Lester Beall designed these posters in the late 1930s for the US Government's Rural Electrification Administration.
The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was an agency of the United States federal government created on May 11, 1935 through efforts of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The REA's task was to promote electrification in rural areas, which in the 1930s rarely were provided with electricity due to the unwillingness of power companies to serve farmsteads. America lagged significantly behind European countries in rural electrification. Private electric utilities argued that the government had no right to compete with or regulate private enterprise, despite many of these utilities having refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of profitability. Since private power companies set rural rates four times as high as city rates, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
These posters are an interesting point of discussion for me as I consider how communication design can articulate environmental messages to the rural communities of Africa. On one level, we can look at these posters as somewhat ironic (because of our current awareness of energy consumption). But the graphic design (in its modernist form and attempted function) are simple, seemingly clear and almost fit into an information design category. In these post-modern times, does Beall's poster have a relevance we might typically overlook? Can this form influence how one might consider communicating universally?
Clearly, the ideas inherent in the rural electrification administration process are outdated but I like how these images present data pictorially (and without being obvious suggest a place for some leapfrogging):