Grace Fernandes shares her experience in entering the world of politics and design for a better future.
After being sent home from my last semester of college, in the midst of a global pandemic, I knew I wanted to do more to ensure that Ed Markey stayed in the United States Senate. I looked at the campaign’s job board and was thrilled to see a listing for a graphic design position. However, having transferred out of art school two years prior, and not having any previous experience designing for campaigns, I was unsure if I was qualified. That morning, I went as far as editing my resume, drafting a letter of interest, and pulling together my portfolio. I was ready to go, but ultimately, my nerves got the best of me and I never sent anything in.
Fast forward a week, and I was not afraid to participate in the much less intimidating #EdMarkeyFollowMeChallenge on Twitter. I sketched up a quick “no one tells me where to stand” drawing of the young Ed Markey I’d seen in his famous desk ad a couple of months prior and posted away. It was through this interaction online with the campaign’s digital and creative director, that I found out the campaign was offering a summer fellowship and quickly applied.
As we moved into April (and lockdown) I began as a field fellow but never stopped creating memes and art inspired by the campaign. When a photo of Ed outside his Malden home in vintage Nike Air Revolutions and a mask went viral I knew I had to make something. I stayed up late that night, animating a short clip and shared it on Twitter. It was later that week that I dove headfirst into helping with design work for the campaign — never sure if I was qualified, but always willing to complete whatever was asked of me.
My very first project for the campaign was helping design the “wear a mask” t-shirt, sporting that same viral photo I had animated the week before. As we moved into summer, I had the opportunity to create many things I never attempted before; livestream graphics, more new merch for the “Ed Market”, and even the Markey Bus. In July, I was hired as the campaign’s Senior Graphic Designer and got to spend the next few months creating more than I ever had, in the least time I ever had, and enjoying every second of it.
During this time, I had the chance to learn on the job about what makes effective political design. The greatest gift was the directive to design in service of a movement rather than an individual. Because of this, our social graphics weren’t informed solely by how best to utilize the campaign colors or feature the logo as prominently as possible but rather by how to harness the energy around the Green New Deal and climate justice. We chose not to feature photos of Ed alone or detached hands holding signs with his name on them, but instead of the people showing up every day in support of the Green New Deal and Ed looking on at his colleagues and community partners.
As our campaign merged the stories of a 1970’s State Representative who couldn’t be told where to stand and a 2020 climate champion embraced for his Nike sneakers and partnership with AOC, so too did our graphics. As a part of this storytelling, I had the opportunity to continually develop a series of styles that supported the organizing and events of the moment.
This “moment” was often an entirely new style of campaigning, which we met with an equally new style of design. When the pandemic took traditional campaign stops off the table, Ed went on the road for his Leads & Delivers bus tour, and we began to deepen our colors and alter our style. Taking inspiration from the Warren and Bernie presidential campaign buses, we sent a giant photo of Ed with students at a climate strike across the state.
As we neared September 1st and the campaign hosted a drive-in car rally, we created celebratory neon lights designs that carried us through primary election night. And as the general election came to a close in October, we hosted the Rally for a Livable Future. While this event had to be virtual, we wanted the poster to help it feel real. I drew inspiration from the bright yellow, green, and pink concert posters of the 60s and 70s and paired colorful gradients with Cooper Black to create our Rally for a Livable Future branding.
As a now 23-year-old, who expected to spend the summer after their senior year of college waiting out a global pandemic in their lime green childhood bedroom but ended up having the opportunity to help topple a dynasty, design a bus, and create tik toks for a US Senator, I implore you to ignore the imposter syndrome, get together your portfolio, and apply for the job. Realistically, I know it’s not always that easy but what I learned in 2020 is that you do have another chance to save yourself from yourself.
While I might not have sent in that job application, I did continue to post about the things I was passionate about and create art in pursuit of a better world. It was sharing these designs that ultimately allowed me the opportunity to work for the Ed Markey for U.S. Senate campaign and eventually be hired into the exact position I failed to apply for in the first place. So to other young designers looking to get involved in campaigns, I say, push past the fear, apply for the job, and never stop sharing the things you’re creating. Your skills are valuable and essential to the success of a campaign like ours and you deserve the chance to have as much fun as I did designing in pursuit of a Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
Grace Fernandes is a graphic designer and Staff Assistant at Office of United States Senator Edward J. Markey (Twitter)