Obama ’08 – A Campaign with Graphic Consciousness

I have been disappointed by the lack of imagination and sophistication demonstrated by America’s last few decades of political campaign graphics. Sure, convention and tradition are important thematic elements, and over time, this sector has developed its own visual rhetoric. Bold typography often touts a visual aggressiveness that rivals local television’s most grating used car commercials. These graphics focus on attributes such as strength and patriotism, constantly recycling a well-worn vocabulary of navy and red, flat palettes, flags and hasty, ill-conceived photography. What happened to solid graphic craftsmanship? What happened to using visual materials as a means of communicating your point of difference as a competitor?

Enter Obama ’08. This campaign showed a refreshing sense of graphic consciousness. Thoughtfully crafted visual materials consistently focused on the campaign’s mantra of change while also propelling Obama as a popular culture icon.

 Obama 08 logo

The Obama ’08 logo injects a fresh sense of graphic agility by incorporating a circular icon that echoed the “O” in the candidate’s name. A bright accent blue invigorates the expected patriotic palette. The repetition of curves and the addition of subtle gradients give the logo a contemporary air.

The campaign’s web materials extended the logo’s graphic prowess by applying the fresh color palette, designing carefully organized typography, selecting artful photography, including contemporary custom icons and using subtle gradients.

vote icon
Obama 08 website

When artists contributed time and talent to create campaign posters and images, the Obama campaign had the foresight to embrace these works. Shepard Fairey’s posters proliferated to become an unofficial icon for the campaign. Such efforts by artists allowed the campaign to tap into the inertia of the craft / DIY movement. They helped Obama to gain momentum as a popular culture icon while also inspiring co-creation and creative grassroots activism among other Obama followers.

Obama postes
Hope poster
Obama postes

This campaign serves as a fantastic case study for the design process. Often, it is tempting to generate design solutions by adhering to conventions and producing the expected. But, a little imagination and innovation can go a long way. Carefully crafted, original design solutions can help you improve communication with your audience – allowing you to communicate your message, not just a message.

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8 Responses to “Obama ’08 – A Campaign with Graphic Consciousness”

  1. pantspants Says:

    Not only is there an pleasant aesthetic, they were able to maintain cosistency across all of their communication – which means consistency across vendors. And that really matters for recognition. A fellow was telling me that he was walking around town carrying his 2-year-old granddaughter and she would point to the round Obama logo and say, “Vote Obama.”

    Obviously she couldn’t read, she had just seen that logo so consistently and with the verbal message reinforced by her parents, that she formed a strong association. Pretty amazing. Of course the whole thing broke down when he took her by an AT&T store, and she pointed to the AT&T logo and said, “Vote Obama.”

  2. Emily Henderson Says:

    The campaign yielded a healthy blend of consistency and variety. Its appeal to talented artists and designers produced some beautifully varied and creative work. I find it compelling that the graphic consistency often extended into the complex web of commercial ecosystems that cropped up around the campaign.

    Obama Nikes

  3. dirtygreek Says:

    Emily, love the site and the new blog, and I think this is a fantastic way to start it off. I was very impressed with the campaign’s visual messages as well, and while I think it would be great to know how he would have done without such an amazing advertising campaign, I’m glad it worked for him.

  4. pnts Says:

    I second what dirtygreek says, I love the site, colors and the layout – totally eye catching. In addition to the graphic cohesiveness of the Obama campaign, their use of technology was ridiculous. If you have an iPhone or iTouch available, check out the Obama iPhone app. It’s amazingly detailed, informative, and useful, allowing not only access to Obama’s stance on all the issues, but also has the tools for outreach – it encourages you to call people you know and get them to vote (and I *believe* each person you call through the app goes into the Obama database).

    Too bad they didn’t brand any Obama tissue boxes. I was a crying mess election night.

  5. Emily Henderson Says:

    I am surprised that it is not more universal for political campaigns to embrace the kind of leading-edge technology and design standards that Obama’s team employed. True, his campaign had massive funding, but many of these techniques can be very successful with a scalable budget. Interestingly, his team seems to be extending its design/technology focus beyond the boundaries of the campaign and into its public governmental materials. It will be interesting to see how this approach evolves.

    Keep checking Etsy for those tissues. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

  6. Steven O Says:

    The Obama camp did a great job of “branding” him over all. It made it easy for the majority of lazy people in this country to connect with him. And I don’t mean that as a slam, but it did help his recognition with out having to go in depth on each and every issue. Most people in today’s society are familiar with and are identified with the brands they use and love. Obama was able to make that lifestyle connection above all and be a rallying cry for like minded people.

  7. Emily Henderson Says:

    My Buddy Tye K. Fussell sent me this shot from his latest visit to NYC. It’s another interesting piece of DIY campaigning. The site provides downloadable artwork and simple instructions on how to wheatpaste.

    Palin posters

  8. Emily Henderson Says:

    Obama’s campaign ads in a video game show yet another example of this campaign’s varied and tech-savvy marketing strategy.

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