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Political Types

November 6th is a big day, and we encourage everyone to get out there and vote! By now you know the candidates, you know the state questions (right?), but there’s one more issue we’d like to dissect. Today we dive into the recent history of typography in politics, namely the presidential election.

Let’s start with the last election, back in 2008. Candidates (their campaign managers, really) began making some interesting choices for their branding. John Edwards was actually the first to use a sans-serif face by choosing Gotham Ultra. Hilary Clinton stuck with the traditional face New Baskerville, commonly used by universities, law firms, and publishers.

Like Clinton’s group, most campaigns look at the common associations for each typeface and chose something that they feel relates to their candidates. For instance, McCain’s campaign used Optima. At first it seems obvious: a conservative flared sans serif, something in between traditional and modern. But it was actually chosen as a nod to McCain’s military background, as Optima is the typeface used on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.



McCain’s campaign wasn’t the only one to take inspiration from a memorial. It turns out that the choice to use the now iconic Gotham typeface for President Obama’s 2008 campaign was influenced by the face’s use on the cornerstone of the One World Trade Center. The typeface is also commonly seen on the New York Port Authority signage. Choosing a face that was so regularly used on the streets made his campaign more relatable, while still coming across as modern. Originally the Obama campaign was using Perpetua – it wasn’t until their team brought in John Slabyk and Scott Thomas that they switched to Gotham, a design from the American type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

And that brings us up to this year’s election. President Obama’s campaign has stuck with Gotham (and Sentinel here and there), but threw in a twist. They asked H&FJ to add serifs to Gotham, for solidity and firmness. And in a rare case of similarities in candidates, Mitt Romney’s team also turned to Hoefler & Frere-Jones. The Romney campaign uses two different typefaces, Whitney and Mercury Display. Whitney is a clean san-serif originally designed for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Mercury Display is the serif face used by the Romney campaign, which H&FJ describes as “spirited, subtle, ferocious.” It was originally designed for Esquire magazine, which seems appropriate as the Obama campaign’s cornerstone typeface Gotham was originally commissioned by GQ.

We love talking design, but tomorrow it’s all about you exercising your right to vote. We’ll see you at the polls!

What do you think of the campaign’s design choices? If you were running a campaign, what typeface would you use to represent yourself?


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