The Man Who Designed Obama '08 Talks Campaign 2012

Scott Thomas says Romney could learn some lessons from the visual language of his opponent.

obama 08 sign 615 apimages.jpg
AP Images

Scott Thomas, the Obama '08 design director, known by his Chicago-based studio name SimpleScott, is sitting this campaign out. "Though I'm still a supporter of the president and his agenda, I have other interests outside of the political spectrum I wanted to pursue," he told me. His past work on the Obama website, identity campaign, signs, and other products, along with Sol Sender's "O" logo, was transformative in terms of modern presidential campaigns. In his self-published book Designing Obama, he chronicled the design strategy that enabled Obama to typographically telegraph his message. With the election season heating up, I wanted to get Thomas's opinion of the graphics for the 2012 campaign, so far.

romney sticker 300.jpg As you might guess, he's not a fan of Romney's visuals. "The lack of polish and uneven canter of Romney's design is parallel to his lack of rapport and makes him appear untrustworthy," Thomas said. About Mitt Romney's multi-faced "R" logo: "The typographic choices of the Romney campaign are characteristic of him as a candidate. Romney's word-mark set in Trajan, an old style serif typeface based on the inscription at the base of the Trajan column, a monument in Rome commemorating the Emperor Trajan's victory of a conflict caused by the 'resources of a staggering economy.'" The Romney campaign also uses the fonts Kepler, Whitney, Mercury, and a handful of unique scripts—all of which, Thomas said, "are nice typefaces, but when paired in an inconsistent, haphazard manner illustrate a fickle voice.

obama 2012 sticker 300.jpg The 2008 Obama campaign, in contrast, received high marks from the design community for its typographic ingenuity and pleasing consistency. Thomas and his team's branding was so effective that their typographic language was adopted for the president's communications once the campaign was over. But really, how much does presidential design matter? "I'm not sure that a typographic language can impact what occurs on the Hill," Thomas admitted, adding, "It can keep voice and character consistent, [and] the typographic choices of the Obama administration and the campaign has reflected his growth as a leader."

With the Democratic National Convention starting on September 4 in Charlotte, North Carolina, I asked Thomas if he thought a new graphic scheme for Obama might be a good idea. While he said he'd like to see "citizens get re-energized," the visual design of the president's campaign, he said, is working: "The established visual identity for the President, I believe, remains strong and elegant."

Presented by

Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In