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Since the dawn of electioneering,
dirty tricks and negative advertising have been accepted strategies in
many presidential campaigns (indeed few candidates were harder hit with
mud than young Abe Lincoln). However, this year, the ubiquitous yet
often innocuously designed lapel buttons, lawn signs, and bumper
stickers, which have been emblems of allegiance, are now bludgeons. The
benign smiling candidate’s face with catchy slogan was once the norm but
now the slap-in-the-face is common. Bushbashing and Chaneychiding is so
widespread, especially in the so-called blue states, that satisfying
the popular urge to oppose the incumbent has become a veritable industry
that includes the design, fabrication, and sales of everything from
anti-Bush T-shirts, sticker books, inflatable toys (like Bushocio, a
long nosed rubber product inspired by Pinocchio), and, of course,
Like a poster, the message must read from at least five feet away,
which implies that the tenets of simplicity and economy come into play.
Although ephemeral, these buttons must nonetheless conform to
time-honored design principles. A clever slogan may have resonance but
it alone is not a well-designed button. Today with the widespread
accessibility of desktop button-making programs, amateur design is
rampant and flagrant. So, in the spirit of design criticism, the
following analysis may serve as a menu of do’s and don’ts for the design
of buttons. The specimens here were purchased from three separate,
independent vendors (not affiliated with either political party) in
Manhattan’s Union Square—a traditional hotbed of political protest and
ReDefeat Bush: This was one of the earliest
anti-incumbent buttons issued back before the major primaries. It
follows the conventional campaign model of red, white and blue color
fields, and employs an added patriotic accent – the star in the bowl of
the R. The standarized professional look of the design is meant to be
ironic, and yet the name Bush in all caps may be a little too deceptive.
Also, since the Re is separated from Defeat by the color bar, the
button’s intent is confusing, at least at first glance. A wearer
recently cited the following incident: At Barnes and Noble a sales clerk
said to her “I was wondering who in this town would support Bush, but
now I see what the button really says. Clever.”
No Bush (I): This button was also an early entry in
the campaign flux and has become ubiquitous around New York. It is not,
however, perfect. Despite the recognizable international NO symbol a
modicum of ambiguity exists in part because the slab-serif,
inline/outline type overpowers the familiar icon. The red white and blue
BUSH lettering virtually negates the comparatively week circle with
diagonal line, and so this too has been mistaken at first glance for a
No Bush (II) and No Bush (III): There are at least
three versions of buttons with Mr. Bush’s face and the overprinted NO
symbol (two feature smiling halftone photographs) but this high-contrast
iteration is the bestseller in Union Square (and is also used on
T-shirts). The NO symbol commands more authority than the specimen
above, but the high contrast presidential visage is by no means the best
rendering of him (note the cheek line). Of course, context is
everything, and since the portrait neither looks like Messrs. Kerry or
Nader by a process of elimination we’re left with Mr Bush. Indeed, what
is a logo or trademark but a simplification that becomes commonly
recognized? At this advanced stage in the campaign, this button is
unmistakable yet, if it were rendered with more verisimilitude, it might
have been more effective.
No W: FDR, JFK, LBJ, and now W; the single letter
is more effective than GWB (which could be mistaken in New York for the
George Washington Bridge). The initial is a startling way to convey the
candidate’s positive aura with minimal means. Yet it is also easily
co-opted by protesters because NO W is extremely concise and
unambiguous. Nonetheless this button is not perfect design. The red
circle border around the black circle containing the white W is way too
thick. The diagonal line is also out of proportion while the red
overpowers the central image. This is perhaps a minor complaint since
the button effectively telegraphs its message—and from almost ten feet
Weapons of Mass Deception: This is an example of
excessive design. The cliché-ridden NO symbol is unnecessarily submerged
under an otherwise clever slogan. But even the slogan is clumsily
typeset. The designer should have settled on one idea or the other, but
not both; the slogan already implies NO, so redundancy reigns. It may be
satisfying to convey the dual message, but it results in cluttered
When Bush Comes to Shove: Scary as the concept,
slogan and image may be, this idea is better suited for a poster than a
button. While it makes the point clearly and without ambiguity, the idea
would have been best served in this small space with a more abstract
design. The literalism of this rendering reminds one of bad sci-fi
fantasy rather than sophisticated visual statement.
BullSHit: This somewhat droll wordplay was coined
during the Bush inauguration and appeared as a poster. It was more
effective in that form, too. As a button, however, it is overpowered by
the graphic elements. The word BUSH dominates, as do the stars and bars.
The joke is lost amidst this visual noise. Better, perhaps, to put the
BU and SH on two lines.
Save the Environment: Replant A Bush In Texas:
This button requires investing a few seconds to get the joke, and the
result is not exactly worth the investment. In fact, the idea is much
too wordy. “Replant a Bush In Texas” would suffice and would have
allowed the designer to go larger with the type.
Asses of Evil: Here the slogan is amusing, but the
fundamental relationship of type to image is not. The two lines should
not have been separated to frame the image. If the slogan was on two
connected lines and the faces were slightly smaller underneath, the
button would have more graphic impact and be more of a combined unit.
Bush Lied: Simple is not always better, but with
this button it is sublime. Buttons demand brevity. The gothic type
dropped out against a field of black is eloquent and eye catching. No
need for embellishment of any kind, this button conveys its message
When everything is available instantly, why is it that so much remains invisible? Longhauser uncovers the hidden figures that are letterforms and spells out advice for increasing our awareness.
Section: Inspiration -
This film will allow designers of my generation and after, to learn about how it all worked before computers, and it will serve to honor the folks who made that transition from hand to digital, for their experience and skills that most designers and illustrators will never know again.
Just a simple idea to take advantage of the iPhone screen. Take a look!
Are you a young designer who loves books and...
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