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Design the Vote

I stayed home sick today. In sweatpants. Hot tea, the internet and me.

I Google myself.

I am looking for a doppelganger and I find one. At Friendsoflasser.com, there is a Jim Lasser who is running for Greenburgh Town Supervisor. He seems nice enough. He wants to “clean up,” “heal,” “normalize.” I like him. If I lived in Greenburgh, I would probably vote for him.

Jim of Greenburgh is not a designer. And it’s pretty safe to say, after looking at his website, that he didn’t hire one either. The sad fact is that good graphic design has influence over all of our culture, yet there is a profound absence of it in our elections.

There is a constant complaint that people don’t vote, and thus don’t care about elections. The vote is taken for granted, people say, and we fail to remember the struggle and importance of a free democracy.

I agree with these people. Very few people really care about elections anymore. In general, we are a selfish people, who fail to see beyond our own jobs, pets and haircut appointments. Civic pride and a belief in the importance of the vote is a sad casualty of our modern world. Quite simply, we live in a world in which there is just too much stuff: too many responsibilities, too much guilt, too many choices of coffee, too many movie stars. To make things worse, we are now at the dawn of the Three Screen Era: besides television, handheld devices and our computers will compete for the bulk of our attention.

With this as a backdrop (an oversimplified one, I know), it is no wonder that elections get relegated to our collective back-burner for attention.

Each November our sidewalks and roadways are littered (pun intended) with the tepid signs of candidates for office. Along with remnants of the faded cardboard draculas of halloween, the cocaine grins of real estate agent boards, and balloons tied to mailboxes identifying birthday party victims, we see the posters for candidates. It is amongst this grotesque camouflage that we are expected to get excited, get involved, and find time in our busy lives on a coming Tuesday to vote.

I agree with my grandfather’s generation. They would say that it is our duty as Americans to vote; democracy does not need to put on makeup to get the people’s attention. Sadly though, Americans are different animals than they were fifty years ago. We are more insular. We are an island to ourselves. We have shorter attention spans. It is marketing and design that has increasingly played a key role in bringing us out of the cave of ourselves—compelling us to read, participate or, more likely, spend. Our elections are far too important to not be refreshed and updated to fit with the times.

By example, take another olde event that we still participate in. Think about modern parades. If we were to recreate the ideal of a parade in our mind, likely there would be cheering, clapping and smiles. But if you were to go to a parade in 2005, you would see mouths half-open, vacant stares, and parents blankly compelling their children to clap while constantly checking the clocks on their cellphones. The parade is a 19th Century event that translates poorly to our “Three Screen” world. This is but one example of the rituals of a bygone era going bye-bye.

Unlike parades, voting is a fixture of our government. It is here to stay. But what is dangerously in doubt is the participation of the citizenry. Designers would do well to think about how we can reinvigorate people to get involved again.

Of course there are other factors why we don’t vote. There is a general distrust of government because of Vietnam, Watergate, Monica, etc. There is mudslinging amongst candidates. There are still parts of this country where non-white people have a struggle in voting. I am not saying a dose of good design can solve all of it, but it is a good place to start.

Furthermore, it can be done. Election graphics do not have to be red, white, blue and Helvetica. They do not have to be safe and vanilla. We only have to open a book and look to our historic enemies: the Communists, the Nazis, the Cubans are all famous for strong graphics and the reactions they created in the populace. And we don’t have to relegate our messages to 19th Century devices either. Blogs are a good start, but there needs to be more innovation. The 21st Century animal is not paying attention to posters, handbills and balloons. We need to embrace the Three Screen mentality and create new devices to permeate the citizenry. We need to recognize the evolution in ourselves, and see what we pay attention to.

Quite literally, the free world depends on it.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.24.2005 BY Jimm Lasser
ps’s comment is:


welcome as an author to speakUp. looking forward to your contributions. good post. i have to admit that i'm one of those designers who thinks during election season that " i will put my design skills to work next time." needless to say that i don't do much once november passes, only to go through the same thoughts again next year.

On Oct.24.2005 at 10:02 PM
Randy’s comment is:

Jimm! Thank you much for the post. It comes at an especially meaningful time, as I just today began the campaign design for a Rick Penberthy (d) who is fund-raising for a congressional run after the first of the year.

Complacency has led us to the point where we're really good at not doing much. We must aim high, pledge to something, and act on it. I encourge other designers to step up.

On Oct.24.2005 at 10:56 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Not to undermine Jimm's inaugural post (as a Speak Up author at least) but we had a similar discussion a couple of years ago, started by Steve Heller, that equally stirred thoughts of optimistic change and I don't think anything has changed in the field of political design in those two years. Unlike the MP3 market, or the bottled water market, or the hybrid vehicle market, the political candidate market is not ripe for change or open for creative interpretation by designers. I would love to see Ogilvy's Brand Integration Group do the campaign for Bloomberg but it doesn't seem like creative forward thinking has any room in heated races like political ones.

> We only have to open a book and look to our historic enemies: the Communists, the Nazis, the Cubans

A good measuring stick... drastic, but good. However, most candidates rarely have strong enough convictions that would support propagandish graphics. But that's what may be needed in three years if there is to be change.

On Oct.25.2005 at 09:38 AM
mandy’s comment is:

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the overall conservativeness that pervades all our elections. Not just conservative politically, but conservative in every sense of the word; candidates aim to stand out in a few, discrete areas, but take extraordinary efforts to look as normal as possible otherwise.

You won't see a major national candidate take any chances with their design. The place to start changing things is at the very local level. We have to get excited about the run for comptroller if we're to have any effect.

On Oct.25.2005 at 10:08 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

I think this is a good example of getting a message through to your audience amongst the noise:

It is also an interesting way to align a candidate with a brand that has tremendous public appeal.

I guess a Hummer would be more fitting for 'W'. (or maybe Clinton)

On Oct.25.2005 at 10:20 AM
rurry’s comment is:

Very few people really care about elections anymore . . . to make things worse, we are now at the dawn of the Three Screen Era: besides television, handheld devices and our computers will compete for the bulk of our attention.

As usual, I can't find the right words to describe myself properly. But I'll give it a try nontheless, here it goes.

Who's familar with MTV and the MTV culture or general viewing demographic? Are you familiar with Rock The Vote, Choose or Loose Campaign, Sean "P.Diddy" Combs' - Vote or Die campaign which directly targeted the youth vote and/or the so-called swing states in the 2004 election. Also, MTV has a dedicated area on their website for another campaign called Think. While Think is not strictly a political campaign, it offers a good starting point for youth voters to get excited about voting, politics and also, and more importantly, guidelines for voter registration. In addition to world news, hurricane relief, etc.

All this going back to the Three Screen Era and it's potentially bad influence on vote. I do agree that this Three Screen Era is not helping the elder population's vote one way or the other, however, I do think it greatly influences the youth vote. Especially since the medium is TV & Web based. The old school, posters, yard signs, etc., in my opinion, have very little impact on the youth vote & rarely attract attention from younger voters - regardless of how GOOD the design might be. Having said that, there could be hope for these forms of political advertising, no?

To end that, regarding good/bad design in political campaigns, I think all of the previously mentioned campaigns, for the most part, DO have good design behind them and DO heavily influence, atleast, the youth culture.

Here is a not so surprising poll from the 2004 election, provided by MTV:

A poll from the 2004 election sponsored by MTV

Are MTV's campaigns good or bad influence on the youth vote?

Would you agree that either way, they are exciting and do have good design?

On Oct.25.2005 at 12:45 PM
Jimm’s comment is:

Thanks for the comments. I think enough can't be said about this issue. One spot where design can make a difference is here, so I never tire speaking about it.

MTVs efforts should be lauded. I am aware of their loud involvement going back a few elections.

I did not, however, feel the P. Diddy campaign was thoughtful, or effective. If you look at the stats on who voted, the youth vote was much lower than anticipated. Any campaign will have to be measured ultimately not by how good it looks, but if younger people voted. To this end, I feel the campaign failed.

While T-shirts were a great way to spread an idea, I felt the "VOTE OR DIE!" campaign focused far too much on celebrities. I would have liked a campaign that was more about youth having a voice, participating in democracy, or addressing issues that matter to younger people, etc.

The right to vote is much greater than any celebrity--even P.Diddy. To have a young person go to the polls because P-Diddy tells them to is not the right message. (An aside, apparently P-Diddy has never even voted before this election). I know that sex/celebrity sells, etc. But so does giving people a voice. So does giving people control. If you look at most new innovations that catch on in popular in the culture: iPod, BK's Subserviant Chicken, personal webpages, blogs, they all involve a common element: personal control. I think some basic civics, blended with some of the best creative minds, could "sell" voting as the ultimate control mechanism. For one day anyone can make their voice heard, and have a great effect on history, if not the world.

On Oct.25.2005 at 01:54 PM
chris’s comment is:

Maybe I'm far from the mark here, but it seems that politics is a ring that avoids taking chances at all costs. Political candidates I believe, generally stick to a more middle of the road design stance rather than step out and be noticed (other than the dean mobile above) which is quite clever.

I also think in this instance, like in many other instances the people who are choosing the design are uneducated about design, and therefore choose a stereotypical design that is

non-offensive and non-effective to all. It is often hard to predict the turnout of the three screen generation, but I feel it is a market that is underestimated. Maybe Puffy's heart was in the right place with "Vote or Die," but its hard to give any sort of merit to celebrities like Paris Hilton spewing political advice.

On Oct.25.2005 at 03:34 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

"MTVs efforts should be lauded. I am aware of their loud involvement going back a few elections".

"I did not, however, feel the P. Diddy campaign was thoughtful, or effective. If you look at the stats on who voted, the youth vote was much lower than anticipated".


You know this is Political Race Baiting at it's WORSE. Under the Guise of Democratic Liberalism.

Certainly, has a Stench of a Divide and Concur Mentality.

If Sean Combs Vote or Die Failed, So did MTV's Rock the Vote. Because they were Hand in Glove most importantly worked together to Disseminate the Information and Message. As as well as all other Grass Roots Efforts in this election.

What caused the Democrats to Fail, was John Kerry not answering his War Record when the Republicans Pounced all over him. Albeit not answering questions about his Senate Voting Record which was also under scrutiny and questionable.

Furthermore, John Kerry should've never been the Front Runner. It should've been Howard Dean whom had a following like nobody in History and the First to Raise Millions of Dollars online. More than anybody in History.

The Powers That Be, took all of it away from him playing that tape over, and over again. With him giving that Now Infamous Pep Talk to his Constituency.

Most important, you talk about having a Seat At The Democratic Table.

Wishful thinking, the Democracts which I am, have a History of being non Inclusive from onset. And courting the African American Vote at the Eleventh Hour.

While I was aware of the Vote or Die Campaign, The Media were talking, writing about and Playing Up Rock The Voteand how Rapper Eminem was the Savior of the Youth Vote.

From where I sit there's enough Blame to Go Around for Everybody.

Its certainly Short Sighted, Myopic, Ignorant and Brazen of you to Single Out Sean P. Diddy Combsas a Failure.

You only have to look at the Strategy or Lack Thereof of the Democratic Party to find FAILURE!!!!!!!!!!

The most Soul Stirring and Spin Chilling Speeches of the Democrat Convention were Delivery by Two African Americans:

1. Reverend Al Sharpton

2. Senator Barak Obama

The Defense Rest!!!!!!!!


On Oct.25.2005 at 05:52 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Everything goes back to the message being communicated: "Vote or DIE" is a pretty negative campaign. They're basically saying "if you don't vote you are a loser." People don't respond favorably to that kind of communication.

On Oct.26.2005 at 02:21 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Keith Harper:

If the Draft Bill is Passed. Which I believe will happen under this administrations watch.

We're all DEAD anyway, Keith and see how FAVORABLY you respond to that!!!!!!

CARRY and M16 or DIE!!!!!!! That'll be the Message.

What's the Lesser of TWO EVILS???

I'll have a nice Cushy Job Designing Propaganda



On Oct.26.2005 at 03:02 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

CARRY and M16 or DIE!!!!!!! That'll be the Message.

You've gotta move out of D.C.

On Oct.26.2005 at 03:25 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


All in DUE TIME.

If and when the Draft Bill is passed, I'm leaving America. Don't know exactly where I can

go and Blend In.

Nevertheless, I'm outta here!!!!

Not that many options.


On Oct.26.2005 at 05:30 PM
Jimm’s comment is:

The war wasn't right, but to run from your duty as a American citizen is no solution either.

This gets back to why we should all vote. If young people understood the implications of a Bush victory, i.e. a Draft Bill, then maybe they would have come out more in force.

You should speak through your vote, not through your legs in running to Canada.

Lastly, Bill Bradley raised over 2 million dollars on the internet in 2000, four years prior to Howard Dean.

On Oct.26.2005 at 06:11 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Canada has strict orders to return all Americans to their Homeland if a Draft Bill is Adopted.

We needed Dollar Bill his nickname from his basketball playing days with the New York Knicks five years ago.

It'll be interesting in 3.5 yrs. My Best to H.R.

I may join Pat Buchannon and join the Reform Party if Democrats don't get their Act Together.


On Oct.26.2005 at 09:16 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

DesignMaven: This is pretty funny/ironic, as I am also an Army National Guard officer in Seattle…�military intelligence (although I am being discharged due to Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea problems.)

That raises an interesting question… are there any other designers out there with narcolepsy? It's become a serious problem for me and I'm looking for more resources on how to treat it best.

And, the point I was trying to make is that people don't respond well to negative communication…�though I suppose there is a time for everything, and we do have an awfully apathetic voter turnout.

On Oct.27.2005 at 12:50 AM
ian’s comment is:

first, give somebody, anybody, that i can get excited about in politics (and by excited i don’t mean furiously angry to a point of incoherent babbling).

let me clarify, anybody that stands a chance.

just like the quark and kmart re-branding discussions: until you change the big picture-total package-fundamental elements-whatever, a new logo does me absolutely no f’n good.

Design Maven, what makes you think you’ll get to design when you’re drafted? do you actually think they will care what you’ve spent your life doing? they will make you what they need (which is not a pog), and in combat, ephemera don’t do much good. bullets and band-aids, that’s what they need. if they don’t make you a grunt, they make you a cook.

more grits and eggs please ;)

On Oct.27.2005 at 02:42 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Keith Harper:

Message understood, I never answered Jimm's question. Critique Magazine Dealt with Political Campaign Design.

Milton Glaser was interviewed as he was actively involved as a Design Consultant on early Democrat Political Campaigns of the 1960s. He emphatically stated they are afraid to embrace Meaningful Design that carried a Message. Instead they would rather be mundane and dull and play it safe. Everything is scripted by their Campaign Manager's and Political Strategist. The Designer's only input is to JUMP THROUGH HOOPS!!!!!

Print Design for these Political Candidates is Horrid. Where they're beginning to excel is when the MUDD SLINGING Begin with the Political Media Advertisement. That's how Kerry was Destroyed via the message from the Media On Air Assault. Albeit, the GOP Convention everybody in the Audience was carrying a Pair of FLIP FLOPS.

My commment referencing the Reform Party and Pat Buchannon were meant to be Humorous. You have a Great Sense of Humor. I can't tell you how to treat Narcolepsy or Sleep Apnea. I have a friend that has both just like you. He is also a Diabetic. He's heavily medicated. I've watched him on the job take a customers money and by the time he motions for the cash register he's sleep.

Very Serious Problem, I worry about him when he drives. Sense I don't believe in Medicine or take Medication it's difficult to re-orientate someone to my Approach of Holistic Medicine.

Sleep Apnea can be treated as it deals with not being able to go into the various stages of Deep Sleep. Narcolepsy is a different beast altogether it can be treated.

My suggestion, Find a Specialist that deals with Sleep Disorders. We've got one hear in D.C. I can't remember if its George Washington University Hospital or Georgetown University Hospital. Call both of them, to inquire. I don't know where you're located. There maybe a Specialist in your Locale or Region. If not try the Hospital's I mentioned.

"Design Maven, what makes you think you’ll get to design when you’re drafted? do you actually think they will care what you’ve spent your life doing? they will make you what they need (which is not a pog), and in combat, ephemera don’t do much good. bullets and band-aids, that’s what they need. if they don’t make you a grunt, they make you a cook".

more grits and eggs please ;)

Middle Aged and Crazy. I'm giving them a Choice, my Design Skills or Wipe Out my Debt. Which ever is easier. I suspect the Former.

If I don't Design War Ephemera

I'll be Designing License Plates.

Either way, I'll be Designing.


On Oct.27.2005 at 05:30 AM
Jonas K. Sekamane’s comment is:

DesignMaven you may wanna read this.

On Oct.27.2005 at 10:40 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Don't think I'm not Greatful, I am.

I listen to all the Political Programs e.g.

Inside Washington; The McLaughlin Group;

This Week with George Stephanopolous; Face the Nation; Meet the Press.

I've heard Charlie Rangel and others say it again, again and again.

Its wait and see!!!! I am truly OPTIMISTIC.

Part of Disseminating Intelligence is DECEPTION!!!!!!!!

Never let the LEFT HAND know what the RIGHT HAND is doing.


On Oct.27.2005 at 12:20 PM
Lee Fairbanks’s comment is:

Here's a couple more design cliches

People with microphone awaiting your call

People sitting at a computer.

On Nov.06.2005 at 11:15 AM
Mark’s comment is:

Very good take on elections it does seem that people are more isolated these days doesn't it?

Elections and voting are the most important thing of all in this country.

The problem is so much negativity is injected into the days before the elections such as attack ads.

RARELY does any candidate suggest what they'll do for us if they get elected without digging up some bad material on the opposing candidate and which the opposing candidate does the same to them in retaliation.


then we have these stupid phrases such as "flip-flop" and "coward" and blah,blah,blah

AND OF COURSE we have these paperless ballots machines stories that can't 100% verify a persons actual vote.

so we have candidates bickering about each other most of the time and votes not being accurately counted.

and thats just the tip of the iceberg so you can see WHY people decide not to vote.

I think the whole way of doing campaigns need to be completely overhauled and clearly theres a need to find a way to encourage people to vote.

and one things for sure a message like "Vote or die" IS NOT the way to go about it instead the message should be along the lines of "VOTE because the future of the country depends on WHO VOTES and the future effects YOU!" or maybe "VOTE=your right to free speech" or "YOU VOTE YOU DECIDE" or "VOTE FOR A CHANGE" or maybe this champaign "want to participate in a democracy? GET OFF YOUR A** AND VOTE!" or maybe "YOU'RE THE PEOPLE! GET OFF YOUR F***'N A** AND VOTE!"

nah maybe this is better "want your voice heard?GET OFF YOUR A** and vote!"

heh heh I could see that as a bumper sticker.

anyway kind of hard to mount a champaign with the word "vote" in it.

maybe this is simple enough "make a difference-VOTE!"

anyway election champaigns need to be overhauled I wish I could offer a clear solution but I don't have one.

On Jul.25.2006 at 12:46 PM