Are Billboards Accidental Propaganda?

Posted on Category: Design
Rooftops and Trees (1918) painting in high resolution by Charles Demuth. Original from National Gallery of Art. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

This article is more of a musing than anything in-depth.

I just returned from the most magical place on Earth, Disney World & Universal Studios. The execution of the work, scenery, rides, immersion in the newer areas of each park was baffling to the point of feeling cathedral-like.

While returning from the hotel to the airport yesterday I noticed something. The billboards. Orlando’s billboards are about the great events, parks, and activities they have going on. It’s really exciting stuff. Orlando is just getting more and more impressive. However, when returning back home, I had the chance to drive through my local city. Decades ago, my city too was a major hub of excitement and activity as well. And I noticed its billboards. Injury lawyers everywhere, two casino ads, and a marijuana distributor in the next state over. Where Orlando’s billboards focused on family fun, adventure, and excitement, my city’s ads focused on vice and blame.

I’m not necessarily saying that the two are linked, but I do wonder, do billboard companies contribute to the accidental propaganda of local culture? If my local city spent more advertising dollars on community events or restricted the types of ads that could be displayed within city limits, would that improve the lives, attitudes, and perspectives of its citizens?

Not sure of the answers, but it is something to think about as we design for the web. What accidental impact are my design decisions making? Time will tell, but in the meantime, I’ll keep asking myself if the design I’m doing is actually good for others.


My opinions & views expressed may not reflect my employer's.