Print Politics

Design Critique of the YouTube/CNN Dem Debate

When design and politics get into bed together…

When good design becomes a must in the political process, that process becomes increasingly accessible for the voter. But does the expense and savvy required for good design also equal decreased access to a fair electoral process for candidates?

At Hotcards, we print promotional and advertising materials for political campaigns and election campaigns of all sizes. We've worked on everything from national election campaigns, to very small, very local election campaigns taking place in our own backyard.

Differences in budget and resources make large vs. small-scale campaigns two very different animals, which is something I often tell customers when they ask about the elaborate print displays used by, for example, the current Presidential candidates.

Over the last week, I've done a lot of talking to Hotcards customers about the big YouTube/CNN Democratic Debate. Obviously, a lot of work went into the design of that debate forum. The atmosphere was all fuzzy light and clean lines and boxy shapes, the overall impression being that of many, many screens. A debate hosted by the giants of internet video and TV news was rightly designed as an ode to that most mesmerizing of human invention – the screen, and all things displayed thereon.

And so, Hotcards customers ask me (particularly those running their own local election campaigns), is this the future of campaign promotions? Not signs, posters, and banners, but screen after screen, stacked ten high and fifteen across? This might be all well and good for Presidential candidates, but what if you're running for the House of Representatives, for mayor, or for the school board? Are we really looking at a future where elections will be decided by who can afford the most LCD screens?

It's at this point that I tell customers to get back on YouTube and take another look at those banks and boxes of screens that made up the heart of the event design at this debate. They're not LCDs, but rather simple printed signs dressed up marquis-style. A clear plastic screen and backlighting are what transformed these debate signs from the traditional wallpaper look to a futuristic bank of what appear to be enormous flatscreens.

Screenbank at YouTube Debate

Predictably, these “flatscreeens,” took the design of patriotic and sponsor promotions to the next level. In fact, the weight given to each design element seemed to clearly put across the message that CNN, YouTube, and the good old red, white, and blue, are virtually synonymous. However, by correctly blending corporate colors and creating random logo patterns, this message of capitalist unity is delivered to the viewer with a seamlessness of style that is a textbook example of marketing design virtuosity.

Commentators have described this debate as revolutionary, groundbreaking, and indicative of the future of election campaigning in this country. The same is true for how the debate was designed. As I just mentioned, this is indicative of exemplary marketing on the part of YouTube and CNN. And as we've said on this blog a million times, it's crucial to campaign to our design-conscious nation. The risk, unfortunately, is that we may fail to draw the line between creating a visual extravaganza, and actually focusing on the issues, and relaying important information that is valuable to voters.

For example, one YouTube blogger whose question made it on the air, later pointed out that she was so excited about making the cut that she didn't notice, at first, that her question hadn't been answered. While watching her blog on the subject, I wondered if she would have been so dazzled if we took away, not just the hype, but all the lights, and colors, and overwhelming prolific design that was on display at the debate.

By dazzling voters in this way, that is, in the way to which they have become accustomed, we simultaneously run the risk of making the electoral process accessible only to those candidates with the budget and resources to put on a serious show. Of course, this is nothing new. We've all heard it pointed out many times that since the advent of television, only candidates that possess physical appeal and charisma have been able to hold their own. Call it, then, an ascension to the next level of electoral complexification.

The good news is that great design doesn't have to be expensive, or just for the most elite of candidates. As design becomes increasingly important to the individual, it also becomes less expensive. A perfect illustration of this can be found right here at Hotcards. It wasn't long ago that full-color, glossy print design was much more expensive than flat, two-color printing and print design. But today, Hotcards is providing full-color, glossy printing and print design for candidates both national and local, all for the same low price. Democracy, as they say, is regulated by the market.

In the coming weeks, check back on the Hotcards blog to find out how slick, professional design can be incorporated into any campaign, at rates designed to suit any budget.

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