The Seven Serious Sins of Political Campaign Design

by Beau Sorensen

Every time Utah primary season comes along, I notice a large number of terribly designed political campaign signs at every major intersection. In this day and age with quality design so easily accessible, I consider having a compelling political brand and logo table stakes for a run. I’m not saying that a great design will win you an election, but it will make you look put together and detail-oriented.

With that in mind, here are seven things that you should absolutely avoid if you’re ever putting together a political campaign and need to design a logo.


Sin 1: An insistence on justifying all text to the detriment of your logo.

The last time that big first and last letters worked was on the poster of I Am Legend. Even then it’s not the best design choice, but when it’s tossed in there because you’ve got a long last name and a short first name, find another way to present it. It doesn’t work.

Lesser sin 1: Outlines. And Haettenschweiler. Both of them really, but definitely them together, unless your campaign is supposed to be something you made on Imgflip. These used to be somewhat acceptable design choices, but with it being the design of choice for millions of memes, it has been co-opted and defined, just like Dan Gilbert’s letter forever defined Comic Sans.


Sin 2. Slapping your photo on your campaign poster “to make you more relatable.”

Photos of you absolutely have a place in your political advertising and can be very powerful. However, most of these photos don’t have any relation to the actual logo, text, or campaign. Maybe the pictures were taken by a photographer specifically for a political campaign, but they weren’t taken with the idea of fitting in as an integrated part of your brand. The best campaigns would have the designers working with the photographers to get the poses that they want

Lesser sin 2: Using Papyrus. The only time it should ever be used is in SNL parodies.

Instead of using an unrelated photo, use something that combines your image with text in a way that brings everything together. I love this Ocasio-Cortez image because it has so many things going right for it. She is actually looking into her text and her eyes draw your eyes to what she’s looking at. It also has a lot of her cultural heritage with a design that reminds me of luchador posters. Furthermore, her pose is reminiscent of Che Guevara and fits her brand perfectly. This is the way to add a photo to your political campaign design collateral.


Sin 3: Using red, white, and blue regardless of the race you’re running for.

I get using red, white, and blue. It’s patriotic and easy. Everyone knows you’re running for something when you use it. The thing is that everyone also looks right past your sign because they’ve seen it a thousand times before. It doesn’t stand out, it’s boring, and does absolutely nothing to differentiate you from your competition.

So what colors can you use? Try using the colors of your city or state. What are complementary colors that work together? A great example of this is Congressman Curtis’ current brand. He’s using the red, yellow, and orange that symbolize Southern Utah and the blue mountains of the Wasatch Front. When you look at his campaign brand now, you immediately know that he’s serving Utah and that his district covers both northern and southern Utah. When you add in the relatively logical counter space with the state shape forming the middle of the letter C, it may be the most impressive political campaign design I’ve ever seen from a Utah politician.


Sin 4: Using the fonts that came with Windows.

It’s a very inexpensive way to get your name out there and saves upwards of $50 if you don’t get a mid-tier MyFonts product. But that being said, there’s something that adds professionalism and class to a design if it’s not a font that anybody in the world can pull up and use on something. This is especially true with some of the more common fonts that people default to – Lucida Calligraphy, Times New Roman, Copperplate, Arial, and so on. You’re spending thousands of dollars advertising your brand, the least you could do is give it a different look.

 

Lesser sin 3: Using multiple fonts. There is a place for that in branding and I’ve seen it done very successfully. This is not where you do it.

Lesser sin 4: The tripartite slogan. It can be hard to come up with an amazing slogan, so it is easy to say “what are some main policy points” and then separate them with a period. It was a good idea the very first time it was done, but that was the only time. Now it is overplayed and vague. It doesn’t really say what you care about and are running on. Instead, focus on a single point that matters most to you or design your content so that people know more about multiple things that you are focusing on. I know that it will be passé in a few years, but the “Farm to Table” design would work well for a political campaign and I’ve never seen it done.


Sin 5: Using stock United States imagery for a position that doesn’t justify it.

Using stripes, stars, bits of the flag, or even a whole flag totally conveys your patriotic bona fides. It also is unimaginative and played out. Most people aren’t running for Congress or for the Presidency, so you shouldn’t default to Americana. It is hard to be unique and still be somewhat compelling. Spend the time to look around at things that convey what you want to represent you. It’s not typically that you can put the most American stuff per square inch on your sign.

 

Lesser sin 5: Multiple disconnected political campaign design pieces. Your whole identity should fit into a comprehensive unit. If things are being randomly pulled or used in a way where they don’t look like they belong together (maybe you’re grabbing stock design pieces from somewhere), find a way to make them look cohesive or go a different direction.


Sin 6: Cramming United States imagery into a position it has no place being in.

There is no way in the world that an R should be a little draped flag. Or that an eagle with talons of truth and justice should be flying out of your O. What it came down to is that it was too hard to think of something else and in order to show you’re patriotic, someone squinted really hard and came across a way they could justify making part of your name into something really patriotic. If it doesn’t work, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to have a forced piece of patriotism in your logo. Just make it the best it can be without that.

Lesser sin 6: Using filler to create justification. It’s a basic principle that you want to have letters above and below line up, and it works best if the words are somewhat similar in size. When that’s not possible, people will often default to lines, stars, flags, and anything else to fill the gap. Instead look at alternate options – changing the alignment, capitalization, or font to make it less forced.


Sin 7: Blatantly copying someone else’s amazing idea.

I get it. The Obama logo was a thing of beauty that quite frankly made every other political icon look dull and stale by comparison. That doesn’t mean your blatant ripoff of it will do the same thing. There is absolutely a place for using others as inspiration. After all, one of the greatest artists ever said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” That doesn’t mean to grab someone else’s idea whole cloth and insert it in yours (I can’t number the times I’ve seen a slight variation on the Obama O or an E or F that uses the field of blue and red and white stripes as a replacement). Instead, take an idea and refine it to where it is your own idea. Use it as a springboard to something greater than what it was before.

Lesser sin 7: A running mate that is put on a logo as an afterthought. I know this is probably the most challenging conundrum of all, and it affects candidates up and down the board, including even the very best of political campaign designs. How do you design something that looks unique and also works with just the person at the top of the ticket as well as literally any name imaginable as the running mate? I’ve seen a couple of times it has worked well, but they are few and far between.

 

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