In the next few weeks we're all going to see an awful lot of political signs. Every candidate has them, from the lowliest office to the highest in the land, and based on the variety of designs there's no absolute consensus on what makes one effective.
I've thought about this before. I've even designed quite a few fonts specifically for use in political advertising. I'm also not the only person putting some thought into the topic. There were quite a few articles written about it during the 2008 election, particularly relating to some of the images and poster designs used by the Obama campaign. I was recently brought back to thinking about this subject by a call from a reporter for a major newspaper looking for some expert input on the use of fonts in political campaigns.
A lot of what it takes to market a candidate comes down to branding, and visual representations are key to that, especially in how the candidate's name and message are converted from raw information to visual form, usually through the use of well-chosen fonts in an appealing layout.
Campaign signs are particularly tricky, because you have to walk a very fine line. The design needs to be original enough to be remembered, but it still has to fit within some familiar parameters do voters can relate to it. A sign has to convey information about the candidate and a feel for the type of candidate he or she is, but can't bee too crowded or cluttered or it becomes overwhelming and the information gets lost in the clutter. It needs to be readable at a distance and emphasize the name which will be on the ballot in an unambiguous way. It's also good to avoid putting anything unnecessary on the sign which can distract from its impact.
In 2008 we saw campaign marketing influenced by high-end advertising design style and slick candidate packaging with a movement away from traditional style towards a more modern symbolism. In the Obama campaign the logo became more important than the name, and image became more important than message. You ended up with a single letter turned into a symbol as the campaign identifier. This year we're seeing a dramatic move in the opposite direction, with designs and marketing themes influenced by the tea party movement and the new radicalism of the right, evoking earlier times and traditional values going back to the 1950s and 1960s and even all the way to the days of the founding fathers.