Exactly 20 months before Election Day, Barack Obama officially announced the launch of his 2012 Presidential Election Campaign:

So even though I’m focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today.

Type nerds may notice something slightly different about the 2012 numerals:

SERIFS! Hoefler+Frere-Jones tweeted about this major typographical development, but don’t expect this new style to emerge elsewhere.. it’s exclusive to the President’s campaign.


Check out the Editorial Line-Up for changes to our schedule! Switchin’ it up to keep it funky fresh.

Naturally, this image can be credited to a Florida-based blog.

Many designers (myself included) can REVEL in the ‘right’ typeface (collectively dismiss the ‘wrong’ one), obsess over kerning, weep about leading. This is TRUE LIFE: I WENT TO DESIGN SCHOOL. As much as one can obsess about what words look like, lets consider what they say and mean when communicating to our audiences. Taking this thinking a step further, what are the implications of design work when an audience faces illiteracy.

The Noun Project recently featured on Engadget promotes developing a visual language that identifies everything from a slice of cake to a swimmer in such a way that anyone, regardless of native language or literacy can understand.

Wired’s article about cell phone design for the illiterate poignantly states the gravity of designing technology around illiteracy “This sounds like yet another of those hopeless “appropriate technology” schemes, where technicians try to invent stuff for impossibly remote poor people, without realizing that those people are poor for reasons other than their lack of cool gizmos…Cellphones for the illiterate has some disturbing implications. It would mean that cellphone connectivity is more valued, more needed and more important than literacy.”

So where do these design efforts for the illiterate leave the Sudanese people with only 15% literacy during their recent election, an event this country had been waiting on for at least 4 decades? After much back and forth seeking to imply meaning to various cultural icons, the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau finally agreed to use hand gestures for voters to communicate their wishes.

Ms. Wani, an officer of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau explained, “the symbols held subliminal clues that illiterate voters intuitively recognized: in the unity option, the gripping hands were left hands, a greeting that would be taboo in southern Sudan, while the open palm for separation was the right hand.”

After the State of the Union Address January 25, 2011 this graphic emerged in the New York Times, visually representing speech patterns evident in State of the Union Addresses from FDR to Obama. This article allows us to note patterns of word usage (note the usage of Power starting from 1934, or Terror after 2000). Graphic Design is a tool that easily distinguishes this information and allows us to see patterns that cross time periods and parties. Enjoy!

“One reason for the poor quality of the brochures lies in the RNC’s assessment of its audience and their notion of design. “Your average person doesn’t think of the Republican Party as being associated with glitzy, contemporary graphic presentations,” Marcia Brown, the Director of Graphic Services says. “People don’t look at us that way, so we are very simple and just get the message out.” It is not uncommon for non-designers to associate the idea of graphic design with glitz and flash. It does seem incongruous, however, that one of the most sophisticated political organizations in the world would publish material that looks so terrible, with the purported intention of strengthening its cause.”

“We are selling a product, in a sense,” Brown says, “but people don’t look at a political product as being extravagant like a soft drink commercial. I don’t think they would trust it.” This notion that people somehow regard “political products” as being immune to the same type of promotion as beverages is echoed by the RNC’s director of communications, Ernie Mills. “Going for a more flamboyant look, for us, would be inappropriate,” he says,” We tend to take a more, well, conservative approach.”

-Nicholas Backlund
Red, White and Bland
Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design

Not to be confused with “The Greatest Show on Earth” or a Britney Spears album, the “Circus” I’m excited to explore is the Political Circus Act comprised of the Elephant and the Donkey.

After the election of 1874 Thomas Nast illustrated the Republican vote crushing the Democratic planks of “Inflation”, “Repudiation”, and “Reform” (Reform specifically pertained to the Tammany Reform). If you’re trying to locate the Democrats in this illustration- please note the squawking geese, those are the Dems. Zing! Here is the Republican Party elephant that we know today. I hesitate to say less dangerous, but certainly less emotive.
“The Modern Balaam and His Ass” illustrates Andrew Jackson whipping a donkey, which is meant to represent a veto. This lithograph that hasn’t been attributed to any one artist emerged in 1837, but certainly was used to Nast’s advantage when his work was meant to poke fun at the Democrats. It later became affiliated with the Democratic Party. If you can’t beat em’ join em’ right? In case anyone is curious as to the implications of the word Balaam– be warned. Its loaded.
According to the Old Testament of the Bible in the book of Numbers (22: 21-30) Balaam was instructed by Balak to curse Israel. After much back and forth, he eventually saddles his donkey to accompany officials, against God’s request. As Balaam faced condemnation, he struck the donkey in fear “When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.”
Rembrandt even got in on this! This painting dates back to 1626.

The current Democrat Party’s Donkey