The Man Who Designed Obama '08 Talks Campaign 2012

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

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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."

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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.

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