack, is redoing the [LGPD] website. There is a really talented guy called James Calmus, who has been working on that.
Oh, really? Link me up with him! [Full disclosure: James is Sienna’s partner.]
One of the functions of putting up the materials is it’s sort of a Pinterest-style repository – Labour Party posters, buttons, flyers, etc, from over the years. We’re going to be launching that hopefully at around the end of October. At the moment we’ve got an archive of about 600 posters, which will be going live on there. The hope is that it can serve as both a historical archive but also a good jump-off point for any time that creatives are sitting down thinking, ‘I need to get a logo’ for a council candidate or university Labour society. They can sit down and look at a bit of inspiration, and see this is what a good Labour poster looks like.
We’ve spent a lot of time trawling the internet, looking at loads of weird and wonderful posters from across the years. We stumbled on this bookshop in San Francisco, which had quite a comprehensive collection of old rare pamphlets from the party. We’ve got a really good relationship with the guys at Tides of History, so we asked whether they’d seen these and most of them they hadn’t. We thought, oh we should try to get them over. Anthony from Tides of History suggested doing a fundraiser. So we set it up, hit 50% in the first six hours and within 24 hours hit the total.
Our main intention with it is to get them shipped over, digitise them, make them online. For historiography, but also there are some interesting design elements to some of them. We’ll get those included in the archive, and then our hope is to donate the physical copies – once we’ve digitised them – to the People’s History Museum, or maybe the TUC library.
That’s going to be incredible. You’ll have this big catalogue online, and people will be able to search by year, artist, theme, that kind of thing?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last three months indexing hundreds and hundreds of pictures with tags, so it’ll be very easily searchable.
When you were looking through these old posters, badges, etc, were there any new favourites that you gained in that process?
One of the striking things was the Labour Party programmes from the 1930s, particularly from local elections and for local government. There was a huge emphasis on municipal socialism and for a couple of years they went for the title ‘Socialism in Action’ as a header. I think it’s one of the things with which we may have lost our way a bit, showing how councils can creatively transform our cities for the better, and we’ve been bogged down with administration. There’s a level of aspiration in a lot of them that I think we’ve lost.
You reached your £500 fundraising goal really quickly. Are you going to fundraise for something else next?
Yes, but only with purpose. I don’t want to sit there with an unaccountable pot of money and not necessarily have any plans for it. But we’ve got a few irons in the fire. Obviously the repository online is going to be a work in progress, and hopefully that will continue and expand over the years to become more comprehensive. It’s particularly more modern stuff that is lacking, actually, anything from mid-90s through to 2010 there’s a bit of a black hole. And there’s something else coming up that is not public yet.
Are there other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
A charity Christmas calendar.
Are you guys going to be naked with Labour roses placed in appropriate areas?
That’s exactly what is happening, yeah. Me, James, Anthony from Tides of History… The idea is to put out a 2021 calendar with a series of prints, and we’ll put down notable dates in Labour history – ’won election’, ‘Attlee died’, etc. On the reverse of every page will be a full-size print, either taken from the art packs or a historical design. And all the money raised from it will hopefully be going to a food bank this Christmas.
That would be amazing! I’m definitely buying one.
It’s a chance to do something good and potentially unifying – it’s not going to be that divisive, hopefully.
Yeah, definitely. Unless you put insulting things about particular leaders, or ‘shit policy decided on this day’, stuff like that. And it should cheer us up during the second lockdown!