May They Never Be Deemed 'Low Skilled' Again
A poster by Craig Oldham


Craig Oldham uses creativity to create both a statement of protest and message of support.

© Craig Oldham

Craig Oldham was requested by Jack Arts to design a poster with a positive message to spread during the time of Coronavirus. The posters filled  advertisement spaces across Manchester which had been left empty. Craig used the opportunity to both support “key workers” and critique the words of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, when she controversially deemed the work of those that earn less than 25k, “cheap, low-skilled labour”. 

The comment by Patel surfaced in February, before the start of the Coronavirus lockdown. Since then, it has become evident how much of a vital role the now-labelled “key workers” play in the up keep of society. The poster campaign speaks out against Patel and illustrates this idea. The words “May They Never Be Deemed 'Low Skilled' Again” are printed over a thorough list of occupations whose salaries fall below 25k, as per government policy. The poster was also contributed to the Isolation Nation online exhibition by Liverpool based creative agency Dorothy. With an additional worthy cause of support: each copy that sells funds Eat Well MCR and provides 15 meals to those in need, including frontline NHS staff, those in poverty, the homeless and women seeking refuge. (purchase here

© Craig Oldham

We interviewed Craig to develop a deeper understanding of the project. As part of this interview, the Manchester based designer outlined the importance of activist-based design work, using creativity as a means to achieve whatever change is necessary. It should tackle the challenge at hand, instead of its existence alone fulfilling the designer’s role. Therefore, it seems every element of what one designs, the form, the style, the location and so on, should speak specifically to the change you want to see.

Craig: You’ve always got to think about that when you’re doing this work, particularly when it’s activist based. You’ve got to think about what you’re trying to achieve and then you’ve got to find a way to achieve it rather than just thinking a poster will solve everything, you’ve got to interrogate that.

All activism is about change, you’ve got to figure out what’s the best way to make a change happen and then use creativity to try and get to that.

Ultimately there’s a change that needs to happen in behaviour or in policy or whatever it is and the design has to speak to that.”

© Craig Oldham

When describing the format of this piece (a poster was requested as part of the brief), Craig explained the aptness of this form, in the context of the pandemic, in communicating with the target audience. This poster, rather than being for the general public, was directed to all the key-workers that would be still be out in public serving the rest of the nation who were isolated in their homes.

Craig: The key workers driving round delivering pizzas and everything else. It was for them.

We asked the designer what he thought we could be doing more of as creatives to aid important causes, whether that be through design activism or through other methods.

Craig: First of all, as a citizen, everyone has a responsibility to their own context: the planet, the environment, their own community and so as a citizen everyone should do more.

Craig suggested that through being very closely entwined with capitalism it seems obvious that we should counter any harm caused by our profession by using our skills to help the world in some way.

Craig: If you’re going to use your talent to perpetuate those sorts of things than you should also use your powers for good as well, and I think anyone with a conscious will feel that when we’re doing the work they’re doing … If you are a truly engaged problem solver, it will eventually come up. You can’t avoid that what you are doing can contribute to some really bad things in the world. So how do you change that? In whatever degree is completely up to them and completely personal, but I think it’s a waste of talent if they (designers) don’t and I think the industry is morally bankrupt if it thinks we’re only here to serve other industries.

© Cyber Savvy Twitter

We also spoke to Craig about the feedback he received about the project as it was intended as a strong public statement. We wondered what the reaction of the target audience was, as well as whether there was any negative backlash.  

Craig: I do get still pictures of people that have posted it up in their staff canteens or framed and put in their offices. It started off just being printed out and put in peoples windows along with the rainbow images for the NHS. That alone was a really nice thing to see, when people appreciate your work it’s always really nice.” Craig then explained the main negative reaction: “It was quite agitative in that sense as well, it got people quite riled up. I did get negative stuff as well, a lot of people disagreed with some of the job titles that were on the poster… there were some quite unexpected ones, like curators and even designers. It wasn’t an exhaustive list by any means. I couldn’t possibly list every single occupation so there were some that were missed out and some people got upset about that, but we rectified it wherever we could.


© DesignBy 2021
Illustrations © DesignBy
All credits to our talented illustrator Molly Pattinson. Follow her here.