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Visualizing “Our Common Purpose”

A poster featuring drawn images of symbols from American life and history.

The Our Common Purpose Poster. Credit: Rodrigo Corral

This is a guest post by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives at  the Library of Congress Center for Learning, Literacy, & Engagement.

“Our Common Purpose—A Campaign for Civic Strength at the Library of Congress,” a wealth of activities at the Library this spring.

The theme, chosen by Danielle Allen, winner of the Library’s 2020 Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, expanded into a series of conversations that explored the nation’s civic life and ways that people from all political beliefs and social causes can build a stronger, more resilient country. The series began with an event highlighting civic media as a promising counterpoint to the polarizing universe of social media. The second event explored how electoral systems can condition policymaking, and considered how they might be reformed. The final event searched for shared or linked narratives in American history.

Each of the three conversations prompted a workshop, facilitated by Allen and members of the Library’s Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives team, where a cohort of middle and high school civics teachers from across the country shared their approaches and strategies for bringing civic ideals to life in their classrooms.  Many featured primary sources from the Library’s collections.

The poster featured here grew out of that theme. It showcases some common iconography of American civic life, as well as the Juneteenth flag, a symbol that is known to some, but unknown to many others. Its inclusion illustrates the theme of invisibility – that not everyone’s American experience is broadly understood or apparent.

The poster was created by graphic artist Rodrigo Corral, who has designed more than 500 book covers.

We invited Corral to tell us a bit about his design.

Lee Ann Potter: How did you first become familiar with the Library of Congress?

Rodrigo Corral: Through the impactful posters from the annual National Book Festival.

LP: Can you describe your process in creating the poster design for the Kluge Center and Danielle Allen’s Our Common Purpose initiative?

RC: It began with learning about Danielle’s personal journey and seeing how it is deeply connected to her professional work. She is a master of articulating what our Constitution means to us today and how this is truly a land of many differing voices and a place that presents many challenges.

LP: How did you decide which symbols to include in your design?

RC: Once we began exploring traditional symbols of freedom, we then worked our way out to beacons that represent more, such as broken chains, the Capitol building, and the Juneteenth flag.


LP: What motivated your decision to create multiple versions of your design—one with a black background, one with a white background, and animated versions?

RC: The design called for multiple versions, as a reflection of the diversity of our country. We aren’t one thing.


LP: Was this project similar to or different from other work that you do as a graphic designer?

RC: We are always taking an idea, an individual journey, or an institution’s purpose or achievements and telling that story visually. Our hope is to allow space for people to bring their own ideas, interpret it as their own and perhaps see things from a new perspective.

LP: As an artist what motivates you? Your work? What sparks your curiosity?

RC: I’m looking to learn and be inspired. We all respond well to powerful stories, especially people or organizations that are purpose-driven.


LP: Tell us about a memorable reaction someone had to your work.

RC: I’m fortunate to work in a space within design where the goal is to evoke feeling or an emotion. I remember when I showed the cover for A Million Little Pieces, very early in my career someone said they felt disgust, but also delight. I loved it. For Fault in our Stars, we saw makers get involved and create all types of objects using the contrasting clouds. They really made the design their own. Or in the case of the Chuck Palahniuk covers, people became so inspired they wanted to carry the designs with them permanently and tattooed them on their body.

 

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