The History of the Famous “Rosie the Riveter” Poster as Told by FIDM Graphic Design Student

J. Howard Miller's famous "We Can Do It!" poster also known famously known as the "Rosie the Riveter" poster.

J. Howard Miller’s famous “We Can Do It!” poster also known famously known as the “Rosie the Riveter” poster.

When studying the history of graphic design, students earning their Graphic Design degree at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising discover how famous designs reflect social and cultural attitudes over time.

J. Howard Miller’s World War II famous “We Can Do It!” propaganda poster (commonly known as the “Rosie the Riveter” poster) is an example of a design whose meaning has become misconstrued over time, as reported by FIDM Graphic Design Student, Sara Berkes.

“What I had always believed about the female-empowering origins of the poster was incorrect,” says Berkes who studied Miller’s graphic design in her History of Design class taught by FIDM Instructor Alex Gardos.

“I think it’s a fascinating example of how easy it is to mythologize things from the past, to view them through the lens of modern innovation and belief structures,” she adds.

Read Berkes’ full history of design report below, and scroll down to read our Q&A with Berkes about her experience as a FIDM Graphic Design Student.

History of Graphic Design Report: Rosie the Riveter

By FIDM Graphic Design Student Sara Berkes

Click on the thumbnails below to expand the images and read Berkes’ full report.

History & Graphic Design Analysis Report: "Rosie the Riveter" poster, by FIDM Graphic Design Student Sara Berkes.

History & Graphic Design Analysis Report: “Rosie the Riveter” poster, by FIDM Graphic Design Student Sara Berkes.


If you have an interest in retro poster design, don’t miss a special event at FIDM Los Angeles this weekend featuring the poster art of FIDM Alumnus Poto Leifi! Read details below:

“Freedom’s On Me” Poster Exhibition

THIS FRIDAY, MAY 24, join FIDM Museum & Galleries and the FIDM Chapter of the Student Veterans of America at a special Memorial Day poster exhibition commemorating fallen U.S. military members. Graphic design posters designed by artist Poto Leifi a United States Army Reserve Specialist, Veteran, and Fashion Design Alumnus will be featured.

The (free) grand opening event is this Friday, May 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at FIDM Museum & Galleries at FIDM’s Los Angeles campus. RSVP to rsvp@fidmmuseum.org. If you don’t have the opportunity to attend the opening, don’t worry! The exhibition will be on display until Saturday, June 1 including Memorial Day.

Freedom's On Me Memorial Day art exhibition featuring the poster design art of FIDM Alumnus Poto Leifi at FIDM Museum & Galleries.

Freedom’s On Me Memorial Day art exhibition featuring the poster design art of FIDM Alumnus Poto Leifi at FIDM Museum & Galleries.

Q&A with FIDM Graphic Design Student, Sara Berkes

FIDM Graphic Design Student Sara Berkes. Photo by FIDM Graphic Design Student, Tori Baldridge.

FIDM Graphic Design Student Sara Berkes. Photo by FIDM Graphic Design Student, Tori Baldridge.

Originally from West Vancouver, Berkes is currently in her third quarter at FIDM where she is earning her Graphic Design/Branding degree as a Professional Designation Student. She is a graduate of Rockridge Secondary School (West Vancouver) and University of King’s College (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Read our Q&A with Berkes below.

When researching Miller’s “Rosie the Riveter,” what I found most surprising was that: “we forget that beliefs fluctuate with time, [and] that they are entrenched in society and culture and values and are driven by current events. It’s easy to look back on things from the past with a modern bias and say that things must be a certain way because that is what we believe today, but doing so often creates and applies meanings that weren’t intended at the time.”

The history of design is relevant to myself as a modern day graphic designer because: “I think part of learning the ‘rules’ is learning who came before and what they did to bring design to the point it’s at today. Design isn’t static—it’s constantly in motion, constantly evolving, and how can designers expect to be part of this process of moving design forward if they don’t know what’s propelling it?”

I stay inspired by modern day designers like: “Design collective Ghost. They have a design philosophy that I find really fresh and aligns with my own beliefs and values about design.”

Dream career: “I’m still not entirely sure what kind of career I’d like to pursue after I leave FIDM. I know that the large, corporate company is not really my cup of tea and that a small design collective or firm supporting small business and nonprofits is much more appealing to me. I really like to learn, and I’m lately discovering that I really like helping other people learn and succeed so I’ve certainly been considering the idea of pursuing a master’s degree and possibly teaching. There are a lot of possibilities!”

The best part about FIDM’s Graphic Design Program thus far has been: “Seeing myself improve exponentially since I entered this program. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to know my teachers and peers since everyone here is just so incredible and has such interesting stories to tell. I feel like this program has taught me a lot about my capacity as a student and my creative and technical abilities, and I also feel like it’s really started to help me cement what I’m passionate about and what I’m not.

I’m constantly inspired by my friends and other peers and I love how everyone in the program is always cheering everyone else on. It’s nice to be in a place where people celebrate other people’s successes and help them pick up after their failures. It’s a wonderfully encouraging atmosphere and I’m really thankful I chose to come here.”

“It’s nice to be in a place where people celebrate other people’s successes and help them pick up after their failures. It’s a wonderfully encouraging atmosphere and I’m really thankful I chose to come here.”

Fashion Influenced by Famous Poster Designs

For more information about Miller’s “We Can Do It!” design and other famous poster designs, read FashionClub.com’s article featuring fashions inspired by famous posters over the past century here.

Read about famous poster designs and fashions inspired by them in an article by FashionClub.com

Read about famous poster designs and fashions inspired by them in an article by FashionClub.com

Questions/comments? Email the editor, Mani O’Brien at mobrien@fidm.edu

Learn More…

Would you like to learn more about earning a Graphic Design degree or Digital Media degree from FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising? Click the link below…

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Author: Mani O'Brien

Mani O’Brien is the Online Editor for the FIDMDigitalArts Blog and the Social Media Marketing Manager for FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications at Arizona State University in 2006, and Associate of Arts degree in Graphic Design (Professional Designation) at FIDM in 2010. When she’s not brainstorming social media marketing ideas or writing about the graphic design and digital media, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading magazines, and hanging out with friends and family in Los Angeles.

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