Monday, August 11, 2014

Visual Civics - Designing A Candidacy

Source: ASIDE, 2014
In the past 20 years, the study of civics has taken a backseat to the more elementary "social studies" and the more secondary "government." Civics, however, embodies a richer appreciation of the structures and services of American political life. In other words, civics is the marriage of a democracy's fundamental frameworks with its citizens' essential responsibilities in a free society.

The teaching of civics is often centered in the careful examination of primary documents. Today's learners, however, increasingly thrive in a visual world, where all of their educational inputs arrive via media and technology. The traditional pictures of civics, though, rely on linear flowcharts of the three branches or static portraits of the vice presidents.

To update civics education for contemporary learners, we try to blend media literacy with election politics, to communicate the power of logos, advertisements, and videos in marketing national candidates. The nuanced ability to decode shades of meaning in fonts and posters lies in the key literacy of graphicacy. It also reinforces the practice of pedagoptics, which is a method of teaching with visual tools. Click here to check out some lesson ideas for using election logos in the classroom.

The upcoming 2014 midterm elections in November feature prime opportunities to bring visual civics into the classroom. A perfect case study is the current dead heat between Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes in the Kentucky Senate race. This closely watched, richly funded contest features all of the binary contrasts that make politics riveting: old vs. young, male vs. female, insider vs. outsider, leader vs. rookie.


Source: McConnell Senate Committee '14

Incumbent Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is an institution in Kentucky, which explains why he has almost universal name recognition in the state but also dangerously low approval ratings thanks to Congress' massive unpopularity. McConnell's campaign logo is designed to present a casual, even youthful image in order to combat the perceived myopia of the 72-year-old's three decades in the Senate. The slogan of "Team Mitch" invokes an informal club, a chummy loyalty among like-minded voters. McConnell also falls back on the time-honored gambit of using only one's first name, like the historic "I Like Ike" and the more recent "Rudy," "Hillary," and "Newt."

On a design level, the exacto sans serif font is a little clumsy. The two-tone blue also makes little sense, especially in the word "team" that stretches in an Obama blue. The icon, however, is excellent, rendering the image of the state in a paintbrush swipe of the American flag. At a quick glance, the kilter of the emblem almost appears to be the head of horse. This subtle kinetic signal to Kentucky's thoroughbred heritage is clever and effective. It bodes well for McConnell's no-stone-unturned chances in November.

Source: Alison For Kentucky

Kentucky Democratic Secretary Of State Alison Lundergan Grimes faces exactly the opposite mission in crafting her logo. At 35 years old, she is little known on the national stage, and she must represent strong local bona fides to match McConnell's renown. Her insignia is much more composed than McConnell's, with layers of text, color, and image to offer a range of connotations. The bold white "Alison" aspires to first-name recognition, yet she registers her full name underneath in an overt reference to her famous political father, Jerry Lundergan. Most distinctly, Grimes features both the office of "U.S. Senate" and her campaign website prominently, reinforcing her need for name recognition and multi-source marketing.

Her seal etches a Columbia blue silhouette of the state against a Yale blue background (although Grimes also uses an identical banner with inverted blue-on-white coloring). Her landscape of spring and asparagus hues reminds us of Terry McAuliffe's winning crossover in last year's Virginia governor race. In fact, the blue and green pairing would be peculiar if not for its understated allusion to the "bluegrass" birthright of Kentucky's nickname. Clearly, both campaigns are playing for keeps, leaving nothing up to chance in their winning, contrasting designs.

Check out our other posts about design and education in elections.

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