Monday, April 7, 2008

How the Right Font Can Make the Candidate

We love fonts – that's no secret. So we were thrilled when Newsweek recently ran an excellent article on the emerging role of fonts in celebrity marketing and campaign politics. Author Jessica Bennett points out that "America has developed a geeky obsession with fonts, the latest instance of our sophistication about design."

Alongside her discussion of Beyonce and Bjork's celebrity typography, Bennett asserts that the "Obama 'brand' the best crafted of any politician's in history." And while this is very likely an overstatement (once upon a time, we did "Like Ike," after all), it is an argument with certain merit. As her video interview with noted designer Roger Black reminds us, well executed fonts can communicate as much, or more, than the words they illustrate.

Steven Heller's recent piece about campaign typography in the New York Times echoes many of Bennett and Black's points. According to branding expert Brian Collins, interviewed for Heller's article, "type is language made visible. Senator Obama has been noted for his eloquence, so it's not surprising that someone so rhetorically gifted would understand how strong typography is and how it helps brings his words–and his campaign's message–to life."

Perhaps it is not too much, then, to suggest that Barack Obama's brand is the "best crafted" of any politician currently seeking the presidency. The Obama campaign has "used a single-minded visual strategy to deliver their campaign's message with greater consistency and, as a result, greater collective impact. The use of typography is the linchpin to the program." Thus, Black's humorous assertion that one might vote for a candidate based on their visual marketing – in much the same way one purchases a bottle of wine based on the design of its label – is a sly but poignant reminder that appearances matter. Just as many Americans turned their backs on a sweating Richard Nixon in favor of a handsome, polished John F. Kennedy for largely cosmetic reasons, so might many Americans, otherwise ignorant of the candidate's platforms, vote based on visual impressions. Many of us don't have time to watch debates, but we do have time to see posters and billboards, well designed or otherwise. And in the visual design debate, Obama is clearly leading the pack.

Read "Just Go To Helvetica" at Newsweek. FB

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