After graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Eric Ziminsky came close to using his design talents to sell expensive wristwatches. But before the commercial doors opened, he landed a job at the DNC and started on a journey that would also see him work on two presidentials and a White House transition team over the past five years.
C&E: You were the first in-house designer hired on Elizabeth Warren’s presidential, tell us about that.
Ziminsky: I started in February . At the time, they were working with Blue State and had a team of three creatives. They made the initial branding for Sen. Warren, so I had an excellent base to work off. Flushing out more online collateral that played more with brand guidelines, the creative became more dynamic. We also noticed our supporters gravitated towards Liberty Green, so we shifted that to our primary color. Eventually, we had around 11 designers on the primary campaign. We made a lot of good stuff: calculators, infographics to explain policy, the Billionaire Tears mug.
C&E: And then you went to Biden?
Ziminsky: Yes! We ended up with 24 designers and project managers led by Robyn Kanner and Carahna Magwood — all remote. It was such a big team. We used Figma for the majority of our work to make real-time design edits and collaboration easier. For folks who aren’t familiar with the program, it’s like Google Docs for designers.
C&E: What’s the best use of a designer’s time on a campaign?
Ziminsky: I wouldn’t say merch, per se, because the campaign manager is going to ask, ‘how much money is this going to bring in? How many votes is this going to bring in?’ And it’s hard to estimate. Generally, I think some digital collateral, like social graphics, won’t be helpful either. I can make a quote graphic, and it might only get five likes. I think it’s the website, how can you optimize a website to recruit volunteers and solicit donations?
And I love merch, don’t get me wrong. But I can make all this great stuff, and if it doesn’t sell, then OK. Web products are going to be the essential thing that you can focus on.
C&E: How do you balance client feedback with your own instincts?
Ziminsky: It requires a lot of trust from either the client or the candidate and vice versa. The client/candidate has a different viewpoint than the designer, which can be valid. But it’s easy to say, ‘I want the AOC logo’ because that’s what they know. There’s merit to it because it’s known as the progressive slant — an identifier of your politics. It isn’t bad, but not every candidate is the same, and it gets harder to distinguish yourself if there’s a crowd of similar logos/brands. You may have the same viewpoints, but your story, background, and voice are entirely different. To me, it’s worth having that conversation. You’re not AOC, Warren, or Biden. Everyone has a different story that they bring to the table, and it’s a designer’s job to help tell that story, which requires trust from all the stakeholders.
C&E: What’s your suggestion for how designers can better get to know a candidate?
Ziminsky: Get out from behind the screen and volunteer, knock on doors, and have conversations with supporters. You’ll get a better sense for how to design for a candidate. On Warren, I was deployed out to Iowa for two weeks because of the caucus, and it was so lovely to see the organizers and supporters on the ground and what drove them. I also got to see what a print piece looks like on a door. ‘So, this is what a mailer looks like on top of 20 others that have the same goal.’
C&E: What’s a common design mistake campaigns make?
Ziminsky: The be all and end all, to me, is accessibility. We still have some people releasing videos without captions. But it’s also more than that like: what color pairings work for text to be legible? Is this text too small on this social graphic? We try to fit so much text on infographics. At the end of the day, if your audience can’t read them, there’s no point. If images don’t have alt text, [screen readers] can’t read them. That image could be a convincing or compelling story, and some people won’t have access to that. Make sure that you have an accessible website because that’s a central hub for your campaign. Accessibility is probably the biggest thing that people don’t consider or forget to.
As you make good hires who have this knowledge, they bring in another viewpoint — we should be adjusting this because X, let us find another way to design this because of Y, etc. It just takes one person to sort of set that chain into motion. I wasn’t the best about accessible design until Raquel Breternitz started as the design director on the Warren campaign, and I’m incredibly thankful for their guidance.