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Article By: Michael Dooley
Pages 223 - 227


You can sum up Shepard Fairey’s design style in two words: contrast and conflict. He strives to create powerful statements through simple, iconic images that are left open for personal interpretation. Influenced by phenomenology, skateboard graphics and his own eccentric personality, Fairey is known for his minimalistic but highly impactful street art. In this article, Dooley discusses the meaning of his work, and the contradiction behind Fairey joining forces with the corporations and consumerist spirit he originally rallied against.

Outside the Mainstream

Fairey represents the designers that rarely get publicity or acknowledgement. He is what some would call, “underground.” With his street art roots, Fairey is among the ranks of counterculture artists and bases his design choices off of that particular style. He describes his art as a “[reflection of] my need to get my imprint out there, to satisfy my adrenaline craving, and my artistic craving”[1] .

Dooley introduces the reader to Shepard’s progression as an artist and designer, from creating his first sticker at Kinko’s to becoming the focus of a documentary and the head of Black Market Inc., a “ten-person visual communication agency... [conducting] guerrilla marketing on a corporate scale”[2] . He’s produced the iconic Andre the Giant graphic, had numerous run-ins with the law and has become an “urban legend famous for being obscure”[3] among the teenaged counterculture community, who proudly wear his “OBEY” t-shirts.

What Fairey brings to the design community is his distinctly rebellious attitude and a penchant for pushing people to “have their own epiphanies”[4] about advertising and design. Fairey feels no need to legitimize his art to who he calls the “intellectual assholes”[5] . He is unashamed and unpretentious, and this seems to be what is bringing him such great success in the subculture realm of design.

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The story of a designer who achieves success through rebellion and unabashed creativity is likely to possess wide appeal to the vast majority of beginner designers today, especially given the poor employment statistics among artists/designers coupled with the stigma attached to the "mainstream." It offers hope that those entering the industry might still find success in this tough job market, but readers should note that Fairey's situation is unique; should another arise with a philosophy similar to his, that individual would likely be considered an imitator, an appellation that would disqualify him/her from walking Fairey's path. It is worth noting that even Fairey eventually had to fall in line and work with corporations to survive.


  • Heller, Steven (2003). "He Might Be Giant - Shepard Fairey", Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne, Citizen Designer.

  1. ^ Heller 2003, p. 227
  2. ^ Heller 2003, p. 225
  3. ^ Heller 2003, p. 224
  4. ^ Heller 2003, p. 224
  5. ^ Heller 2003, p. 224