running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

From Bauhaus to Barak

Friday, 14 November 2008

Sticking with posters, it's worth commenting on Barak Obama's campaign, the culmination of which was his historic and thankful election to the White House. With so much money at his disposal, its no wonder the visuals for Obama's rallies, adverts and merchandising have been so good. That kind of money gets you the best designers around. But I just want to focus on one example - Obama's visit to Berlin earlier this year :

Obama Campaign Poster

Various commentators were quick to notice the homage to the New Typography of the Weimar period, and the Bauhaus movement in particular. This sort of imagery inevitably bolstered the Republican murmurings that the Democrats are in fact the Communists, dabbling in the visual propaganda of the Bolshevik era. Leaving aside the obvious shortcomings of an honest Republican education, its clear tha it was a stroke of design genius to instantly signify that here is an American with a global, and specifically European, sensibility and affinity. The bridges that Bush had burned can be mended with nothing more than the right typeface, a bit of art history, and a decent layout.

If we look at the poster juxtaposed to a design from the era, the similarities are obvious. This one, for the 1928 Press Exhibition In Cologne, is by RenĂ¥ Binder and Max Eichheim, and the style features the trademark diagonal sans serif type of the Bauhaus / post-Constructivist era.

But the Obama camp's graphic designers were tasked with making this poster more than just a concession to Europe, they had to it clear that their man isn't straying too far from the US worldview. The evidence is there in the poster. Its a subtle nod to the jazz designs of the early 1960's. If we take a look at John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1964), there's a definite similarity, and the underlying connection the viewer should be making is about black power, committment, innovation, and above all, a modern yet vintage American sensibility.

A Love Supreme

Somehow I don't see Barak wandering about the White House on Sunday morning in his slippers with a cup of coffee and John Coltrane cranked up to 10 on his hi fi, but then that would just be too good to be true.