Strong design is only one weapon in your arsenal as a candidate, but like any part in a well-functioning machine, when it plays its part it makes everything else run more smoothly. From parish council by-elections to nationwide campaigns, design and designers are becoming a more essential part of political campaigning than ever before.
It’s become ever easier to produce well-designed campaign literature, and our guide aims to show you how to make sure that the campaigns you and your designer produce are the best they possibly can be.
This guide was written with print design in mind, because leaflets and calling cards are still the main way for individual candidates to communicate with their electorate. However, the principles set out here will largely also apply to digital and video design.
Know who your audience is
The core of a good design comes from the decisions taken before anyone opens InDesign to start putting together leaflets. Knowing who your materials will target is a crucial decision which will inform everything else going forward, and it should be where you start.
Do you want to try to drive up turnout among known supporters whose voting record is patchy? Do you want to focus on those voters who backed rival parties in the last campaign, but might be amenable to switching? Are you aiming for voters who may not be natural supporters at all, but might be energised by a totemic local issue?
These are all legitimate choices to make in the right circumstances, and each will dictate a particular design direction. You will likely have to try multiple avenues at once, but don’t be surprised if it’s more than a case of simply trying the same material with different audiences.
Try to give your designer an idea of your constituency’s demographic profile – thinking about age distribution, wealth and income, modes of transport, and less obvious factors like employment sector – you may have a neighbourhood where residents overwhelmingly work in a particular manufacturing centre, or in the local hospital or university.
While you will find outliers in any demographic group, these factors in our lives strongly affect how – and whether – we are likely to vote, and what issues motivate our behaviour when we do.
Finding the right messages
To a large degree, your messages for a campaign will be dictated by the brand of the national party, which is something you are unlikely to be able to meaningfully control. But what you emphasise as personal priorities is under your control.
You’ve got lots of good ideas, and it can be tempting to try to throw them all at the wall in the hope that something will stick with the voters you are targeting. What this is actually likely to mean is that few voters will remember any of your pledges, and certainly not in any detail.
You will also be restricted by the space available on your literature, whether distributed physically or digitally.
Try to pick around five of your most important key points, which you can explain in a sentence. Don’t worry if these don’t include all the detail you’d like – that can be addressed in other parts of your communications strategy, such as in local newspaper articles or social media clips.
The key thing is that you are able to repeat one or all of these in every piece of literature you distribute – by the end of the campaign, your average supporter (and better still, the average voter) should be able to parrot these back to you on the doorstep – and at very least, your canvassers should know them off by heart.
The best messages are specific, measurable promises for achievements which speak to the values of people across the demographic divides of your electorate. This is of course easier said than done, and you may have to test a few variants before you get it quite right.
If you are an incumbent, you might wish to include a point or two about any local achievements you’re proud of, or difficult promises made in the last election which you’ve been able to keep. Don’t dwell on these, though – however grateful electors are for your past work, you are asking them to elect you for the future, too.
There are pledges you might want to make to very specific demographics within your constituency which simply don’t apply to other voters – for example if your council ward contains many students, or members of a religious community. In this case, dedicated literature can swap out some of the pledges for targeted messages, but be careful not to oversteer – a good choice of core messages will speak to those constituents regardless of their demographic differences.
Writing your copy
As a representative or candidate you are likely to be best placed to write the text (the copy, in typesetting jargon) for any leaflets, or the scripts for any animated videos.
Copywriting for election literature is a brutal art of compressing the maximum information into the smallest available space, and keeping it understandable to an uninformed voter without patronising the highly engaged. If that sounds difficult, you’re right.
Any political designer will tell you horror stories of candidates trying to cram a pamphlet’s worth of text onto an A5 out card. As a rule of thumb, you will want to include no more than 200 words per side of A5 (400 words per side of A4). While these elements might be mixed and matched across various campaign materials, you should prepare:
- Your name, or all candidates’ names in a multi-member election.
- A short bio of you, or if standing multiple candidates, a quick statement of your shared aims and values.
- Your election promises, stated briefly.
- Your contact information.
- A call to action. This can be as simple as “Vote Labour on Election Day” (make sure to get the date right) but you may also want to run local surveys around a particular topic, or have people sign a petition. Make sure you pick one CTA and stick with it – you will dilute the impact of your message if you ask the reader to do too many things.
When writing your bio, keep it brief. Include any genuinely relevant work or life experience you have had – military service, work in the NHS, local volunteering or unique careers like actor or astronaut could go here – but keep it focused on how your background and values will help you best serve your constituents.
The contact information you provide will vary slightly depending on your target audience, but including an email and phone number (even if it’s a burner phone you just use to take messages) will cover 95% of voters’ attempts to contact you.
If contacting older voters, an address may still be useful, though be aware it can take up a lot of space.
It usually can’t hurt to direct readers to your Facebook page, though make sure you are updating it regularly and that the content is high quality, in order to help take the reader on the journey from casual interest to dedicated supporter.
Generally it is not worth bothering with Twitter. Most voters do not use it, and those who do will be savvy enough to find you if they want to.
Don’t worry if you’re not a brilliant writer. Your designer can probably help you to make tweaks which improve the overall product – but following the above advice can make this process significantly easier.
In most cases your materials should have photos of you in and around the constituency. It is best to have these before providing a brief to a designer, but try to at least provide a description of what the photo will be, so the designer can leave space for it.
Your main candidate photo will appear on virtually everything, so it should be your highest priority. If possible, have this taken with a DSLR by a professional photographer – failing that, a talented amateur will do the job.
Overwhelmingly the best photos for these purposes are taken outside, in good weather, in a location representative of the community. This might be a local landmark (though be careful it doesn’t look too opportunistic) or from a hill or park overlooking the local area. Try to make it a closeup of your top half (though a full body shot is fine if in a high enough resolution that it can be cropped well).
If standing for a constituency with multiple different communities (like a rural seat with many villages) you may wish to take a new photo in each location. You should make these as similar in style to each other as possible, so your designer can easily create variants on the same theme.
Avoid group shots as your main candidate photo – while it’s nice to have photos with local community groups, important endorsers or your campaigners, voters need to know who you are and be able to identify you easily.
Next, consider your “secondary” photos. These will be photos of you speaking with local residents, at community events, and campaigning in the community. Try to make these action shots, showing you doing something (even if it’s just in conversation) rather than standing rigidly facing the camera.
You don’t need these to be taken with a DSLR (though if you have that option, then use it) but if taking photos with a smartphone or compact camera, the same rules apply – make sure it’s well lit, not blurry, and sufficiently high resolution to use in print.
A note on transferring pictures:
No matter how good your photos, your designer (and consequently your designs) will suffer if they are compressed when transferred.
Do use: Email from a computer (file size permitting), Dropbox, WeTransfer, or physically handing over the SD card from a camera. These will not compress and lower the quality of an image
Do not use: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter DM or email from smartphones. These will to varying degrees compress your images and make them harder to use in print.
You should note that print design works at much higher resolutions than digital design (generally 300 pixels per inch, as opposed to 72 ppi for screens). You don’t need to worry too much about this – any photo taken with a reasonably modern DSLR or smartphone should be a large enough size.
Last things to remember
Please send over the text of your imprint with your brief. Your agent can confirm this if you aren’t sure. It will save you having to do an updated draft down the line!
If there are designs you’ve been inspired by and would like your designer to take some ideas from, feel free to send them over. Having a steer at an early stage will usually make the process quicker.
Robin Wilde is a freelance graphic designer and a member of Labour Party Graphic Designers.
Artwork by Josie Hailey.