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visual communication practice

Redsk*ns: A Racial Slur or Badge of Honor?


Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

Over the past year, there has been a resurgence of media coverage in the United States surrounding the name of the NFL team, the Washington "Redskins." The word "Redskins" has a controversial past here. Its use began in the 1700s by North American colonists, to describe the skin color of specific Native American tribes. The word has since garnered racist connotations, being described in American and British dictionaries as disparaging, offensive, and a taboo term with which to refer to Native Americans.

The recent spike in popular media coverage concerning the team's name, "Redskin," has been focused on questioning why such an antiquated and prejudiced word is serving as the face of a national organization. Native American rights groups are asking for the name to be retracted and replaced, as it is offensive to their culture and heritage. The Washington NFL team states the name “Redskin” is a term of honor and respect, and speaks to the contributions Native Americans have made to our country.

Each side has an enormous amount invested in the outcome of this debate. For Native American groups it is a debate of human rights and respect, for the Washington football team one of business and the traditions of an American pastime.

The “Redskins” controversy has sparked heated discussions, in online dialogue in particular. The conversations online are passionate, unfiltered, and disjointed. The incendiary subject of this dialogue is polarizing, oftentimes with neither side willing to compromise or attempt to empathize with the other. The commentary surrounding this issue is indicative of the anonymous, distant, and isolating nature of online dialogue today. In this poster I attempted to address both the failure of the online dialogue, and promote the potential beginnings of a successful dialogue about this divisive issue.

What kind of communication approach do you use?

My communication approach is focused on humanizing this subject matter to audiences, as well as presenting both sides of the issue evenly and truthfully. I feature commentary from both sides, those who find the “Redskins” name offensive and those who do not, taken from the comments section of an online article. I juxtapose these quotes against an array of portraits, which are all a part of an ongoing photo series documenting contemporary Native Americans from all 562 tribes in the United States, as well as against the Washington team’s logo, a stereotypical portrait of a Native American chief.

In contrasting the team’s logo and online quotes against real, human, portraits, I hope to promote genuine, human conversation about this issue. The context of an online commentary or blogging platform is about the amount of distance between each contributor: comments are anonymous, and no contributor is held accountable for their words. But place these words in a new context, among human faces, and their words suddenly have a greater power and accountability. I hope the addition of comparing human faces to the Washington logo has a similar effect, and causes people to question whether one word or face can attempt to speak for an entire group of people. Ultimately I desire for this poster to illustrate the complexity of both sides of this issue in a way that provokes critical thought, empathy, and understanding.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

This communication provides an even and truthful presentation of both sides of this issue, a concrete benefit which is not readily available online or in print. The disparate parties involved in this issue, the Native American rights groups and the Washington team owners, have biases that influence the information they provide to their audiences. Polls and statistics illustrate how the American majority opinion falls with each side. These biases in polling make results unclear, opinions misguided, and influence the failure of the dialogue. While I cannot verify that all of my own biases are absent from this poster, I think this poster is a concrete improvement in providing audiences with a rich, balanced, and truthful amount of information and dialogue concerning this controversy.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

I was surprised to learn how unevenly matched the two sides of this controversy are in wealth and influence, and how much my own biases affected my perceptions about what side the majority opinion falls on. I strongly stand by the position that to call a national team by a word with a historically racist and offensive connotation is wrong, and should be removed. Unknowingly, my opinion created a bias in what information I was drawn to in my research, and shifted my perspective about the issue as a whole. Through this project I was able to look more objectively at both sides, and realize what I thought was the majority opinion, my own, is in fact the minority. The Washington “Redskins” is a 1.1 billion dollar industry, with millions of fans nationwide. This organization, laden with the benefits and influence its wealth ordains, is matched against various Native American rights groups, the National Congress of American Indians being one of the most prominent. This project helped me realize that this is more than a fundamental, ideological issue, but one influenced like all other things, by wealth and power. My stance has not changed, but I have a greater understanding of the complexity of this controversy and the factors that shape it.

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

This poster is good communication work because it is truthful and genuine to its viewer. It attempts to start an honest dialogue that is difficult in this day and age- that seeks to make complex issues digestible by connecting them to the experiences of other human beings. It promotes empathy, objectivity, and open conversation.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

While this poster began as a class assignment and had no intended function outside of class, I hope to share it with various classmates, friends, and online audiences, as a way to gather input and begin analyzing how my poster is initiating conversation.

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)

As this was a project for a specific class at my university, no, it did not have any effect on outside media sources.

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

This is a strong example of a designer taking an objective position, aiming to visually communicate a complex social issue in a way that is thought provoking without being judgmental – in your words, the work "promotes empathy, objectivity and open conversation." It's great to see a university student considering the way design can be used to promote open, thoughtful dialogue rather than advocating a position or argument.

The colour palette and layout are bold and strong, and the juxtaposition between the Redskin logo and photographs is thought provoking, as you intended. The typography is clean and readable, but this is where I think you have missed an opportunity to use graphic language to communicate in a more engaging way. There are different types of information on the poster – factual information, arguments for keeping the logo and arguments for discarding the logo. Different typefaces, or more distinctly different type treatment, could make these different types of information more distinct. At a glance, I could read one argument by identifying similar typesetting, then the other argument. The 'conversation' could happen more immediately on the surface of the poster itself.

When you put a written statement next to a portrait, we read the text as being attributed to the person it is next to – I struggled at first to decipher whether these quotations were related to the photographs they were near, and if so, which ones.

I would like to hear more about how you gathered input from your classmates, friends and online audiences (what research methods did you use to gather this input – structured interviews or informal conversations?) and how you analysed the responses (again, what research methods did you use?), and most importantly, how those responses led you to reconsider or adjust aspects of your final design. User testing is only useful if you draw insights from the feedback, and use those insights to improve your work.

Overall, a strong piece of visual communication with worthy aims.

View other works commented by Dr Zoë Sadokierski  ››

Other comments

8 years, 6 months ago

Hi Dr. Sadokierski,

Thank you for your kind words and critique!

I completely agree that my type treatment is limited. All of the quotes, while they represent the entire spectrum of this issue, are each given the same type treatment. That's a great point- the conversation could begin sooner for the reader if the type treatment had more variety, and corresponded to the two main sides of this issue. I will definitely make a revision of this poster that incorporates your advice.

As for the research, this project was a class assignment, and prompted us to review the online dialogue surrounding our chosen issue. We looked at online forums, social media platforms, etc. to analyze the quality of dialogue and conversation taking place. Therefore, all of the quotes are taken from various online sources in which a conversation was taking place.

Many thanks again for your critique.

Curators comments

This work has been commented by 1 curator(s):
Dr Zoë Sadokierski go to comments ›

Entry details


Redsk*ns: A Racial Slur or Badge of Honor?


Promoting Empathy about a Polarizing Issue

Concept author(s)

Allison Press

Concept author year(s) of birth


Concept author(s) contribution

Graphic Designer, Researcher, Copy Writer


United States of America

Competition category

visual communication practice

Competition subcategory


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

North Carolina State University / Undergraduate / College of Design / Graphic Design