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In Pictures: 100 Years Of Design At Planned Parenthood

“Our voice is your cool aunt who’s going to give you expert life advice.”

Planned Parenthood celebrated its centenary on October 16. While the group has always stood for reproductive freedom–acting as a health care organization, abortion provider, and advocate for women’s rights–the way Planned Parenthood shares its message has certainly changed since Margaret Sanger opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916. In the past it was through evocative posters, ads, and billboards; today it’s through human-centered design.

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“[Planned Parenthood] has always been a brand that has been defying and defining what generations think about and want in terms of access and control of their bodies,” says Dawn Laguens, chief experience officer and executive vice president at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

For many generations, Planned Parenthood communicated with powerful billboards and print ads brimming with strong language, illustrations, and photos. In the 1930s, the organization used bold typography on posters and flyers publicizing its meetings and rallies. In the ’40s, infographics clarified and explained who used the services of the Birth Control Federation of America. Another poster, likely from that era but undated, used an illustrated flow chart to show how education and outreach can lead to community benefits like healthier families, fewer slums, and less child labor.

In 1980, a PSA about access to contraception and abortion in the New York Times read: “The time has come again when Americans must fight for their freedom.” In 1987, a poster proclaimed, “Our big, brave leaders have picked their next target” with the photograph of a young woman. A 1989 ad in Time read, “Should a woman’s private medical decisions be made by a man with a bullhorn? Don’t wait until women are dying again.”

“There was an era where we had to fight to secure [rights],” Laugens says about how the language has evolved over the decades. “You only get what you fight for and you only get to keep what you fight to hold onto.”

Fast forward to 2013, when supporters surrounding Planned Parenthood Federation President Cecile Richards brandished signs that read “stand with women,” and “protect women’s health.” Today’s audiences are more likely to encounter personal narratives featuring real patients and providers–as the organization evolves from issuing public service announcements to telling stories that embody the slogan “Care. No Matter What.”

“In the last five years there’s been a real shift to a bolder, more story-oriented face of the brand where people who work for Planned Parenthood and people who use Planned parenthood are given the mediums and the avenues to tell the story for the brand,” Laugens says. “The best way we reach people is through word of mouth and the new megaphone is social media.”

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Design at Planned Parenthood, for decades, was focused on graphics and visual communication. But as the organization evolves, it’s thinking about design in terms of experience: how people use its clinics, how providers speak to patients, and how the brand comes across through messaging. (The organization’s experience design work with Ideo won an Innovation by Design Award this year.)

“Our voice is your cool aunt who’s going to give you expert life advice,” Laguens says. “When we speak in the voice, it’s one that is reassuring and also inspiring to people. We are, in my mind, not a talking brand; we’re an experience brand . . . As we look at the next generation of young people, we’re using the ‘one mouth two ears theory’ of human-centered design, which is listening to young people and their values and how they see themselves as the most emergent, diverse generation and making sure Planned Parenthood is a brand that aligns with them and their hopes and dreams.”

Here’s to another 100 years (and more) of Planned Parenthood.

[All Images (unless otherwise noted): © Planned Parenthood]

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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