Design has always been vitally important to human rights movements around the world. From suffrage to the end of apartheid, design has played a pivotal role in informing, educating and challenging in order to create a more equitable world for all, and the LGBT movement is no exception.

The LGBT rights movement is inextricably tied to graphic design through everything from flags and symbols to language and aesthetics. This article examines the importance of design to the movement, and how it has been and is used to promote LGBT rights and acceptance by looking at some examples of LGBT-inspired design and advertising that we love!

As a quick heads up, we have chosen to use the 4 letter ‘LGBT’ acronym for the purposes of this article, but more on that later!

The Pride Flag and Gilbert Sans

When we think of the LGBT movement, we almost certainly instinctively think of the iconic rainbow flag, a flag which, according to the Museum of Modern Art, is as internationally recognisable as the recycling symbol[i].

The first iteration of the Pride flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 while working at an artists’ collective[ii]. The original flag used 8 symbolic colours, intended to reflect the diversity of the LGBT community and symbolise core aspects of what it is to be gay. Two of these have since been removed for a number of reasons to create the more recognisable 6-stripe flag, which has been and continues to be iterated upon to this day as the movement grows and evolves.

Gilbert Baker’s original 8 stripe design
Simplified 6 stripe design

After Gilbert Baker’s death, NewFest, NYC Pride, Ogilvy and Fontself released a type family called ‘Gilbert’ in his honour and released it for free under a creative commons license in the spirit of Baker’s original decision not to trademark his flag design, intending it for it to be a free and accessible symbol for the movement.

Now, a number of years after its release, Baker sans continues to be adopted by designers and organisations who want to ‘type with pride’[iii].

MTA Pride Train Takeover

While its visual aspects are instantly recognisable to viewers, LGBT language is also often employed effectively as a copywriting tactic to create a sense of pride, community and humour. In 2017, after Donald Trump’s failure to recognise July as Pride month, Thomas Shim of Advertising Agency Y&R New York designed a series of posters, designed in the style of New York’s MTA Service, which attempted to take an object which normally causes annoyance to travellers and turn it into a message of support for the LGBT community.[iv]

By making use of the distinctive 6-stripe abridged Baker flag and copy linked to LGBT culture, Shim and his team managed to create a distinctive and humorous guerilla campaign which we absolutely love.

Give the Rainbow

In recent years, as public opinion has shifted more in favour of the acceptance of LGBT people, progressive brands have begun to find ways to show their support. While some brands have faced backlash for their superficial approach or for dropping their campaigns in the face of outcry, some brands have taken a more ‘tasteful’ approach.

In 2017, Mars launched their ‘Give the Rainbow’ campaign for Skittles. The campaign centres around their core strapline ‘Taste the Rainbow’, and has the company temporarily drop its colourful packaging in favour of a completely stark black and white lineart design. In a continuation of their campaign in subsequent years, creative agency adam&eveDBB also enlisted the help of LGBT illustrators to help design the packaging[v].

This approach is in contrast with the approach of many other global brands who tend to adopt the pride flag in their logos for a month, only to immediately discard it at the end of pride month. The idea was to give the rainbow back and in doing so stand out from the crowd, even going as far as to donate a share of their proceeds in places[vi]. In a climate where many brands are coming under pressure for ‘pink washing’, this approach was refreshing and heartfelt. It won a D&D Yellow Pencil for Art Direction and Art Direction for Digital Marketing.


As the LGBT movement expands and evolves, so does the acronym. Despite being as expansive and unwieldy as it seems, 6 letters could never be enough to encapsulate the breadth and diversity of the community [vii]. In fact, a full alphabet wouldn’t even begin to cover it. That’s why we want to finish strong with this one! Premium gym Equinox teamed up with Weiden+Kennedy to create this educational piece detailing a handful of labels used within the LGBT community to refer to some of our many diverse identities, identifiers and qualities and subcultures.

While the focus of this piece is clearly on the community and its labels, the creative links back to the gym itself through its use of energetic choreography and gymnastic movements.

Good Thinking

Design has a massive role to play in educating and informing, and as an industry we have a part to play as allies to the LGBT community. Through everything from art direction to copywriting, we have the power to change perspectives, show solidarity with marginalized communities, and create results for our clients by helping them articulate who they are while they do what they do. Despite how far we’ve come there’s still a long way to go. In a climate where elements of the LGBT community are coming under increasing scrutiny, regulation and condemnation it is still as important today as always to use our Good Thinking to do good.

At Genesis, we do everything we can to support and empower LGBT staff both in and out of work. Earlier this year, Genesis supported me by donating hundreds of pounds to my fundraising run for the Albert Kennedy Trust, an organization which works with homeless LGBT youth in the UK. The company also makes use of our unique perspectives and insights in a wide range of areas to make sure we’re always doing what we do best: Good Thinking.

Happy Belfast Pride everyone! See you there!



[i] Paola Antonelli, and Michelle Millar Fisher (June 15, 2015). “MoMA Acquires the Rainbow Flag”Museum of Modern Art.

[ii] Haag, Matthew (March 31, 2017). “Gilbert Baker, Gay Activist Who Created the Rainbow Flag, Dies at 65”The New York Times.

[iii] Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ. Andy Campbell, 2019.

[iv] Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ. Andy Campbell, 2019.



[vii]  LGBTQAlphabet, D&AD Wood Pencil Winner.