Hockey Moms Deserve Better (Design)

Filed Under: Inspiration , Article , signage , Voice , critique

Now that the national conventions have concluded and the confetti has been swept away, a few thoughts linger about their imagery. Although much has been written about the campaign graphics used by both parties, a particular focus has been placed on a new demographic: hockey moms. With the GOP convention labeled a “hit” by some and a “disaster” by others, those handwritten “Hockey Moms for Palin” signs, standing out among the hordes of commercially printed McCain/Palin fliers held high by their beaming delegates, fall into the latter category.

A “hockey mom” at the Republican National Convention (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

When I first noticed those arts-and-craftsy creations, I didn't give them much thought. But now, it strikes me how, well, juvenile they are: large, rectangular pieces of white paperboard with letters painted on in red and blue, in a scrawl seemingly done by a preschooler who has barely learned how to write the letters “S” and “N” forward.

What does that say about the hockey moms? Should we assume they made the signs, or that Junior was asked to create them, to proudly display his artistic (dis)abilities? The truth is that no one—at either convention—is allowed to bring their own signs. Instead “handmade” signs are made by the hands of others, and then are handed out to the people you see at the convention. For the hockey moms, someone made their signs to resemble either the handiwork of an innocent child or an overworked, exhausted parent.

A misspelled sign captured by NBC News.

Those who create these signs are unlikely to be professional artists. But why do they lack even the basic ability to determine how large or small a few words must be written to fill up a page and seem to have used their non-dominant hand (or foot) to paint these very important words—leaving the signs looking so utterly careless? Despite the patriotic colors of the words—nearly always red and blue—the beautiful hues of the flag do little to mask the shoddiness of those signs. In fact, words are occasionally misspelled, such as “Mavrick.”

The term “hockey mom” (see also “soccer mom”) implies a woman with several children, each one involved in several extracurricular activities. She exhausts herself making sandwiches and chauffeuring each child from game to lesson, smiling all the while. She has little time for herself or for something as unimportant as a lil' ol' sign for a lil' ol' convention. Or at least, that is the image that's being portrayed.

Perhaps if those multitalented, multitasking hockey moms made their own signs, they would look a lot better. I can only imagine that a parent who helps a child with homework, art and science projects and the like, would know how to write big letters on a big sheet of paper and make it look halfway decent.

Holding up a sign that looks messy, to some, seems to convey a feeling of home-sweet-home simplicity. But as a woman, I find it insulting that proud hockey moms would be expected to display bad design to represent themselves. It's an image that I don't care to see in 2008—a year in which one mom ran for president and another is running for vice president. The “Gee, I'm just a mom, so this here finger-painted sign is all I really know how to do. Now, won'tcha vote for my guy?” story feels tired and outdated. In this era, women should elevate themselves and represent themselves with pride, not unprofessionalism. With elections today being so visually appealing and slick, these signs seem like a throwback (and a setback).

An array of “handmade” signs at the RNC (photos:

I'm not saying these signs have to be designed by an artist, embossed in metallic ink and framed. Just make it look good for national, and international, television. This is how an entire demographic is being represented to the country and beyond. I would think the organizers of the convention, as well as the moms, hold their candidate in higher regard. Although audiences may be charmed by their uncontrived appearance (being unaware, of course, that the signs were created for them, rather than by them), I think we can do better.

Design matters on all levels, especially to women. Hockey moms thoughtfully design their homes and yards to portray a positive image. They dress their children well and maintain their own appearance. So, when they appear in front of many millions of viewers, that same positive image should be portrayed. (Could you imagine if, say, the “for sale” sign on their homes had the same elementary-school approach?) Convention organizers should realize that.

Michigan hockey moms (photo: Marina Castillo).

Maybe I'm jumping way too deep into the psyche of viewers. But on the other hand, that's just what psychology in advertising attempts to do: make a subconscious impact. It's like product placement, hoping viewers unwittingly choose to drink a Pepsi after seeing Brad Pitt with a cool one on a movie screen. In fact, what is a political convention but a four-day advertisement for each party and each brand of American?

That said, if we continue to act as though hockey moms are really hokey and unsophisticated, then we're dumbing down the image of everyday women everywhere. As a woman, a voter and a viewer, I'd like to see better—for myself, this country and for the sake of good design.