How old are you? What was the first election you could vote in? Who was running? What do you remember about it? My first election was 2008; the election that swept the country by storm. A handsome, charismatic, charming junior senator from Illinois was up against, well, a crusty old dude. That’s how a lot of people viewed it anyway.
But there were other forces at work that edified this idea, it wasn’t just the fact that Senator McCain was old, but the way he managed his image and brand and he had to compete against the awesome design of the Obama campaign.
Branding and design laws that are present in the market are also present in politics. We live in a world where you absolutely have to have a brand, a logo, and an overall identity and politicians are starting to take this seriously, something they hadn’t done in the past.
Google any campaign bumper stickers, posters, buttons or any type of campaign anything before this election. Go to the 70’s and 80’s and you’ll notice a very obvious lack of design. This is mainly due to the lack of digital art tools. There was no Illustrator and Photoshop back then, it was all handmade and printed on rolls. Even up into the 90’s everybody did red white and blue and some kind of flag, making for a less than memorable campaign, design-wise.
Now let’s go to 4 years ago, Obama v. McCain. In the one corner, we have Obama, who gives us the “O.” That red white and blue O with hints of the flag and the suggestion of a horizon. Easily recognizable, easily incorporated into campaign paraphernalia, but most importantly, clean, sleek and modern. In the other corner you have McCain who gives us…his name… Most of his signs and bumper stickers just say “McCain Palin”. We obviously know which one has more impact and which one is better. Even if you don’t agree with Obama, you know it’s a great logo and it’s an awesome example of effective design.
This “O” is a rallying point. To Obama supporters it was their Christian Fish or Cross, their Swastika, their Sickle and Hammer. (I am not trying to make a political statement with those allusions, but they are arguably the most famous socio-political logos in history.) Obama supporters also had the “Hope” image; kids hung it on their wall right next to their favorite movie posters because it was that good to look at.
Whether we know it or not, we judge things by design. When you walk into a janky restaurant that isn’t very clean or looks really dated, isn’t it easier to speculate that the food cooked in back might be kind of gross? When I want to check on an organization or business I’ve never heard of, I go to their website. If it’s overrun with bad design and hard to navigate, my perception of the company isn’t good and I question the legitimacy of their operation.
When we see bad design we tend to see them as less credible and the same is true with politics whether we are aware of it or not.
I have spent a lot of time talking about Obama and how good his campaign design looks, but what about the Republicans/Romney? The fact of the matter is that good design usually goes hand-in-hand with Democrats and issues supported by Democrats, so there’s more to analyze about Obama’s campaign.
Even if you’re not artistic, you can still recognize good and bad design, it’s essentially called Semiotics or the study of symbols and their meaning. We’re hard-wired to trust things that look good and doubt things that look shady or bad. Haunted mansions rarely look clean and beautiful, right?
Ultimately the issues will overcome design. People vote for whomever based on a variety of reasons and design usually isn’t one of them.
However, good design makes you want to share it and that is the ultimate goal of any institution that is convicted by its cause; sharing the message.
Good design might win over that person on the fence or that person who could care less. So whether you notice it or not, good design does impacts politics.