Bride with flowers

Bride with flowers (2008)


August 29, 2008 at 11 AM

Just like they did it in the movies

Stephen Heller continues his play-by-play call of design in the 2008 American presidential race with this examination of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver. Whither the donkey? asks Heller.

The answer: donkeys aren’t part of this branding exercise. Barack Obama’s campaign represents the first time that graphic design, and typography in particular, have taken such a central role in a political campaign. It’s not that other campaigns haven’t been designed, but nobody has ever approached this level of cohesiveness in branding and typographical identity. It’s Gotham, Gotham, Gotham all the way.

It occurs to me, watching clips from the DNC, that it looks like scenes out of a movie. It seems too slick and professional. The design is playful and elegant instead of stubbornly obvious. Hollywood art directors have better imaginations than most campaign directors, and they often aim a level above reality, missing out on the fact that graphic design in the world is sloppy at best, or (in the case of political campaigns) downright ugly at worst. (I expect the Republican National Convention will more than live up to this tradition.)

Of course 99.9% of American voters aren’t graphic designers, and most people likely absorb the design of each campaign without reflecting consciously on it. I happen to think that Obama’s campaign is needlessly slick, to the point that it risks giving credence to the critics who call him “all image and no substance”. Why would a politician want to seem like he stepped out of a movie? (Well, unless he’s trying to echo Ronald Reagan.) I suspect in the end, however, that it simply doesn’t matter that much. Political campaigns are won and lost by ensuring that the media spins the right message and that you get the people out to vote. Nice typography might help attract attention, but attention is the one thing that Obama won’t have to worry about between now and November.

Previously: Moving pictures
Subsequently: BHO