By Encer Design, a division of Oyemaja.
The foundational principles that apply to all forms of graphic design, also apply to making political-purposed designs. You need to understand hierarchy and balance. You must know your colours like a man knows his wife.
What then makes political designs different? Isn’t it obvious? Politics is nasty. It’s so nasty that social media platforms have created special policies for it. Politics is the unsociable stepfather of hate speech and sedition. At the instance of Donald Trump’s controversial tweets, Capitol was attacked by rioters. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey showed him the door out of Instagram and Twitter.
If words are that powerful, imagine imagery. Sight is more powerful than sound. Yup, the eyes are the gateway to the soul. You become what you see often. Indeed, a perspective to successful marketing is to always keep your product in people’s faces. This may explain why marketing budgets are sometimes ten time larger than the cost of production. It’s the same reason politicians spend billions on campaigns.
As far as politics goes, somebody wins and somebody loses. Can a design have an impact on the success of a political candidate at the polls? The answer is not a straight yes, but it is a yes. There are always other factors, and a campaign team is rightly an army of strategists, content writers, propagandists, designers, speech writers etc. It just so happens that a designer’s work is crucial because 60% of the output will take the form of flyers and posters.
What must you know as a designer?
Sadly, a designer sometimes has no say in the direction of the design. He’s just the man clicking the mouse. So he’s commanded: “We want a picture of our candidate by the left, write ‘VOTE John Doe’ on the right and add an Abraham Lincoln quote and a fingerprint below. Don’t forget to make it pop.”
But, what happens when you are given the reins. You are no longer just the mouse clicker. This requires you to not just understand colours, but understand how colours influence politics. You need more than a nice understanding of fonts. You need to see fonts as weapon, or a shield, whatever. Playful-looking fonts work well for kids and old serifs work well for adults; but when politics is involved, the game changes. You do not rule out playful fonts just because infants are ineligible to vote. Instead, you consider playful fonts because of women raising kids. Politicians seek to appeal to mothers in very controversial ways, for instance, on abortion.
Are you against abortion? You consider what fonts would communicate your values. Maternity leave, healthcare for women, etc. Let’s take for example, the content writer has sent the copy - “We will protect your children”. That’s cryptic and maybe shady, isn’t it? You are saying “We will take away your rights to abortion” and “We will protect your children from shooters in school”, all at the same time.
Now as an equally shady and cryptic designer, you begin to consider your choice of colours and fonts. Do you want to give off something military in nature since we are dealing with protecting children from serial shooters in schools? Or do you want to give something playful to pass across the abortion message. Brethren, you really want to communicate the right message. Well, if you’re mischievous, you want to make the wrong message to look right.
Another example - you want to secure the rich daddies’ votes by reducing their tax burden? You hunt for some filthy-rich billionaire fonts to read “Your money belongs to you”. This should work because the rich guys don’t wanna give their money to the poor. Sprinkle some luxury on those posters and they’d be putty in your hands.
Surely, the poor bracket will definitely loathe your candidate for it, but you’ve got their own posters ready - “Take back your wealth.” Told ya politics is nasty.
Stay on here
Political designs are the most memorable designs, not the most pretty. It’s all about the appeal; packaging is the hack - those earrings, the dangerous heels, tight gowns, red lipstick etc. A potentially pretty woman who is dressed shabbily appeals to no one.
As far as designs go, different parameters determine how appealing and memorable your designs will be. Victor Fatanmi said “sometimes sacrifice simple for striking.” Your design must be so striking that your opponents see your posters in their nightmares. If it’s pretty and memorable, you’ve won. If it’s ugly and memorable, you’ve won, kinda. If it’s pretty but people scroll by after a 'less-than-a-second' glance, you’ve lost.
For instance, scandalous events are remembered just for that – scandals. A scandal is nasty, but history remembers. Apply the same principle with your design. This doesn’t mean you should create a scandalous poster. It just means you should create something different, something that stings. Your candidate’s manifesto is all about education, electricity and health. What would the average Nigerian political banner look like? A man in surgery robes, or scribbling math jargon on a chalkboard. You don’t want that. It sucks. It’s lazy. It’s boring. Boring is not memorable. If the good people of Lagos do not see your candidate’s poster every day, they’re gonna forget the candidate loves healthcare. You want something that promotes itself because it’s funny or shocking or daring or controversial. Something you don’t have to run an expensive Instagram ad on. Rather than holding a chalk and writing on a chalkboard, a striking design is the candidate holding a cane and whipping the caricature of the opponent wearing a school uniform. It’s funny; it’d make a great meme; social media will go bananas. The message is delivered. People are gonna remember that in the next 50 years.
A word on colours.
You know the drill. Red means that, blue means this. But again, politics is politics. Candidates who choose to make their own logos often pick the colours of the national flag. The reason is a no-brainer. You want to display some patriotism. This assures people that you are looking out for their interest. “We are people-focused”. So, if you want to be memorable, you need the good old Nigerian folks to remember your little party at the polling booths. Your bright orange and indigo flag mightn’t cut it.
Is that always the case tho?
Your colours may not look like the best fit at first glance, yet may still appeal to a section of people. Some cultures, have adopted certain colours as symbolic of their sentiments. Biafra’s flag is predominantly red, black and green. Having those colours might endear you to the Biafrans. Designing to target kids would have you choosing colours not on the national flag.
The target audience matters. But you cannot please everyone, no matter how hard you try?. So, how do you play this safe? Ensure that your main colours are similar to the National colours. Other deliverables such as banners, flyers, videos etc. may take the colours of your target audience.