It’s obvious that the message and promises of a presidential candidate have the biggest impact on being elected, but image also plays a huge role. There is always discussion on whether or not the candidate looks presidential, but rarely do people discuss if a candidate’s branding looks the part. To be honest, it wasn’t something I really thought about until reading an article critiquing the logos of the current presidential candidates. As a result, I hunted down campaign materials from as far back as 1960 to see what role, if any, design has played in getting a candidate elected.
During the 1960′s it was commonplace for candidates to have presidential swag: buttons, bumper stickers, signs for rallies, etc. Each candidate’s promotional materials were essentially the same, as if all were created by a single designer. The candidate’s name written in red, white or blue, sometimes with an exclamation point. There was no graphical distinction between one candidate to the next, other than the occasional use of a headshot. Every once in a while the designer would go crazy and throw in some stars or angled text.
As the 70′s rolled around, designers started taking some chances, personalizing campaign materials more to give a distinct graphic identity to the individual. There was some interesting type treatments as well as some whacky iconography. The traditional red, white, and blue color scheme was thrown out the window in some cases and replaced with weird purples, oranges, yellows and greens.
For the most part, campaign design in the 1980′s regressed to the indistinguishable identities that existed in the 1960′s. Although 1960′s campaign design was indistinguishable, it was still nice, clean design. In the 80′s, designers went overboard, suffocating voters with the stars and stripes. These design trends bled well into the 90′s.
1996 saw the first presidential campaign websites. From the looks of it, the candidates forgot to hire designers. No one really knew what content to put up or what to call their site. I think Bob Dole wins for the his “Official World Wide Web Internet Site.” Take a look at screenshots of some of the first presidential campaign sites.
In 2000 and 2004, there was little change in campaign sites. The designs weren’t getting much better. They still felt unwelcoming and were overflowing with content.
Web design grew tremendously since it first played a role in elections back in 1996. Back then, a website was used simply as a resource for information, not necessarily a visual representation of the candidate. In 2008, Barack Obama’s team took advantage of the web and created a beautiful, inviting site accompanied with a modern, clean identity. The first great campaign site was born. Content on the website was easily digestible, making it a perfect tool to reach out to the younger voting audience who may have felt overwhelmed in an online environment packed to the brim with dense, political jargon. Obama’s site was light and airy and made a user want to come back again.
The presidential candidates of 2012 have taken a page from the Obama campaign’s playbook. Branding has been more carefully designed, many with an identifiable mark for that candidate. The majority of the websites look well-considered and aim to be as intuitive as possible to a visitor. Most of the candidates are also creating apps for the iPhone and iPad. Now that the graphic identities of candidates are looking more and more presidential, I guess I’ll have to start paying attention to what they’re saying.
To see almost every promotional piece from every presidential campaign since the 1960′s, visit 4President.org