Make your demo speak: How to make effective signs

Demonstrations are serious business.  You should take your activism as seriously as a civil engineer does when designing a bridge.

Demonstrations are serious business. You should take your activism as seriously as a civil engineer does when designing a bridge.

The purpose of a demo is to communicate your message to members of the public who are not in attendance at the event.  Every demonstration or rhetorical performance has an immediate and extended audience.  The immediate audience is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the people who were there to see and hear your demonstration in person.  The extended audience is a bit different.  It is more than simply the people who were not there, it is the people who will learn about your demonstration through social media, email, news print, and television news media.  The size of your extended audience will vary on the kinds of communications technology we have and how we use it, but you need to make sure that your demo looks and sounds good for the extended audience as well as the immediate audience.

Selecting a message for the immediate audience is important and the kinds of communications platforms you are planning to reach the extended audience with will affect the ways you communicate to the former.  Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to tailor a message for only one audience and not the other, but you are selling yourself short by failing to account for both the immediate and extended audiences.  When you’re at a demonstration you usually will not be given the chance to have two-way communication with people who are not counter-demonstrating you.  This means that your message to “the public” must be short, concise, unambiguous, clear, and exciting for people who are neither demonstrators nor counter-demonstrators.  Now we’re going to step off one inception level deeper into communications theory…  YouTube and Twitter have significantly changed the way that we consume news media and also communicate with each other.  The amount of time it takes before someone can “skip this ad” on YouTube is five seconds.  You have approximately the same amount of time to catch somebody’s attention on Twitter (quite possible less considering how quickly some folks scroll through new posts).

When I produce material for demonstrations I tailor everything specifically for visual news media and social media.  Most news outlets, and I stress most, are true believers in the idea of objectivity in reporting.  This is a really striking thing to imagine for anyone who has been in news reporting for more than five years because there couldn’t be anything more subjective than delivering the news.  Reporters have to take dozens of photos, raw facts, mountains of boring data, and hours of uncut interviews and interpret them in a manner that allows the common man to contextualize the finished product in a way that tells him something useful about what’s going on in the world around him.  Most reporters will try to deliver the story that they’ve been told and about what we present to them, and it’s our job to make sure that they have the right kind of material to work with so that they tell the right kind of story.

Knowing the theory behind communicating at a demonstration doesn’t really “fry the pancakes” because the batter isn’t going to put itself onto the skillet, so here’s some more nuts-and-bolts of what you should be doing to turn this theory into practice.

Here are my rules for making demonstration signs:

  1. Make the sign as large as you reasonably can.
  2. Don’t make the signs any larger than one person can carry.
  3. Make the message simple and intuitive. If you can’t intuit the message in less than five seconds start over.
  4. Make the sign easily readable from at least 20ft away.
  5. Use color when possible, unless it interferes with #3 or #4.
  6. Pictures, or it didn’t happen.

Look at the signs and the banner in this photo. Which ones can you read? Obviously, the League of the South banner is easy to read, but what about the others? The three signs being held high are easy to read, but the other sign (second from right) is not. He might have had an important message to share but we’ll never know because nobody can read it as seen in the photo.

A few caveats are in order for these rules.  Don’t make your sign so large that a person can’t control or protect it should a counter-demonstrator try to steal it (rule 1 and 2).  My personal favorite for demo boards are 20×30″ foam boards.  These are available almost everywhere for less than $3 apiece and are remarkably sturdy when compared to other materials like card stock.  The reason you’ll want something like foam board is because they don’t fold in half if the wind blows, they can be set down against a barrier and stand up on their own, they’re incredibly easy to work with, and they’re available in a variety of colors.

Color is also important to consider for demo materials.  It’s “sufficient” to use only black and white if your message is legible and clear at a distance of at least 20 feet.  But, we can do better.  Having too much color is worse than having no color because it works the same way as camouflage: it hides the message in a visually challenging pattern (rules 4 and 5).  I say that having too much color is worse because it will make your demo sign look like My Little Pony and Lisa Frank aborted their love child with a rusty coat hanger in the back alley.  Do not use pastel colors.  If your demo sign looks like this I will throw you under the bus very publicly and with great disdain.


Black, red, and yellow are the only colors on these demo signs. Note the black over-spray that contrasts with yellow to make it visible. Photographer was approximately 20 feet away from center of group.

Use color sparingly, and when make sure that you don’t use more than two or three colors.  My personal favorites are black, red, and green.  You can use lighter colors such as yellow, but only if they have something to provide sharp contrast.  I strongly encourage you to use stencils for images and text on your signs.  Making stencils of faces is kind of an art, and cutting a stencil for that design can be even tougher if you’ve never done one before.  Using stencils for the signs gives a very professional look to the finished product.  Your sign will NOT look good if you use a jumbo Sharpie.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve done it myself, seen others do it, and the results are the same in every case: The signs will look low-rent and will not inspire confidence or awe.

When you’re thinking of a message to put on your signs– just keep it simple and straight forward.  The more text you have is the larger it must be if you intend for anybody to read it.  Too much text works against you in the same way that too much color works against you: Nobody will “get” your message because it takes too long to read ( >5 seconds) or is simply illegible.  This is also not the time to whip out esoteric and complex quips from your favorite Italian philosopher.  Evola has some really great philosophy, but the only people who will understand your message are other people who are into Evola’s works.  You could break out some Evola quotes to put on demonstration boards, but it would only really be good for communicating to in-group members of the extended audience. (more on this later).

If your design is too complex to convert into a stencil then it must be applied to the demonstration board in individual pieces.  This is the same way that we will go about making the stencil.  I covered this briefly in a another article, but it’s about time to rehash it for the sake of currency.  You will need Open Office, and Adobe Acrobat as the absolute bare minimum for this process.  It helps (a lot) if you have Adobe Photoshop or similar.

I start the stencil design with Photoshop.  Set the canvas size to match the dimensions of the surface you want it applied to.  Times New Roman isn’t bad looking for stencils, but it won’t tell you where to cut so as to leave the inside portions of letters like a, A, b, B, d, D, etc…  The trick is to remember that there cannot be any white islands.  All white areas must be connect to all other white areas.  If you’re not sure what this means then try to cut the aforementioned letters without regards to keeping all the white areas connected.  You’ll figure it out quick.  The learning curve for stencil design is fast and steep.  If you want to play it safe then just use a type face designed to be cut out for stencils.  It’ll look a bit blocky and sharp on the edges, and perhaps a bit G.I. Joe’ish, but it’s easy to do.  Once you have your message or stencil design finished you have to save it as a .JPG image file.

The next step is converting your image file to an Adobe Acrobat file.  Create a new word document with Open Office and set the page size to match the size of the demonstration board.  Do not forget to set the margins to zero.  Then import your image or stencil design into the document and “stretch” it to match the dimensions of the page.  Open Office has a feature that allows you to save a document as a PDF file.  There’s a little button on the tool bar that lets you “export directly as PDF.”  Do this.

If you've set the image document dimensions to match the demonstration board dimensions then you have nothing to worry about.  Set size to "100%" and print the tiles.

If you’ve set the image document dimensions to match the demonstration board dimensions then you have nothing to worry about. Set size to “100%” and print the tiles.

Now for the fun part where you’ll finally see your design coming together…

Adobe Acrobat lets us print documents in poster size by blowing up the photo and printing it in tiles.  Cut along the edges of the printed tiles so that they mate up correctly when positioned on the demonstration board.  To do this set Adobe to print “poster” (1), set to 100% size (2), and then verify that the document will print the tiles at the right size.  If you set the Open Office document to match the demonstration board dimensions then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.  If you want to play around with size then adjust the “tile scale” (2) until it’s where you want it (3).

When you put the prepared tiles on the demonstration board you will need to use a spray-on adhesive similar to 3M Super 77.  YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TAPE THE TILES ON.  DON’T DO IT.  If this board is going to be cut up and used for a stencil, then get a razor blade and go to work.  Foam board is very easy to cut.  You might not think it, but it’s better than using heavy card stock.  Card stock is very hard to cut and won’t last any longer than foam board.  If the image you’ve glued to the board is intended to be used as a demo sign, you’re still not done.  Also, use semi-gloss spray paint when using stencils to produce signs or fliers.  It just looks better than matte finish colors.  You can use matte finish paints, but the image really pops out when you use a semi-gloss.  The finishing step (if you REALLY want to go all the way) is to spray your signs with a matte finish clear coat.  A matte finish clear coat will stop your signs from sticking to each other (semi-gloss paint makes the signs stick) when stacked and also makes them more resistant to piss balloons and garden hoses.

Admittedly, this is a rather boring sign.  However, the message is clearly and succinctly communicated.

Admittedly, this is a rather boring sign. However, the message is clearly and succinctly communicated.

Don’t worry if there are some “gaps” between the tiles or that the letters and words aren’t completely connected or completely level.  Nobody will notice in the photos and so long as the sign passes rules 3 and 4 then it’s “good enough.”  VICE news covered a joint TYN and League of the South demonstration at CPAC, and they managed to snap a really nice photo of a League member holding one of my signs.

There’s no color in the sign, but that was always an option and not a requirement.  This sign was made by gluing tiles against the 20×30″ foam board.  The “seams” between the tiles (and other small quirks) disappeared in this photo because it all blends together at a distance.  The immediate audience at CPAC was very small considering how many people were in attendance.  But, this demo was never intended for just the people in attendance.  The extended audience of this demonstration was international.  Consider how many people read VICE news.  Mind blowing, right?  One $3 sign bought the kind of exposure that otherwise would have cost thousands of dollars.  This is why you must always design a demonstration with the extended audience in mind.  The advent of social media means that your demo can reach thousands of people in a matter of hours if you do it right.

Now we can go yet another inception level deeper into the science of making an effective demonstration.

Demonstrations should primarily speak to out-group members in both the immediate and extended audiences.  Your second consideration is to communicate to in-group members.  This second consideration is much more important if your activist group is new to the scene and trying to make a name for itself.  When you manage to make a big splash (re: Boxcar Books demonstration) you need to make a conscious effort to clearly communicate your platform to other in-group members and organizations.  We could have carried any flag or design on a pole when we marched on Boxcar Books, but we chose the Iron Guard emblem because of what it meant to other in-group members.  An extra big thanks to Boxcar Books for playing their role perfectly.  I cannot adequately state how much mileage we’ve gotten out of that one demo.  There are other considerations for making signs, fliers, and stencils for use outside of a demonstration, and I’ll cover that at a later date.

Even though I don’t believe in such a thing as “free speech rights,” you should be abusing those rights so badly that your city government will regret ever having heard of such a thing as “free speech.”  I want you to think as if you’re part of a television show called “Breaking Freedom” and that your drug of choice is “Hard Speech.”  Your style and quality of communication at a demo should be so impressive that other pro-White groups in and around your area will be begging you to help them with their own demos.  Follow my guide and you’ll be cooking up the best communication in town.

By: Thomas Buhls

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