Designers ♥ Obama

These posters by SN&R art directors Don Button (above) and Andrew Nilsen (below) are featured on the Design For Obama Web site.

These posters by SN&R art directors Don Button (above) and Andrew Nilsen (below) are featured on the Design For Obama Web site.

Don Button is SN&R’s art director-at-large and a professor at Sacramento City College.

Ten weeks after the fall election, the graphic-design and visual-arts world is still busy trying to wrap its collective head around the unprecedented impact of the Barack Obama ’08 campaign. Never before had a presidential candidate utilized design aesthetics and brand-image marketing in such a comprehensive and effective way—and designers around the world took notice immediately. From our first look at the Obama logo in the spring of 2007, we were smitten.

Alongside the many predictable and cliché marks of the other contenders, the stylized “O” was bold, visionary and totally unique to the political world. With each new print or Web element of the campaign, designers recognized that there was some seriously creative visual talent at work behind the scenes. The campaign utilized new technology like Flickr and Twitter and actively encouraged supporters to create and participate.

And we responded in kind. As the campaign gained momentum during the primary season, grassroots blogs and Web sites celebrating the campaign, the candidate and his image began popping up. Art galleries from coast to coast featured Obama-inspired shows, and designers (from the renowned to the untrained) began creating, sharing and selling their own posters, T-shirts and stickers through sites such as CafePress and Zazzle.

Two of the most popular and prolific sites were The Obama Art Report and Design for Obama. The former is a blog featuring hundreds of posts covering art and design projects from such luminaries as Shepard Fairey, Scott Hansen and Robert Indiana. The latter, created by two students at the Rhode Island School of Design, presents more than 400 posters available for free downloading and sharing.

During the height of the fall campaign, SN&R art director Andrew Nilsen and I both had the honor of having six of our own poster designs included in the Design for Obama collection. I created two designs during the campaign and two celebrating Obama’s victory the weekend after the election. Nilsen’s two designs were also posted immediately after the election.

My final design, an homage to the classic Spike Lee film poster (above) has ended up creating a story of its own. Shortly after it was posted, a friend of Lee’s e-mailed him the image, leading him to the Design for Obama site for the first time. He was so impressed with the project that he contacted the site’s creator, Aaron Perry Zucker, and offered to publish a book of the posters, which is now planned for release later this year. In a conversation with Zucker last week, he told me that not only did my design help initiate the project with Lee, but it had also completed something of a circle—on Barack and Michelle’s first date, they had actually gone to see Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

Art and design may or may not be able to change the world, but it’s nice to know that something you create can at least play a role and have a small impact.