designing with grassroots movements

a handbook


designing as part of a grassroots movement can feel like a daunting task. there is so much to consider and so many people to take into account. and stakes are high; these are causes and people you care about deeply. i certainly feel that way, which is why i have started this handbook, trying to compile as many resources as possible. because once you get the hang of it, grassroots design can be a transformative experience. nowhere else will you find such wonderful groups of creative, subversive, collaborative people!

design in a grassroots context is a lot more than just making posters and instagram posts, so much of organising protest is a creative task; coming up with action forms, deciding on narratives, figuring out how to best handle police interaction, finding ways of communicating. in general, this text will focus mainly on creating communication, as that is what i can contribute most with, but don't forget that it is only a small part of a much larger creative process!

a word on open-source

when you are designing in a grassroots movement, the digital tools you choose should ideally be accessible to everyone that wants to help out, which can often be an uncontrollable amount of people across different places and with different knowledge. many of the designs we see around us are created with proprietary tools and assets, meaning only people that have one way or the other acquired a license are allowed to use them. this sucks for us, because we need to be able to share the resources with everyone helping out.

that's where open-source comes in. open-source is about making ideas, tools and resources actually free, as in free for everyone to use and modify. the source code it available for you to look at. in this handbook i will attempt to give as many open-source examples for the different resources as possible, but also acknowledge other options that exist. if you do use any of the open-source or otherwise free options mentioned in this text, consider donating some money to their creators if you have the means to :)

coming up with concepts

before you start designing, it can be useful to think about the context you want your designs to end up in: on someone's instagram or tiktok feed? between posters in pedestrian areas? at school?
depending on whether you want to print your designs, you might want to think about the printing technique first, before you start designing, so that the end result works within the limitations you have.
what do you want to communicate? how can that be made even more clear through what you design? every choice you make in the design process can be an important part of the end result. make a bunch of sketches or throw together 'dumb' ideas. is it the right time for a bad pun? a meme? a parody campaign? or should your design feel honest and scaled-back?
look at past activist communication, from your movement or others, take inspiration from the things you write on banners and signs. there is no shame in copying a proven concept, and it will make it a lot easier for you. but don't be afraid to make something new either.
look at your own context. do you have access to a certain production method? is there some kind of architecture that you could make use of? do people around you have specific knowledge that can be helpful? your design does not need to work for everything, it needs to work where you are trying to reach people.

if you need inspiration, i can recommend the book and website beautiful trouble (, where you can find many protest forms, strategies, methods and tools that people have applied to their fights, and which could be useful for your work as well.

digital design resources

if you want to create designs that you can use online, offline and everywhere inbetween, you will probably work with digital design tools. i have tried to create an overview of the ones i have interacted with.


adobe products (non-free, subscription)

many of the products below are alternatives to one or several adobe products, like illustrator, photoshop, indesign, premiere, xd, the list goes on. if you already have access to the adobe version (because you need it for your job or get it through your education), you might as well continue using it, the apps themselves are often quite powerful, if overwhelming. sometimes the alternative might actually be better, so it's worth looking into it. i have also heard that adobe doesn't really suffer from people pirating their software, since they make so much money off of creatives around the globe paying horrendous subscription fees.

graphic design



a vector editing software, useful for creating instagram posts or posters. it has a lot of features, and is quite polished for an open-source cross-platform program.

affinity design suite (non-free)


this is the graphic design software suite i currently use. they are a one-time-payment alternative to adobe illustrator, photoshop and indesign, and an extremely good one at that. no-subscription model (at the time of writing, they were recently acquired by canva, grrrr), a very well thought-out feature set and interface, and a general smooth feeling all throughout. if you study at a university, these might be included in the software that you can download for free (at least in sweden)!

canva (freeware)

canva exists. i will not try to hide my dislike for this website, but i have a responsibility to feature it on here. it is probably the most accessible software currently available, because you can use it on any device, and it has only the most basic design tools. you can collaborate with other users and create teams for your movement so that you can save templates etc. it all feels very capitalist and business-oriented, and the limitation of design tools can be frustrating if you want to be more creative.




a font-making program that is quite clunky, but with great documentation!



under development open-source font-design program.

glyphs (non-free)


one-time-payment based font-creation software, offers a 50% student discount on the full version, has a cheaper mini version as well.

3-d design



a 3d sculpting/rendering/animating program that has everything. truly the poster child of open-source development (at least to me on the outside)! an extremely powerful, well-maintained, beautiful piece of software with a vibrant and active community. check out blenderguru's donut tutorial series on youtube if you want to learn.


davinci resolve (freeware)


a free video editing software that many professionals also use.

web design

figma (freeware)


a free to use design software mainly made for creating layouts for websites and apps. works great to communicate website ideas with each other, has collaboration functions.

open-source typefaces (aka. fonts)

text can often be the most clear and direct way to communicate a message. if it becomes the main element of your design, you might want to consider the way the actual letters are shaped, which is where typefaces come in! they exist in all imaginable (and unimaginable) shapes, from formal business core, to shapes inspired by the paris commune, to wonky animals. here is a list of different designers and collections, where you can download open-source typefaces:




an open-source type foundry, based in france, releasing new creative, expressive, crazy, cool typefaces on a quite regular basis.
they also have a list of other open-source resources (some of which also feature in this list): velvetyne libre friends

the league of movable type


another foundry, with a solid base of typefaces that have been around for a while.

typothèque bye-bye binary


an initiative producing typefaces for an inclusive, non-binary and post-binary french language.

cat fonts


a one-man show. peter wiegel has created an enourmous treasure chest of typefaces, mainly created from existing signs, texts and styles. worth sifting through for gems!



italian open-source type studio, with very witty and fun professional fonts.



foundry with some very interesting conceptual fonts.

etcetera type company


etcetera makes really usable fonts, that feel very professional.



another very professional foundry.



a project exploring vietnamese type, by and for vietnamese people.



an experimental foundry working with lithuanian mythology to create wonderfully expressive (if sometimes hard to read) typefaces.



fonts created in connection with the post-graduate research course at the atelier national de recherche typographique in nancy.


libre fonts by womxn


as the name suggests, this is a collection of open-source fonts created by womxn, in an effort to break with a quite cis-patriarchal dominated type design world.


a very clean curation of individual typefaces from around the internet.

use & modify


extremely large, almost overwhelming, collection collection of open-source typefaces.

google fonts

google fonts is a collection of open-source typefaces funded by google. it is mainly meant for online use, but you can download all the fonts as well. for people designing websites: be careful to download the font files and host them yourselves, to avoid any tracking from google.


other websites

creating demonstration routes

for printing zines/riso-printing


physical tools

making stuff for scanning

to keep the most creative freedom and the least amount of technological headaches, the easiest way to design can often be to draw, sketch, paint or write things, and make collages to then scan it all in or take a picture of it. it doesn't need to be perfect, all the details will add a human touch. you can work together with other activists and make things that would have been incredibly hard with digital tools.

printing techniques

the way i organised printing techniques is quite common, into the ways the design gets transfered onto the material. i tried to include some examples that usually don't join the collection, because of their relevance or prevalence in grassroots communication. i am mixing art printing techniques and more "commercial" techniques here as well, because for our purposes both can be very interesting.

even here, it can be useful to think about whether the method is open-source: can you print with materials you can find at any art or crafts supply store, or are you reliant on one or a few large companies to be able to use the technique?

non-impact printing

non-impact printing is printing where the paint or color does not get pressed onto the medium with a master.

photographic printing

techniques such as cyanotype, gelatin prints, polaroids and many more fall under the term of photographic printing, often involving transferring a negative onto paper or other mediums through exposure to light. while the negatives can often be reused, the technique is quite time-intensive, and does not suit itself for mass reproduction. but, something like cyanotype could be used on larger, irregular surfaces, which could make it interesting for some use-cases.

laser printing

this technique uses a laser beam to electrically charge certain parts of a roll that then picks up the toner, a plastic-pigment mix in the places the laser shines on. those pigments then transfer onto the paper, which is also electrically charged. the whole thing gets heated up to fix the colour to the page. because the laser beam can be moved incredibly fast, laser printers can print many copies very quickly. the toner is usually not very expensive and lasts a long time and the result is sharp and precise, but often not very expressive. you can print multicoloured designs, which might be useful. since it is a high-tech, and digital, device it can be very hard to fix if it breaks. at the same time, it is probably the most common type of printer that people have access to (unless you have an inkjet printer at home), either at school, office or local library, so it can be smart to make a version of your printable design that works with laser printing's limitations; black and white is cheaper than colour, mainly work with a white background to save toner and printers usually have a bit of margin at the borders of the paper that you can't print on. if you want the print to stick out, you can use coloured paper instead!

inkjet printing

inkjet printing is another digital printing method, and as mentioned, the one that most annoying printers people have at home use. here, ink gets sprayed onto the paper from a printhead moving back and forth as the paper slowly moves by. it is a lot slower than laser printing and the colour cartridges are usually quite expensive and for much shorter than toner. printer manufacturers all have their own colour cartridge standard and want you to keep coming back for more ink. while being one of the most common types of printing, it can also be the one used for art prints, then from a much more expensive machine, which usually has a lot of extra colours to make the prints pop as much as possible. this is also a quite slow process, with an a3 sized print taking several minutes, but can create extremely high-quality prints in often quite large formats. the machines are also very high-tech and hard to fix.

graffiti and painting

i included these in this category because it think they fit here best. for creating single copies of a design, graffiti and painting can be quite useful! we use it all the time for our demonstration banners and signs, and it can be used to make larger murals or drawings on walls and on the ground, which can have the same effect as printing a lot of smaller posters. there are no machines that can break and no perfection or technical limitations in what you can "print".

intaglio printing

these techniques involve scratching a mirrored version of your design into your plate, usually made of metal (sometimes plastic), with a sharp tool. instead of scratching, a chemical procedure is can also be used to produce the grooves. paint then gets pushed into the grooves and gets transfered onto the paper with a printing press. the same plate can be reused many times. this is mainly used for art prints, needs a strong printing press to work and takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but can create a very distinct and beautiful print.

lithography (and offset printing)

the design creates an oleophilic (and aquaphobic) surface on the matrix (traditionally stone, nowadays often treated aluminium). water gets applied to the surface and then oil-based paint, with the latter only attaching to the design.
the result is extremely precise, which is why this technique is used for most book and large quantity printing today, with what is commonly called offset printing. offset printing literally means that the design is first transferred onto a rubber surface and then onto the medium. this is the technique most commonly used when you order a large amount of prints from a producer. the setup cost and effort (to prepare the aluminium sheets) is quite high, but single unit costs get quite cheap when the quantity is higher. because of the large machinery necessary to print, this is only useful if you have good connections with a printer (unless you want to print with the traditional stone, which can be quite slow both in preparation and reproduction).

relief printing

relief techniques all rely on paint being transferred onto paper (or other mediums) from the raised parts (reliefs) of the design, basically like using a stamp.


using carving tools, a mirrored version of the design is carved out of a linoleum plate—a natural material—so that only the things that should be printed are left. oil- or water-based colour is applied with a roller. to print, the paper needs to be pressed tightly against the cut to transfer the paint, either with a printing press or a hand tool. the cut can be reused, but the last two steps need to be repeated for every copy. materials are widely available and it is possible to print on textiles as well.

rubber stamp

rubber stamping is a lot like lino, but doesn’t need as much pressure to print, meaning you can print with a stamp pillow and hand pressure, which in turn makes the printing slightly faster. the material is a synthetic rubber.


woodcuts are a lot older than lino or rubber prints, and work in most of the same way. the cutting takes significantly longer, and requires more expertise than the other two, but the plates can be reused a lot longer, due to the wood’s longevity.

potato print

a fast and temporary printing technique, cutting the shape out of half of a potato and printing with ink. the cut only stays usable for one or two days before it degrades.


lead or wood typefaces are arranged in lines and then fixed in the machine. paint (oil- or water-based) gets applied to the type—either by hand or by the machine—and the paper gets rolled over the letters. this technique can be quite fast, but has a lot of initial limitations regarding the expression, as the letter shapes are given. it is also quite the expensive and spacious tool, but a lot more low-tech than modern printers, making fixing it easier.

wallpaper rollers

a relief technique where the matrix is a roller, which allows for seamless repetition. used historically to produce wallpapers, some people use the same technique (sometimes with foam paint rollers) for street art.

stencil printing

stencil techniques work by covering the areas of the design that should not be produced and then transferring color through the openings onto the medium.

silk screen

there are two ways to produce the master for the screen print: the less technical version requires cutting the design negative into a paper and then attaching it to the underside of the screen. this often makes the design less detailed and doesn’t allow for counters (the holes in letters like o). the more complicated, but also more permanent technique uses a photosensitive emulsion to cover the entirety of the screen. once it is dry, a positive of the design (for example printed on transparent paper) is placed onto of the screen, which then gets exposed to uv-light, allowing the emulsion to harden where the design is not covering it.
then—and this applies to both ways of producing the master—the printer uses a squeegee to draw a thin layer of paint over the screen and with pressure press it through the net.

digital duplication

also (and predominantly) known by the brand name risograph, this digital technique transfers a scan (or nowadays a file) onto heat-sensitive masters, which are fixed to a color drum, which then can create hundreds of (single-coloured) prints with the same master in a very short time frame.


using a stencil and spray paint is a technique used to permanently and quite exactly reproduce a design onto walls and surfaces.