Thanks to those who sent in pictures of campaign signs for Eric Ebersole; I’m still looking for signs for other candidates mentioned in my previous post. I’ll soon start posting my opinions on signs I do have. In the meantime I wanted to recap some of my comments from last time on campaign signs and what I personally look for in judging them.
I should say up front that it’s not clear at all that campaign signs are actually effective in persuading to vote for one candidate rather than another. As a 2012 Slate article notes, some research has shown that non-specific campaign signs urging people to vote (though not for a particular candidate) can be effective, but that says nothing about candidate-specific signs. On the other hand, a Vanderbilt University study seems to indicate that signs can be effective in promoting candidates in races in which they are a large number of candidates and voters have little information about them. There are some political consultants who feel strongly that yard signs are a waste of money, and others who are happy to advise you on which types of signs are more effective.
In any case, I think campaign signs lend a festive air to election years, and from a purely aesthetic standpoint offer interesting examples of both good and bad graphic design. As a amateur design critic here’s what I personally look for in a campaign sign:
Legibility. Whatever other attributes a sign has, at a minimum it has to be readable. There’s nothing more frustrating than driving down a road at 30 or 40 miles per hour, seeing a small campaign sign, and not being able to figure out which candidate it’s for.
Information. Assuming that the primary purpose of a sign is to promote name recognition, then obviously it needs to include the candidate’s name (full name or just last name) and the office they’re seeking, Anything else—party affiliation, slogans, icons and images, candidate picture, etc.—is arguably superfluous.
Color. Some people have specific recommendations on sign colors. Others tend toward traditional colors, like the American flag colors red, white, and/or blue, or the Maryland flag colors black, red, white (silver), and yellow (gold). Many signs use other colors to good effect, and they get bonus points from me for doing that. My main comments here are that some color combinations (like red and blue) impair readability, and that using the Maryland flag colors in an effective way can be hard if you use more than two colors at a time.
Typography. Beyond being readable, I like to see sign typefaces that are clean, dynamic, elegant, and work well together (if multiple typefaces are being used) and in the context of the sign.
Other design elements. Some signs have additional graphic elements, for example stars, small flags, etc. I judge these on how well they work in the overall context of the sign: do they enhance the design, or detract from it?
To illustrate the above criteria, here are some examples of signs I liked from the 2010 campaigns (click on the images to see them full-size). Note that I didn’t get pictures of all 2010 signs, so don’t consider this a true “best of 2010” list.
That concludes the preliminaries. In my next post I’ll start looking at the 2014 signs; unlike last time I’ll do this race by race and (where possible and appropriate) pick an overall winner in each.