Designs on the White House

What presidential campaign stickers tell us about the candidates.

You know the story. President starts war. President appears on aircraft carrier dressed in a pilot costume and declares in front of a "Mission Accomplished" sign that war is over. President goes home and watches in denial as 3,000 more Americans die in so-called finished war. It's been told and retold a thousand times, like a creation myth in reverse. But there is one aspect we have ignored all this time.Remember that infamous sign? The one that was supposedly a spontaneous act by sailors aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln? (An utterly believable claim, by the way, since, as we all know, aircraft carriers are designed for two things: war and large-scale-banner printing). There are clues buried in its awkwardly out-of-place font, secrets in the over-the-top patriotism that oozes from its plastic sheen. The bizarre and horrific design is not only representative of the Bush presidency but also a warning to us, the American people: We allow bad designers into the White House at our own peril.\n\n\n
One way of looking at the current Bush presidency is as a failure of design.
This should come as no surprise. We are asked every day to make sense of complicated codes, to intuitively understand the difference between chartreuse and yellow, ellipses and ovals, serif and sans serif. Our experiences are mediated by images, and these images are almost universal, a sort of visual Esperanto we understand just from living in today's world. Good design uses the grammar of these images to invoke a specific and representative message; it fits and we know it. Bad design is jumbled, unclear and projects confusion; it doesn't fit and we can tell.For politicians, design is the language they use to corroborate themselves, to confirm their public persona with the perfect color combination or the right font. It's like an instant stump speech. And like those speeches, it can get boring and monotonous-all stars and stripes but no personality, no message. Indeed, one way of looking at the current Bush presidency is as a failure of design. A failure, that is, to understand the mood and will of the people. As we count down his days in office , it's time to look closely at the way the candidates to replace him present themselves-because it does matter, and God knows the last thing we need is another one of those blasted banners, let alone another of those blasted wars.


HILLARY CLINTONA ruthlessly efficient (and no doubt relentlessly focus-grouped) combination of the campaign logos of the past two presidents: The waving, stylized flag from that other Clinton and the one name simplicity from Bush, George W. JOHN EDWARDSStrong, considered, and competent but patently unexciting. The Shrek-green streak is a strange and slightly desperate echo of the 1976/80 Carter/Mondale campaigns. BARACK OBAMABeautiful but empty. Tries hard to avoid the traditional vocabulary of political design but ends up using the same familiar tropes-patriotic colors, red and white stripes, heavy handed Steinbeckian symbolism, and even a font named Perpetua.


RUDOLPH GIULIANIA simple and confident creation for the candidate so often described as a political Oreo cookie: hard Republican-red cookie outside, soft Democratic-blue cream-filling in the middle. JOHN McCAINSo blatantly militaristic, the tagline might as well be "An Army of One." MITT ROMNEYSafe and superficial. The disembodied ghost of an eagle is awkwardly placed and makes the whole thing seem overwrought.

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