Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Words matter . . . fonts matter?

Newsweek has an interview with a graphic designer who has very high praise for the Obama campaign's typeset, aka font. And their consistency of branding, which is very high quality control.

How else is Obama's design different than what has come before--or what rival campaigns are doing?
He's the first candidate, actually, who's had a coherent, top-to-bottom, 360-degree system at work. Whereas, I think it's more more common for politicians to have a bumper-sticker symbol that they just stick on everything and hope that that will carry the day.

The thing that sort of flabbergasts me as a professional graphic designer is that, somewhere along the way, they decided that all their graphics would basically be done in the same typeface, which is this typeface called Gotham. [See "Change We Can Believe In" sign, above] If you look at one of his rallies, every single non-handmade sign is in that font. Every single one of them. And they're all perfectly spaced and perfectly arranged. Trust me. I've done graphics for events --and I know what it takes to have rally after rally without someone saying, "Oh, we ran out of signs, let's do a batch in Arial." It just doesn't seem to happen. There's an absolute level of control that I have trouble achieving with my corporate clients.

Then if you go to the Web site, it's all reflected there too--all the same elements showing up in this clean, smooth, elegant way. It all ties together really, really beautifully as a system.

Is Obama's stuff on the level with the best commercial brand design?
I think it's just as good or better. I have sophisticated clients who pay me and other people well to try to keep them on the straight and narrow, and they have trouble getting everything set in the same typeface. And he seems to be able to do it in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Houston and San Antonio. Every time you look, all those signs are perfect. Graphic designers like me don't understand how it's happening. It's unprecedented and inconceivable to us. The people in the know are flabbergasted.

. . . .

Right. It's sort of hard to imagine in a voter in Cleveland (or a Newsweek political blogger from New York, for that matter) interacting with Obama's design on that level. How does it affect those of us who aren't graphic designers?
Well, I'm teaching this class at the Yale School of Management, and we were just talking about brand management and politics--exactly this thing before we got on the phone. And one of the things that came up in the conversation is, if you think about it, the challenge for someone named Barack Hussein Obama is that he's such an unprecedented figure in American politics--so much so that everything he's trying to do is, in a way, trying to make him look smoother and more normal. Someone said, "Well, why shouldn't he have revolutionary looking graphics--graphics that make him look like grassroots, like an outsider? Things drawn by hand, things that look forceful and avant-garde." But I think he's using design in a way to make him look as normal, as comfortable, as inevitable as a brand can look in American life. Those are really deliberate, interesting choices. Whether or not a sans serif font like Gotham looks more "American" than a Swiss font like Helvetica, that's in our imaginations to a certain degree. I think it's much more incontrovertible that he's actually using the seamlessness of this branding to convey a candidacy that's not a dangerous, revolutionary, risk-everything proposition--but as something that is well-managed and has everything under control.
And here's a video about Gotham, the font that his campaign uses from the blog of the filmmakers of the Helvetica documentary. A font we can believe in.

fun fun fun.

Also, Everybody Loves Obama? Even the white supremicists?!? (David Duke quotes in link, be warned.)

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