designing obama February 28, 2008Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, arts/culture, design, news, politics, style, tech.
Tags: apple, barack obama, branding, consumer, design, font, gotham, graphic design, graphics, marketing, michael bieruit, obama, target, yale
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Obama’s success owes a lot, of course, to his message–the promise to pass Democratic policies by rallying a “coalition for change.” But watching Obamamania over the past few weeks, I’ve become convinced that there’s something more subtle at work, too. It’s not just the message and the man and the speeches that are swaying Democratic voters–though they are. It’s the way the campaign has folded the man and the message and the speeches into a systemic branding effort. Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design, Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.* And for folks who don’t necessarily need Democratic social programs–upscale voters, young people–I suspect that the novel comfort of that brand affiliation contributes (however subconsciously) to his appeal.
Seeking expert opinion, I tested my hypothesis on leading graphic designer and critic Michael Bieruit, who was kind enough to dissect Obama’s unprecedented branding campaign–and show me how it’s helping his candidacy. Excerpts:
What do you see as the “philosophical implications,” to use a highfalutin phrase, of Obama’s design choices?
There are a couple of levels. There’s the close-in parlor game you can play about what all these typefaces actually mean. Gotham was a typeface designed originally for GQ magazine, so it’s a sleek, purposefully not fancy, very straightforward, plainspoken font, but done with a great deal of elegance and taste–and drawn from very American sources, by the way. Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it’s not German, it’s not French, it’s not Swiss. It’s very American. The serif font that he often uses to write Obama is delicate and nuanced and almost, not feminine exactly, but it’s very literary-looking. It looks very conversational and pleasant, as opposed to strident and yelling. It’s a persuasive-looking font, I would say. But that’s putting these things on couches and pretending they have personalities.
Right. It’s sort of hard to imagine in a voter in Cleveland (or a Newsweek political blogger from New York, for that matter) interacting with Obama’s design on that level. How does it affect those of us who aren’t graphic designers?
Well, I’m teaching this class at the Yale School of Management, and we were just talking about brand management and politics–exactly this thing before we got on the phone. And one of the things that came up in the conversation is, if you think about it, the challenge for someone named Barack Hussein Obama is that he’s such an unprecedented figure in American politics–so much so that everything he’s trying to do is, in a way, trying to make him look smoother and more normal. Someone said, “Well, why shouldn’t he have revolutionary looking graphics–graphics that make him look like grassroots, like an outsider? Things drawn by hand, things that look forceful and avant-garde.” But I think he’s using design in a way to make him look as normal, as comfortable, as inevitable as a brand can look in American life. Those are really deliberate, interesting choices. Whether or not a sans serif font like Gotham looks more “American” than a Swiss font like Helvetica, that’s in our imaginations to a certain degree. I think it’s much more incontrovertible that he’s actually using the seamlessness of this branding to convey a candidacy that’s not a dangerous, revolutionary, risk-everything proposition–but as something that is well-managed and has everything under control.
the downside of obamanomics February 27, 2008Posted by AP in 2008 Elections, econ, news, politics.
Tags: economics, greg mankiw, minimum wage, obama, patriot employer act, protectionism
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hint: most acts with the word “patriot” in them are a bad idea.
Much of the US infrastructure is old and inadequate following decades of bipartisan neglect; it serves as an obstacle to the ability of the United States to respond and adapt to change. The quality of primary and secondary education in the US has fallen behind the level provided by most other industrial countries and is even threatened to be eclipsed by levels in quite a number of emerging market nations.
is obama good for business? February 13, 2008Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, berkeley, econ, news, politics.
Tags: austan goolsbee, barack obama, business, business week, federal reserve, g-7, george soros, ipod government, obama, paul volcker, robert wolf, ubs, warren buffett
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photo by flickr user Daniella Zalcman used under a creative commons license
On Sunday, Feb. 10, after he found out he’d won that day’s Democratic Presidential caucuses in Maine, but before his appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) sat down at the keyboard of his computer to write an e-mail. Not to a media consultant or a delegate counter, but to banker Robert Wolf, CEO of UBS Americas (UBS). The two men exchanged notes about the Senate-passed economic stimulus package and that weekend’s G-7 economic summit, Wolf says.
A banker as Obama’s pen pal? Hard to believe, given the senator’s liberal image. But in between rallies and airplane flights on the campaign trail, Obama has also taken time to consult on the economy with billionaire Warren Buffett, whose support of rolling back the Bush tax cuts Obama often cites in his stump speeches. Obama has also been in touch with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who endorsed the freshman senator in January. “When I sat down with him, I found him to be unbelievably refreshing and smart and thoughtful,” says Wolf, who first met Obama at the offices of financier George Soros. The UBS chief has gone on to raise more than $1 million for the Obama campaign.
But Obama has also taken several steps that aren’t typical of his fellow liberal senators. He has stocked his Capitol Hill staff with employees whose résumés include McKinsey, the old Andersen Consulting, and other nonpartisan business advisory firms. He joined forces with conservatives on bills designed to improve ethics and transparency in Washington. He voted for a bill in 2005 that made life harder for trial lawyers—a traditional Democratic constituency—by allowing defendants to shift cases more easily to federal court, which can be less favorable to plaintiffs. And he pushed an outside-the-box proposal that would help Detroit automakers pay legacy health-care costs on the condition they reinvest the subsequent savings into hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars. “His whole style of governing is less confrontational,” says Bob Shrum, a long-time Democratic Presidential campaign strategist who’s unaligned in 2008.
Some of the names that might fill in the org chart in an Obama Administration are also telling. Obama—whose own father was a Kenyan economist with a PhD from Harvard University—has cultivated a group of economic advisers. They’re generally careful technocrats, and are led by University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee. Among the others: Jeffrey Liebman and David Cutler of Harvard and Christina and David Romer of the University of California, Berkeley. Goolsbee has shown a preference for making economic initiatives easier to understand and use, an effort Obama calls “iPod government.”
On the campaign trail, Obama and Goolsbee have crafted proposals to streamline government programs like the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which Goolsbee feels is too complicated. Same with student loan applications and tax forms. Goolsbee says the distinction with Clinton is most evident in the candidates’ plans to increase the personal savings rate. Obama would create an automatic 3% savings withholding from every paycheck that employees could opt out of if they want to. Clinton, on the other hand, proposes a targeted tax break to incentivize savings. The Clinton plan, says Goolsbee, “is what the playbook says to do. But the research says tax credits won’t induce very many people to actually open savings accounts.”
barack obama strongest in november versus mccain February 9, 2008Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, media, news, politics, television.
Tags: barack obama, clinton, cnn, electability, general election, hillary clinton, john mccain, mccain, obama, polls
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obama February 4, 2008Posted by AP in 2008 Elections, politics.
Tags: bbc news, music video, new hampshire speech, obama, will.i.am, yes we can
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will.i.am’s “yes we can” music video:
brother bill January 22, 2008Posted by AP in 2008 Elections, comedy, media, news, politics.
Tags: black president, clinton, election, obama, toni morrison
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Obama provided one of the debate’s most light-hearted moments when asked about Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s comment that Bill Clinton — Sen. Clinton’s husband who, as president, was hugely popular with black voters — was America’s “first black president.”
“I would have to investigate more of Bill’s dancing ability and some of this other stuff before I accurately judged whether he was, in fact, a brother,” Obama said to laughter from the audience and other candidates.
common’s jesus & obama freestyle January 13, 2008Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, comedy, hip-hop, music, politics, religion.
Tags: american gangster, church, common, jesus, obama, smoking aces
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um.. this was interesting.
obama, bloomberg, and bacon: a new york love story December 4, 2007Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, comedy, food, misc, politics.
Tags: bloomberg, new york, obama
obama and bloomberg meet to discuss policy in a nice little “hey we still eat at normal-people-places” photo-op. the caption says that obama bought bacon, but as you will see below, we do not know who ate said bacon. perhaps they shared the bacon? i also wonder who picked this coffee shop and if they had any awkward footsie moments, as that looks like quite a small table they’re sitting at. (check the embedded video for some funny chit chat between the photogs hovering outside the window).
At the New York Luncheonette on East 50th Street, Mr. Obama ate eggs over easy and wheat toast, while the mayor had scrambled eggs and white toast.
obama@google November 17, 2007Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, econ, environment, health, immigration, international, interviews, iraq, iraq war, media, news, politics, race, religion, science, tech, terrorism.
Tags: barack obama, cto, education, globalization, google, healthcare, nclb, obama, reform, technology
i was forced to suspend my critical, skeptical, and cynical nature for a moment, as i found myself fairly impressed…
(most of the best parts come during the q&a)