Four examples of great political design

Some are obvious. Some are controversial. All are good design.

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This weekend I visited the Design Museum’s Hope to Nope exhibition.

Chronicling ten years of political design, Hope to Nope aims to show how political engagement, and the means by which we engage, has changed dramatically since the heady days of Barack Obama’s ridiculously popular MySpace page.

The exhibition, on until 12th August, is a celebration of intelligent design in politics, and inspired me to consider four of the most effective, recent campaign designs, listed below. It is by no means exhaustive so please comment your own favourites below the line.

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No roundup of political design can neglect to mention the now-iconic image of Obama, pictured above the word “Hope”. The Social Realist piece by street artist Shepard Fairey has spawned a thousand copy-cats, partly inspired by the artist’s own desire to encourage Obama supporters to develop their own images. These days you can create your own version using the wide array of generators on the internet, but the original is one of the most recognisable political designs in recent history.

The appeal of the image is in its simplicity — Obama was fresh-faced, a stark contrast to the weary incumbent George W. Bush and was on course to become the first African-American President of the United States. “Hope” not only summed up supporters’ desires for their President — it also summed up their ambition for America’s future.

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Source: thetimes.co.uk.

Good campaign design isn’t always about fancy or complex graphics; often it’s about presenting a message in a clear and effective way. To that end, one might argue the now-infamous bus (or coach, as Red Box’s Matt Chorley is always at pains to point out) used by the Vote Leave campaign during the UK’s 2016 EU referendum was the perfect example of how to present a message.

You could say the controversy surrounding the assertion the UK would save money by leaving the European Union is why people still talk about this particular bus (coach), but graphically the message is well-presented. The bold, white writing used alongside the distinct logo of the NHS is incredibly clear. The blue of the health service branding against the Vote Leave red makes it stand out and draws in the eye, while the simple (extra) bolding of the phrase “£350 million” unites the emotional with the logical core of the message (despite the fact the so-called “Brexit dividend”, what the £350 million figure alludes to, almost certainly doesn’t exist.)

Campaign buses (or coaches) seem to be used every time a British general election or country-wide referendum happens; we Brits clearly love using public transport to highlight our key message. The question is — how many can you remember two years after the event? Remain campaigners today use the figure to suggest everyday people may have been duped into voting for something they didn’t fully understand; this bus (coach) is used to justify everything from a second referendum to a vote on the final deal negotiated by the UK Government. Whatever your views on the economics of Brexit or the future of our place in Europe, it’s hard to deny the winning campaign’s bus (coach) has been one of the most effective and enduring pieces of campaign material used in the UK in recent decades.

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Source: donaldjtrump.com.

From one controversial campaign to another. “Make America Great Again”, or “MAGA” for the true supporters, was the slogan to Donald Trump’s successful 2016 bid to be President of the United States.

According to the Washington Post, Trump trademarked this slogan long before he announced his intention to stand for public office. Borrowing ever-so-slightly from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”, Trump’s campaign captured the imagination of many who felt they’d been left behind by the American political establishment. As Karen Tumulty says, the slogan “was the most effective kind of political message, bite-sized and visceral.”

Written in a simple, serif font, MAGA ran in direct contrast to Hillary Clinton’s stylish, polished campaign material. The use of her first name in a sans serif font only furthered the accusation that Clinton was part of the swamp Trump had promised to drain — amongst other things, she was so well known, she needn’t use her surname. Trump’s campaign capitalised on this, a factor that served to make MAGA as a slogan more effective as time ran on, despite its relative low quality. As Michael Bierut, the designer of Clinton’s logo, conceded, Trump may have “won not in spite of his terrible design work, but because of it” (read more of Bierut’s brutal takedown of Trump’s campaign design here; a particular highlight — “Bad typography; amateurish design; haphazard, inconsistent, downright ugly communications”).

Whatever your politics (and thoughts on Donald Trump’s ability to “Make America Great Again”) it cannot be denied the cut-through of this campaign slogan was extremely effective, aided by a simplicity and rawness that flies in the face of many traditional rules of what makes for good graphic design.

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Source: mariaarenas.com.

Last week I wrote about the success of Alexandria Ocasio’s campaign, and in particular the beauty of her graphics. Designed by Maria Arenas, the 28 year-old’s campaign was fresh, stylish, and modern.

The inclusion of dual-language messaging, in particular the use of a signo de exclamación de apertura (the “¡” on the left of her name) by Ocasio’s name helped to establish the newly-selected Democrat congressional candidate for Queens and the Bronx in this year’s midterm elections in direct contrast to her predecessor, longstanding Congressman Joseph Crowley.

Arenas’ work combined great photography with striking typography, using the simple concept of complimentary colours (#EFCA2D for the yellow and #464675 for the purple) to devise a powerful, shareable set of graphics.

Clearly it takes much more than a good set of graphics to run a successful campaign, but it certainly helps. Maria Arenas’ designs provided Ocasio’s hopeful campaign with credibility and, personally, gives me hope for the future of political design.

Hope to Nope runs until 12th August 2018 at the Design Museum, London; https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/hope-to-nope-graphics-and-politics-2008-18

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Software developer. Graphic Designer.

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