Tyler Evans, Lead Designer for Bernie 2020, talks through the process of branding a political candidate
As socialists, on the political global left, our fight is undoubtedly a tough fight. We have a steep hill to climb to achieving justice in all its forms for the working people of the world, and we must be well-prepared in the campaigns we wage. My name is Tyler Evans, and I worked as the Lead Designer for Bernie 2020. Working for Bernie on his 2020 presidential campaign was both the honor and as a designer, the task of a lifetime. When I came on board, the campaign had been underway for a little more than a month’s time, and we had already established a small orbit of rules in terms of branding guidelines. It was up to me and my colleague Julia Griffin to figure out how and in what ways we could expand the slightly-refined-from-2016 brand of Bernie, and still pull off the task of earning our audience’s trust. As designers, why are we so concerned with trust?
Trust is what you’re after as a designer in the political space. Trust is the end-all, be-all, number one most important quality you must work to build between your audience of would-be voters and the candidate you work for. Trust that your candidate believes what it is that they’re saying, trust that they will fight for the things they purport to be advocating for, and most importantly, trust that they can handle the job they’re vying for. At this point, Bernie Sanders is a pretty well-known figure. Most people know and understand that he believes in health care for all as a human right, giving the working class a raise, and improving the economic and political life of the American working class. That said, imagine if you had been scrolling through your phone on Instagram or Facebook, and suddenly saw posts from Bernie advocating for lowering the minimum wage instead of giving workers a raise, or for raising premiums on American health care instead of guaranteeing health care as a right to all. Seeing that sort of thing would feel like immense betrayal, right? The same can be said of political graphics that do not fall within the branding guidelines your audience subconsciously expects you to adhere to.
The branding, design, and graphic treatment of a political campaign does a lot of work to carry that torch of voter trust across the finish line. Every campaign that is serious about victory should have at least one designer on staff from the early onset. In the American left, we are often portrayed as ‘unserious’, as having ideas that are not reasonable or well thought out, or we are portrayed as incapable of leading. An established, consistent brand will work to build up confidence in your candidate and subsequently beat that right wing rhetoric back.
Another important component in building trust between your candidate and your audience is authenticity. When designing for a political candidate, you should ask yourself one question each time before you export a piece to put out into the world: does this feel like something my candidate would hold up proudly in front of a mass of people? We can often forget the real-world scenarios that are comparable to releasing a graphic or a piece into the vast space of the social media landscape. We should treat each graphic with the respect and the care that we treat anything presented at a large rally or a high-stakes press conference, and remember who we’re designing for. A high-gloss, ultra polished Nike-esque look would not suit the aesthetic of Bernie. On the other hand, deep blue and punchy red with slab-serif typefaces and beckoning back to designs from the heyday of American labor unions fit the mold precisely. The digital space and large events have always been very similar, and share many more obvious similarities these days with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our campaign in Bernie 2020 came against all of the stereotypical attacks and more. Not only were we able to respond to them directly and refute the lies being told about us in the press, we were able to amplify our campaign message in a variety of digital media as a result of a robust, trusted brand and a well-established digital presence. That early investment allowed us to cut through the noise and keep pushing ahead.
I believe it goes without saying that our current state is the future of campaigns for the foreseeable future. In the United States at the time I am writing this, we are seeing our country at its lowest point in this pandemic. We have tens of millions unemployed and are nowhere near being out of the dark on this virus. A digital-first, well-branded infrastructure is sustaining our presence, and even bolstering our footprint at a time when people are desperately looking for leadership. I believe that as leftists, as socialists, working in electoral politics can be taxing. It can be draining, as it feels like a slow-moving train at times. If you are the least bit creatively inclined, or better yet, if you have a creative or design education, you should consider, at the very least, spending a few years working in electoral politics. A better world is possible, and through our labor, in solidarity, together, we can achieve it.