Whatever its intended message, a pointing finger is a declarative statement and a behavioral cue. Originally employed in graphics as a printer’s cut (premade illustration), its primary purpose was to indicate direction – “This way,” “Turn here,” “Detour.” Pointing fingers were also commonly used in nineteenth-century printing, on posters, bills, and advertisements, to be emphatic. When a finger pointed directly at a word or sentence it was benign command to read whatever was being pointed out.
The pointing finger made its most documented debut in 1914, with the “Britons Wants You” poster designed by Alfred Leete. This World War I recruitment poster was designed to get the viewer’s attention and interest by showing Lord Kitchener, a British Army Officer at the time, pointing his finger directly at the viewer. His poster was then followed by the American, Italian, German, and Russian versions of the influential poster, copying the style Leete created. The use of the pointing finger singles out the viewer as if they are being directly referred to, which is a very successful approach to personalizing an advertisement. The pointing finger has many functions, and this poster definitely demonstrates its main quality very effectively.
The pointing finger can be used to indicate direction, point out an important attribute, or call attention to the viewer. According to Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire psychology professor, “Pointing is individualistic, it singles out one person alone…it makes you more engaged and places you under and obligation to respond.” By using the pointing finger in graphic design and any sort of design or art, especially in the fashion of pointing towards the viewer, the viewer feels as if they are being personally addressed. This adds a whole other dimension to the piece, as the viewer is going to be a lot more interested and engaged in the work and want to pay attention to it.
In the digital age, the pointing finger has taken a new form in the appearance of the cursor. Anyone who has ever owned or used a computer has seen the pointing finger as the cursor. It points to the link or part of the page you want to go to, using its directional quality in doing so. As well as the computer, the pointing finger has also taken to the screens in the form of an emoji. It is most popularly used on the Apple iPhone, which is owned by millions of people. This emoji set includes 5 pointing fingers, including the direcitons of up, down, left, and right. The pointing finger is a very popular graphic and gesture, and has been around for centuries. Its characteristics of direction and addressing have upheld good design for ages, and will continue to do so for the future.