Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Art of Campaign Signs

If you've seen someone driving around town taking photos of campaign signs, it isn't someone scouting for signs to steal, it's GHPALS members. We don't talk politics at our gatherings, but we recently became interested in the artistic merits of campaign materials and decided to review them like one would art displayed in a gallery. So we took pictures of signs around town, never leaving our cars, and cropped the photos so no one can tell where we found the signs.

Often the signs are grouped together, like the scene below. Usually there isn't much thought given to  aesthetics. If we were arranging the signs, we would have put Mensinger and McCarthy together, put Harper/Mathews to the right on Yes on V, and left Fisler at the end. We'd have put more space between them too. But the central focus of this grouping is YES ON V. We wonder if it was intended to be.

In looking at campaign signs we considered color, line, font and letter case.   The color needs to catch your eye and draw you in to read the letters. The line needs to put those words in the most effective order, usually by putting the important ones in big letters across the middle. The fonts and case chosen can impact the readability of the sign.

The signs we thought the ugliest, and the prettiest, were for Costa Mesa Sanitary District incumbents Ferryman and Perry. We really liked the colors by themselves because they look pretty together. But  these blues are absolutely wrong for the signs. Too hard to read from a distance and impossible in the dark. But Mr. Perry's bold blocky letters have the edge because they are in a lighter color.

Far more effective and attractive is this one for Fred Bockmiller, another incumbent, but for Mesa Consolidated Water District, the providers of clean water to Costa Mesa (the Sanitary District deals with it after it goes down our drains). You can tell immediately who he is, BOCKMILLER, and that he's a candidate for  WATER DISTRICT. The two lines across the sign compliment each other and the sign has real symmetry. Too bad there aren't more of these signs so we could get a better picture; this one's kind of fuzzy.

Blue is the most common color used, and is commonly paired with white or red. But another water district director chose an unusual pairing, almost neon green. Most of us here at GHPALS have no idea what the Municipal Water District is, but after seeing this sign we'd look for her name on the ballot. You remember it because the sign looks so different, though it took us a while to figure out those were water drops and not Christmas ornaments. And the checkmark is just distracting. But the font is nice and clear, very easy to read.

Another water candidate has a confusing sign. The yellow does stand out so we would remember the name. We get that he's an incumbent from the word Re-Elect. But we can't find "Mesa Water Board" on our sample ballot. We found him in the Mesa Consolidated Water District candidates. Bad wording. Bockmiller's sign is far better. The viewer can't help wonder if the guy can't get the name of the place right, why should I vote for him to be on it?

Someone named Worthington is also running for a Water Board, but you can't tell from his sign which one. At least Fisler tells you it's Mesa. Worthington's sign is one of the few that doesn't use any blue, and the shape of his sign makes his name stand out. But the sign looks recycled, like he ran for something else another time, and "Director", and "Water Board", are pasted on over something else. We finally found him in the sample ballots under Mesa Consolidated Water District. He should have stuck to all caps, and we would have put the word "elect" over the "i" in Worthington, replacing the dot.

 The last two candidates for Mesa Consolidated Water District both use blue and white as their central color scheme. Ms Ohlig-Hall adds a dash of red, but from a distance you can't read it says "Re-Elect". Nor can you tell that she's running for what water district she's running for, Mesa or the Municipal Water District. But you can clearly read her sign on Fairview Drive at the 405 from across that wide street. Mr. Temianka's signs are not as clear from a distance; he should have used a bolder font and darker blue. The font isn't right either.

But the majority of signs are for the big issue facing Costa Mesa, approving the draft charter or not. Do we stay a general law city or go off on our own. And the campaigns for City Council divide the candidates into two camps: those that favor the charter and the ones that don't.

Looking at the Yes on the charter candidates first, the most common sign is the 3-M, Yes on V sign. It's orange letters on blue, with that striking white dividing line make it crystal clear this slate of candidates favors the charter and is running as a block.

We found many campaign signs for Colin McCarthy and Steve Mensinger, but none for Gary Monahan. Maybe because the last is a well-known person about town. His name is in the middle on the 3-M sign, like the filling on a sandwich.
Colin McCarthy's blah, but reasonably effective sign makes good use of white letters on a blue background. Highly legible when a car's headlights hit it at night.

Steve Mensinger's is also effective. We liked the read pennant at the top; it makes us remember his first name. Though it is also distracting. We'll remember his first name before his last one. His signs are not all alike. Some of them use a lighter blue.

Three of the anti-charter candidates are also running as a block, and the white lettering on dark blue does make their names stand out. Their signs do not make their position clear on the charter, which is a bit deceptive given their campaign literature (but that's the subject of another post).

We didn't see any signs for Mr. Weitzberg, though there probably are some out there. We did find signs for Sandy Genis and John Stephens. Hers are clear and easy to read, though her first name stands out more than her last name. Those rectangles of dark blue with white lettering draw the eye away from the central message, her last name.

Jon Stephens signs are just plain ugly. That almost neon red almost makes one cringe. The tendency is to turn away from it, not to look at it. And his name fades into the distance because the blue font looks washed out. And what is with that star? Is he running for marshal?
His name should be all uppercase, maybe in white. The Facebook log leaps out at you, while the name is lost.

Whoever designed the Vote No on V signs did a good job. The white letters on the dark red background really stand out. You can easily read it across a wide street. The font has serifs, and in this case it is a bit distracting.

The statewide propositions get some attention too. While we could not get a photo of the Yes on 37 signs that are all over Mother's Market on 19th and Newport, they are similar to the Yes on 35 signs. Light blue and orange. Attractive, but not easy to read at night.

A lot of money is being spent by both the Yes and No sides of Prop 32, but not much on signs in Costa Mesa. We found one Yes sign, and it is a pretty boring blue and white one. It makes the point but unless you get up really close, you'd have no idea what Prop 32 is all about. But then again, you hear so much about it on TV and radio that you can't help knowing. So why waste all that space on the sign? Just make it read "YES on 32."

The sign for "emken for U.S. Senate" was an odd one, in our opinions. Why did this candidate put their name in lowercase letters? It's demeaning, distracting and ugly.

Allan Mansoor's sign is better. You can easily read his name and what he is running for. That's what a sign is supposed to do. Though we might not have picked the baby blue. It gets washed out by the California sun pretty quickly.

The last two signs we spotted was unusual, and wasted. Why did someone put this sign at the far western end of 19th street, just before the river? Costa Mesa is served by Newport Mesa Unified School District, not Santa Ana's.

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