American politicians love soaring eagles. The same goes for eternal flames, fluttering flags, and spangles of stars. They also love a good speech bubble–especially if it looks kind of like an iMessage. They adore Futura.
Those are some of the findings of the Center for American Politics and Design, a fledgling group of designers interested in campaign marketing and design. The group collects thousands of logos, color schemes, and marketing campaigns, adding them to a growing archive of imagery that anyone can download and use as they see fit. Founder Susan Merriam plans to build tools for fledgling candidates that may not have a budget for design–and connect young candidates to designers who want to help.
Campaign design tends to serve as an engine for hot takes in the political media, driven as much by the 24-hour-a-day news cycle of network TV as the huge sums of money most politicians spend on marketing. Criticisms tend to fall along pretty predictable political lines; a candidate’s taste becomes a stand-in for their party alignment. (Surprise! When candidates don’t run on policies, they end up being judged on aesthetics.)
But it also offers a vantage on how American politics has evolved. Some of the CAPD’s new research, analyzing roughly 900 campaigns from 2018 and 2019, reveals both political parties’ search for identity and ideological direction. Look at the hundreds of campaigns run over the past year, and you’ll see candidates using design to market themselves as anti-establishment outsiders or friendly, normal, would-be neighbors. You’ll also see evidence of the influx of corporate money, as well as candidates signaling their traditionalist values or “likability,” a quality so often described as lacking in women candidates.
“At least at the presidential level, there’s a lot more focus on [design] in terms of differentiating yourself,” Merriam says, as opposed to the generic branding of the 1990s. “Maybe that’s a symbol of the polarization that we’re in as well.”