Jazmine Johnson has been part of the evolution of political design on the left. In 2016, she worked on Tammy Duckworth’s Senate campaign and Hillary for America. Last cycle, a stint helping the Biden for President campaign influenced Johnson’s design work at the DNC.
In an interview with C&E, she talked about how designers work to personalize a candidate, what makes a graphic shareable, and what attracts influencers to political design.
C&E: How do you think about branding a candidate?
Johnson: Thinking back to all of the candidate branding we admired or critiqued, my gripe is that agencies don’t really think intentionally about who they’re branding, they’re just trying to create a brand that looks really cool, and that comes when you’re not spending a lot of time with the candidate. I think having a relationship with the candidate, designers included, is important for creating something authentic. Candidates need to supply themselves to their design teams: show your face and have a presence, even if it’s a quick 10-minute hello in an all-staff meeting. It definitely goes a long way. The more you get to know the candidate, the more opportunity you have to build an identity that’s fully representative of who they are as a person.
C&E: What makes a good shareable graphic?
Johnson: A good sharable graphic is impactful, easy to read, engaging — whether through color, or visual, or language — and has personality. My inspiration came from the sharable infographics and resources circulating on Instagram in summer 2020 and knew this was a lane to reach voters. I was making graphics for influencers in battleground states with a few hundred followers all the way to a few thousand followers, so it was important to create something with a voice. Some of our top-performing graphics included gradients with bold type or fun iconography reminiscent of sticker packs. It was experimental and different, and it worked really well. It invoked this warm feeling. Gradients were huge for us as was using really fun type and using type in a lot of different ways.
C&E: What worked with the influencers the campaign reached out to?
Johnson: In the influencer program, I had a lot of liberty to design outside of the DNC brand, so it allowed me and my team to go crazy with different styles. From there, we gave the influencers the freedom to use our graphics however they liked. Some influencers would post our graphics in their feeds alongside other sharable resources and some influencers would repost our graphics and write these empowering messages and personal stories about the election. It varied. But the one thing we learned early on is that there’s power in autonomy.
On Instagram, we really noticed a trend that people were taking activism into their own hands. The graphics we created were a lot more personalized and designed in a way to capture attention and encourage sharing of the resource. While it was fun to create something that we ourselves would want to share, our mission was to educate folks about the importance of voting. To register to vote, to want to volunteer to spread the word so people understand who they’re voting for. Encouraging people to vote was really the first goal and then turning that vote into [one for] Joe Biden came later.