Whether you’re a queer-minded artist, a business owner hoping to attract LGBT customers or an entrepreneur looking for new ways to connect with your already substantial LGBT audience, it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to graphic design. In relative history, LGBT establishments have only been out of the closet so long. Aside from the good old rainbow flag, used over and over, there hasn’t been much of a consensus about how to approach logo design and branding with an LGBTQ audience in mind.
While far from the definitive style guide, we’ve compiled a cross-section of LGBT graphic design to illustrate that the queer aesthetic is every bit as diverse as the community itself.
LGBT symbols in history
It’d be nice if we could drop all labels and live without lumping people into categories. That said, labels can serve a purpose, especially when it comes to shaping identity. Throughout history labels, and the symbols that represent them, have meant a great deal to the LGBT community—sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but either way you’ll want to take that history into account before crafting your own queer design.
Today, the terms associated with the acronym ‘LGBTQ’ are common knowledge, but this wasn’t always the case. In the gay dark ages (sometime before Kinsey’s research revealed how many of us there actually are), the sparse information available about the gay community was pure defamation. ‘Homosexual,’ a medical term associated with mental illness and synonymous with pedophilia, was often the only word available for describing queer people of any kind (excluding slurs). With much of the community underground and no role models present in the media, many LGBT people growing up only learned the name for what they were experiencing by coming across the term in a medical dictionary, always in a negative context.
When the American gay liberation movement started in the late sixties, clinical terms like ‘homosexual’ and ‘transexual’ were dropped for the more positive ‘homophile’ (and then simply ‘gay’) and ‘transgender’. Members of the LGBT community also developed visual symbols to represent their identities—transfiguring traditional sex symbols to reflect the blurring lines of gender identity and orientation.
Common LGBT symbols:
- The pink triangle, a hate-fueled mark assigned to gay men by the Nazis, and the black triangle for lesbians were both appropriated by the community
- Graphic designer Tom Doerr chose the Greek lambda for the Gay Activists Alliance, and it would eventually become the symbol for gay and lesbian rights worldwide
- The Rainbow Flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 as a more positive symbol of inclusion and hope for the LGBT community
In the past, symbolism carried great weight for the queer community, supporting its efforts to define itself and to own the conversations being had about it. Today, with acceptance for the queer community rising across the globe, LGBT-focused design can now take on broader meaning, with a strong presence in branding and marketing across a variety of industries and circumstances, from legal services to tv promotionals, even wedding invitations.
When it comes to art and graphic design that speaks to LGBT folks, you’ve got a rich history to look back on and a lot of material to work with.
Bold LGBT designs
Coming out to friends and family takes a lot of guts, and even if it goes badly, it’s a big accomplishment. Afterwards, it’s easy to feel like you can tackle anything, tell anyone, shout it from the mountaintops Sound of Music-style. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why the LGBT community adopted the loudest, brightest symbol of all—the rainbow. Literally all of the colors.
A bold design aesthetic, rainbows or otherwise, captures this spirit of power. For gay bars, pride events, important messages, and any establishment that is looking to stake out a definitively queer space, say it loud and proud with a bold design.
Subtle but strong LGBT designs
Much of queer history has occurred behind closed doors, outside of polite company, in the smoky darkness of speakeasies. That’s not so much the case these days, but we gays haven’t totally abandoned the demure approach. With shifting genders, a whole spectrum of orientations and androgyny all in the mix, ambiguity tends to be part of the package, and this can come across in design. Whether your design is speaking to a varied audience or simply doesn’t require any extra frills to declare its orientation, there can be a dynamic power in keeping people guessing.
LGBT designs that celebrate love and inspire solidarity
The LGBT community has come a long way in a short amount of time, but there’s still plenty of opposition to face down, from common bullying to legal discrimination. If your goal is to make a dent in any of these issues, art and design can be an effective way to strike an emotional chord. The following designs remind people of our common humanity and capture the universal power of love.
LGBT designs that break tradition
Most gay liberation movers and shakers probably weren’t trying to be pioneers—they were just trying to be themselves and live their lives in an authentic way. But a little pioneering comes with the territory when growing up in a culture that is predominantly heteronormative—you have to break the mold. Similarly, an nontraditional design approach will appeal to people who have had to forego tradition in their own lives.
LGBT designs that honor the past
Though the historical treatment of LGBT people hasn’t always been pretty, the hardship has inspired notable artistic subversion. The following designs take their cue from the past, transforming classic gender symbols or a vintage aesthetic into a progressive future with that special gay flair.
LGBT designs that reimagine conventional branding
It is easy to feel alienated being queer in a society where the vast majority of tv, films and even ads are targeted towards straight people. Maybe in the future the lines will blur enough that they become indistinguishable, but below are a few brands who couldn’t wait that long. These outlets aren’t simply including the gay community in their design efforts—they are making it all about them. Though pride month is the obvious opportunity for a queer brand makeover, there’s no time like the present to celebrate diversity.
LGBT designs that have a sense of humor
Civil rights, discrimination, suicide, bullying, HIV—these are serious matters that deserve to be taken seriously. That said, the lives of LGBTQ people are not all gloom and doom. Life has its ups and downs: sometimes it’s ordinary, sometimes it’s tragic, sometimes it’s downright hilarious.
By taking a stab at humor with your design, you might be tempted to think you are somehow disrespecting ‘the struggle.’ As long as you’re not laughing at us, humor is a great way to get people to forget their differences and share a giggle.