katharine gets political (part two): campaign design

Look, I know you’re tired of politics. I’m tired of it. We’re all tired of it. We’re experiencing political fatigue. There’s been non-stop campaigning for what feels like 10 years but has really only been about five. The Republicans have been working tirelessly to boot President Obama out of office since he took the oath. The speculation about who’d replace Bush Jr. began sometime in 2006, if not sooner. The campaigns for 2016 will begin in August 2012. Perhaps by 2016 the existing political structure will implode on itself and the United States will have no more need for a president. But I’m not in the mood to discuss the state of the union, political affiliations, the merits of specific candidates or policies or beliefs or who’s right and who’s wrong. This is about branding and visual identity. This is about advertising.

For funsies, let’s take a look at the presidential campaign logos from the last 25-ish years. Okay, there’s not a lot of real fun to be had because none of these “designs” are fun. Or engaging. Or memorable. In 2004, the insightful and prolific design writer Steven Heller wrote about the The Dreary Art of Presidential Elections. He wrote:

“Regardless of who the candidate is, there appears to be bipartisan consensus that a limited color palette-red, white, and blue-and very few symbols-stars and stripes-are the best way to signal a candidates’ Americanism … when it comes to the buttons, posters, banners, and bumper stickers the platform is clear: Don’t rock the vote.”

Advertising is such a predominate feature in our environment. It is so pervasive and persistent that brand and their agencies are constantly looking new ways to capture our attention, to engage us, and ultimately persuade us buy their products. Products are always changing their package design or trying to tell their brand story in a fresh voice. And it works. We are seduced by the new packaging, we are convinced that these products will improve our lives. (It’s all lies, we come to find out. But c’est la vie.) When it comes to political advertising, the packaging remains the same and the story is always told in the same voice: “Candidate X says he wants nice things for you but here’s a headline from 13 years ago that says he supports baby cannibals and he’s okay with hoodlums setting your house on fire. Do you really want to vote for someone who like baby cannibals and arsonists?” Voters are served the same thing in every election—boring design paired with ludicrous attack ads.

Heller also says THIS:

“…the graphic monotony from campaign to campaign is indicative of the kind of short-sightedness that undermines the American electoral process.”

Obama’s 2008 campaign made a strong visual impact. Regardless of whether the common man understands or will admit to the influence of design, Obama’s logo indicated a fresh approach and a willingness to break out from the same ol’ business as usual design. It was inspired and inspiring. The surrounding typography wasn’t perfect and there were criticisms. (Yes, I can see you squirming in your chair, bursting with rants about broken wha-wha’s and disappointing flibbertigibbets. Put that aside for now.) But baby steps were taken and barriers were broken down.

Mitt Romney’s 2008 logo, with its swooshy striped eagle, gives off that financial institution vibe. He moved away from that for the 2012 election cycle, but, um… I suppose those are people in the R? It’s a weak and non-committal design. The rest of the 2012 players stepped up their design game a smidge, learning from Obama and previous campaigns. Ron Paul opts for a more mature palette but trades the star ‘n’ stripe to Gingrich in favour of some random swoop stroke. Which is still more tasteful than Bachmann’s bacon toothpaste swoosh, but doesn’t mean anything. Adweek gave the GOP candidates’ logos some necessary critique in November 2011.

Wha’ happened, GOP? Why’d you get all John Kerry typography-wise? It’s like you don’t want to win.

Let’s look at the Bush dynasty:

Texas-style slab serif. Boom. Bold sans serif. Boom. Boom. Boom. It’s all “Fuck yeah, Team America. Yee-haw.” It’s bold, it punches you in the face, it’s effective. (Shh. “Airport announcements are still at ‘Threat Level Orange.'” I know. “More like ‘punched America in the face.'” What did I tell you?!) They didn’t mess around with swoops and shooting stars and delicate serifs.

Wait…let’s look at the mish-mash surrounding the Clintons and Gore’s campaigns:

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things beat a Bush. Clinton saw Bush Sr.’s slab serif and raised him a waving flag. Boom. They phoned it in for the 1996 campaign, but everyone else was pretty uninspired that year as well. Hillary tried with the wavy flag but she really needed a sans serif Rodham Clinton punch to secure the win.

Did we just hit on the magical winning design combination for presidential elections?

Bold sans serif + wavy flag graphic = POTUS FTW!

Maybe we’ll find out in 2014. Or maybe design doesn’t influence us as voters as much as it influences us as consumers.

Try thinking of it this way:
Voters = consumers. Politician = product. Votes = dollars. (Note: Dollars are not votes. Corporations are not voters.)

Everybody’s been clamoring for something different for four years. The Tea Baggers (Hey, they started that one.) captured the media’s attention. The Occupiers made some noise. To this point, no one really knows what they want except that something needs to change. And no one really knows how to effectively put change into action. Political campaign advertising seems like a small thing to change, but political campaigns do lead to politicians being elected into a position that could change something. Maybe change is as simple as teaching a campaign volunteer how to use Gimpshop or donating the full font family of Gotham to your favourite candidate. Hoefler + Frere-Jones 2016!

katharine gets political (part one)

Reminders and observations for the 2012 U.S. presidential election:

Politicians count on your lack of interest and your aversion to engaging in political discourse.

American homosexuals are American citizens. They pay taxes, own property, obey (most of) the laws, and have the right to vote.

Corporations are not American citizens. They pay (some) taxes, own property, (for giggles let’s assume) obey (a few of) the laws, but do not have the right to vote.

Corporations are not people. Okay, they have some rights and responsibilities of people. They definitely are not human.

Are you sure you want to throw support behind anyone who might prioritize the wants/needs of a faceless entity over the wants/needs of human, tax-paying, (mostly) law-abiding citizens?

If you pay taxes, the politicians are your employees. They should be working for you and in your interest.

Scare tactics and misinformation about the opponent are meant to distract you from the real issues.

Politics are not sports. Just because your “team” beats the other “team” doesn’t mean you win. And certainly the people of your country/state or province/town don’t win. The terrorists don’t really win either, but they are kind of smug and self-satisfied for a few minutes.

It’s more satisfying if you’re voting for something rather than against something.

katharine observes the unobservant

Ways I can tell no one’s paying attention to me:

No one calls me out for alternating between vector and hand-drawn props for Boris
I have cleverly distributed eight typos through my blog which have not been identified
No one said anything about my new hair cut
I didn’t get any citizenship presents
My last five status updates have been heterophobic and racist against Caucasians
I’m standing right behind you as you read this and you don’t even notice
I have been topless for three days
Three of these are lies and you don’t know which ones because you kind of skimmed the whole thing to see if I mentioned you or said anything funny or angry or offensive

katharine issues fair warning about upcoming content

Things might get a little ranty around here.

I’ve been known to display my bitterness in the past. Bitterness is hardwired into my DNA (again, I don’t really know how DNA works) and is part of my charm (or will be when, in 20 years, I’ve grown into—and been accepted as—my role as a lady curmudgeon). No matter how much sugar, Splenda, stevia, aspartame, and high fructose corn syrup I consume, I’ve still got lingering bitterness. Even so, I’m not known as an angry person ranting on the steps of the local library. I try to keep things light and fluffy and not-too-thinky.

Time for fluffy-thinking is over. It’s time to give our flabby arms a workout with fist-shaking and desk-banging and neck-throttling. Okay, neck-throttling is going too far. Don’t do that one.

I’ve been filling up Simplenote* with lots of rants, thoughts, ideas, and unpopular opinions. If I could write in the shower, I’d have triple the amount of material. Admittedly, half of my internal shower rants are shower-related. It’s all water pressure, water temperature, soap innovations, religion, why people wouldn’t believe it if Jesus appeared today, skin elasticity, chemicals in food versus chemicals in cleansers, exfoliation, and why my mother doesn’t love me anymore. There’s a joke about brainwashing somewhere but I think my shampoo is slowly murdering my brain cells (I may not know how any of the sciences work).

Anyway, I’ll be sharing some of my thinks and observations and unpopular opinions in the coming weeks. If you’re sensitive to liberal theories, shower-based musings, or general suppositions, perhaps you’d be better off looking at my less controversial Pinterest likes or Etsy treasuries. Ooh, pretty things.

*Simplenote is awesome because it lets me write/ramble on my iPad and then edit on the big computer. I don’t write in Microsoft Word. I don’t even have MS Office. Most of my writing happens in TextEdit or Simplenote or scribbled in real notebooks with real paper and real pens with questionable ink flow. Why are ball point pens so terrible?! No, wait. I’ll save that one for later.

things we will have to explain to future generations

Things we will have to explain to future generations:

Coloured toilet paper
Cassette tapes (audio and video)
the Qwerty keyboard
Polar bears
Koala bears
Hypercolor t-shirts
Furbies and Beanie babies
Movie rental stores
Shopping malls that aren’t 3/4 vacant
Situation comedies
Fax machines
Telephone dial tones
Writing personal checks
Answering machine messages

katharine’s rejected idea pile

temporarily rejected ideas:

what do your toenails say about your personality?
which celebrities do your unpainted fingernails resemble?
freckle patterns that resemble constellations
hats and why we wear them
from flash bulbs to flashers: a love story
psychics who read waxing strips (can your bikini wax predict your future?)

audio podcast of my cats’ various purrs
a serial drama about crayons
moose lobster
SPCA ad spoof featuring sad monsters that need adopting (can we get sarah mclachlan?)
“wet hair on shower tiles” organic ongoing art installation

katharine hearts canada

Some things I like about Canada

The RCMP uniforms
Nanaimo bars
Flin Flon, Manitoba
Northern Lights
The Big Snit
Ketchup potato chips
National Film Board
Lawren Harris
Bagpipes at parades and other public functions
The government always spells my name correctly

Today I became a citizen of Canada. It was a long, five-year process. Once I collect my thoughts and can construct a cohesive narrative, I will be updating my Am I Canadian Yet? blog.

Spoiler Alert: Yes, I am.