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SEEN AND NOTED · November 2, 2010

2010 Election Typography

The goal of a political visual identity is to subconsciously plant name recognition into voters’ memory with type, symbols, embellishments, and color. Consistent presentation of these elements are important in signs, buttons, and other material. As voters drive, watch TV, or surf the internet, the identity must be clear, even when obscured or seen out of the corner of an eye.

Obama is a central focus in this midterm election. Candidates associate themselves with the President or oppose him. So I would have thought the visual identity choices would reflect this relationship. Instead, you find myriad conservative candidates mimicking the Obama 2008 campaign’s typography.

Creigh Deeds uses not only the same type as Obama, but also his color and general design. Of course, it makes sense to see a Democrat piggyback on the most successful campaign identity in history.

Meanwhile, Christine O'donnell is using Gotham too. A look so sealed to Obama’s legacy seems an odd choice for a Tea Party candidate.

And while Republican Marco Rubio is using a geometric sans for his logo, parts of his website appear as they came from an Obama 2008 design template.

Other Observations

First names are used by candidates with ethnic last names. Like Guiliani in 2008, Fiorina is absent from campaign collateral. Try finding Carly’s last name on her website or on any poster. She is either going for the casual approach, or is selling an easy-to-remember image of a complex person. Hillary used her first name for obvious reasons.

Sharon Angle’s name is — you guessed it — at an angle. Maybe we’re not giving her enough credit and the connotation is more subtle (Nevada has a similar angle along the border with California).

Titling Gothic is strong and clean for Harry Reid. No angles.

Deval Patrick uses the same Interstate — a sans serif with similarities to Gotham — he’s used in all his campaigns.

More Oddities

What is the deal with Baker’s waving ‘B’?

Meg Whitman’s type is a mystery. I’m not sure what it is trying to convey. Not young, fresh, trustworthy, or new — just odd.

Andrew Cuomo’s logo may be the oddest I have ever seen: a ‘C’ reminiscent of Obama’s ‘O’, only with the state of NY inside.

Conclusion

Overall, the typographic association with Obama has been both embraced (as in Deeds’ case) and ignored. While Christine O'donnell and Mario Rubio speak against the President, their logos subconsciously say Obama. No wonder voters are confused.

There’s still nothing better than the Nascar, flag waving, red white and blue of Bush-Cheney 2004. Big “BUSH”, little “Cheney”.

I wonder what would have happened if “GORE” was set bigger than “Lieberman”? And 2004 — to this day I think some people thought the candidate was named Kerry Edwards.

What the typographic choices say about our candidates, may or may not be important, but clearly designers are choosing type based on readability — Futura, Gotham, Interstate are all very easy to read when driving at night. I predict Sarah Palin and Scott Brown go with Futura in 2012.

Read and hear more of Sam’s commentary on this year’s election typography on the New York Times and NPR.


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