In design, sometimes the simplest things can have the most powerful impact. This principle is one the artist and designer Nicholas Konert understands well, as proven by his Spread Love Project by Nicholas Konert, which has turned a simple graphic into a viral worldwide phenomenon.
In the summer of 2016, Konert recalls being affected by a vivid sense of anger that seemed to permeate American society and culture. The Stanford swimmer Brock Turner had just received a distressingly lenient sentence for rape, hateful campaign rhetoric was nearing its peak, and every week brought new reports of police brutality. Then, in the middle of June, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, and murdered 49 people. “I was just really rocked by it all and really upset,” Konert explains. “I’ve always been interested in and I’ve always tried to use design for social change and in a way where it can be a part of social impact projects.” Before heading to the Stonewall Inn, known as the birthplace of the gay rights movement, for a candlelight vigil, he designed a rainbow heart and printed off a hundred copies to hand out. “It was a sign of love and a symbol for spreading love,” he says, “in the wake of everything that was happening.”
In the three years since, the Spread Love Project by Nicholas Konert has expanded into a global visual icon, and Konert says he often finds himself surprised by the places the heart pops up, anywhere from the background of paparazzi snaps of Bella Hadid to the final episode of Broad City. Konert says he sees his project in keeping with public works by artists like Keith Haring and Robert Indiana, which have blended a uniquely American admixture of street art, activism, and branding.
More than just the heart stickers that have been popping up everywhere—Konertestimates he’s printed a hundred thousand by now—the Spread Love Project by Nicholas Konert has branched out into collaborations with West Elm, Marc Jacobs, the Times Square EDITION, and Tory Burch, with proceeds going to a range of LGBTQ causes including the Ali Forney Center and Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. “I feel like the world needs love and symbols of love more than ever,” Konert says. “At least in my lifetime, I’ve never felt like people being reminded of love would ever be more relevant. What started the project is I was so upset by seeing all the hate and it only seems to be intensifying, which is unfortunate. But to me, the Spread Love Project really reminds me each day that my life experience is centered around spreading love and I see my heart opening up and other people’s opening up more and more.”