Reading Scott Thomas’ “Designing Obama”

12Jan11

A book review

Scott Thomas wrote a book about the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama called  “Designing Obama”. “Designing Obama” is a special book, if only because it was one of the first to come into place trough crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Also, Thomas played an important role in the design of the Obmama campaign, so if there is any book that promises you to give the inside scoop on this campaign, this is it.

To start with some criticism: if you pick up the book to learn from the community management skills of the design team you may get disappointed. The book may be a valuable source to teach you to organize a grass-roots movement, but the answer is not where you will most expect it. More than any other presidential campaign, the Obama team used a form of classic corporate branding. They focus on a strong logo a uniform message and consistent visual imagery and typography. This isn’t the language of the typical social media guru. Surely, the Obama campaign featured any possibility of new media that you could think of, but for the design team the brand, by graphic design was wat counted. Designing Obama is about maintaining unity in the graphic design, despite an emerging grass-roots movement, to support a single campaign message (that of hope and unity). Still, if anything, the Obama campaign shows that a pluriform grass-roots approach can strengthen a strong corporate brand which is most vividly shown in chapter 8, where divers artists contributions to the Obama are shown. In each image both the Obama brand as the identity of the artist creating the picture shine through.

Still I would recommend reading the book. It is wonderful if you try to learn about using graphic design or typography in a marketing effort effectively. It shows designs that did not make it, explains the decisions that guided the choices of the design team and discussed the (social) dynamics of the process. Above all it is an ‘art’ book with so many wonderful pictures and a history book about a historic campaign in one. This is unique. The book is freely available (here), sold as an ipad app for $4,99 and sold in hard copy for $79,99 (excluding shipping). Despite the price difference I would advise you to buy the hard copy (provided) that you can afford it. One of the main features of the book is the visual eye-candy of the campaign materials in particular those made by Artists for Obama, and this is still best viewed on paper. Also I believe that even in a fairly limited book collection designing Obama is a wannahave.

 

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