The Politics of Design

Holly Gerard / Posted 9.11.2012

The Politics of Design

Here we are again, another election year is upon us. With each election year, I find myself with an increasingly skewed perspective on campaigns simply because of my design background. I now judge the posters, signs, bumper stickers, etc. solely based on typography and layout.

Politics aren’t really my thing. I don’t get into heated debates about it, I don’t go picket-lining, I don’t put stickers on my car, or post signs in my yard. I have only watched Meet the Press on accident. So yeah, you get the point. But I do believe in good design.

Gotham we can believe in

Four years ago the font, Gotham, was splashed everywhere. Which led me to even start my own campaign  motto; “Gotham, we can believe in” (instead of the “Change, we can believe in).

The typeface, Gotham was designed by New York based Hoefler & Frere-Jones, in 2000, with the purpose of creating GQ a signature typeface for their magazine.

Gotham is based off of the handmade urban landscape signage from within cities such at New York City, which seemed to have been replaced by the “arrival of sign making in the 1960s”, according to Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Gotham History brief on their website.

The 2012 Obama campaign has hired the pair to create a custom Gotham for just this year – with slab serifs. Please see this link:

I have been a big fan(atic) of Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ work for many years now, and this certainly pulls on my design aesthetic heart-strings again this year.


There is also the famous Shepherd Fairey ones, with HOPE.

This is one of the most overly designed campaigns in Presidential Election History. Sure, they are all overly-designed, but Obama’s 2008 campaign kicked off a whole new trend of design in the political world. The designers did their jobs and successfully pulled at the heart-strings of many younger voters through the use edgy designs and trendy typography. The fact that Obama leans more on the Liberal side of progress and politics, are reflected by the more urban-based designs.

Being in design school at the time of Obama’s 2008 election, I can certainly say it pulled at my design heart-strings some, what with the designs being so iconic.

Trajan, the statesman font

Shifting gears a little bit – let’s take a look at Conservative side of design and politics: the Mitt Romney campaign.

Trajan is the typographic choice for the Romney/Ryan campaign. Trajan was designed by Adobe in 1989, it is commonly seen used in many movie titles. So much so, that there was even a design-nerd viral video about it from 2007 -

Trajan is a serif typeface based on the inscriptions used in Rome, in particular the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column.  Because of its “statesman” qualities, it is the font of choice for several universities and political websites.

It has also been used multiple times for multiple campaigns, including Chris Dodd from Connecticut, during his bid to run in 2008.

Interestingly enough, some Obama campaign items from 2008, also included Trajan. Another reused and recycled element of Romney’s campaign this year is the tagline, “Believe in America.” That sounds nice and strong. Fun fact: back in 2004 when John Kerry was running for president, he used the same tagline for his campaign.

Minty-fresh branding

Did you first read Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney's logo as "Omney?" Doesn't it strike you as a bit odd for a campaign logo? Doesn’t it also remind you somewhat of clean teeth? You know, the Aquafresh logo.

Sure, it is vertical instead of horizontal but I suppose Presidential candidates need shiny white teeth too, right? Not sure if this will help or hurt his campaign, but it does make me wonder.

What do you think? Can design make or break a campaign?

Happy Voting!

Holly Gerard

Designer at Q Digital Studio

Holly Gerard is a designer at Q Digital Studio who creates for both print and web. You can bet that she'll make it look amazing, whether it's on-screen or off. When Holly doesn't have her designer's eye at work on a project, it's usually behind the lens of a camera. Like a true Coloradan, Holly enjoys crafting up a good homebrew, rocking out to good music, baking something tasty, and/or trying the new eateries around town. As such, she's quite the Yelping pro.