Webstock: Branding a President - the art of 'gut feeling' design

Scott Thomas was the Design Director of the historic Obama Presidential campaign.

In his presentation at Webstock he explained the website design factors that helped Barack Obama win the office of President of the USA.

According to Thomas, the original website was pretty similar to the site for any other candidate. What that meant was it was a mishmash of fonts and colours providing mixed messages about the campaign and the candidate.

What the web and print teams wanted to do was promote images of hope, consistency, stability and balance. They also wanted to make supporters feel involved.

How they achieved those aims was ultimately by careful design, and by analysing visitor statistics.

They soon ditched the multiple shades of blue in the original site, replacing them with one shade of blue used in all materials, whether in print or on the web. Even the stripes on Obama's tie matched the blue with red accents used in campaign materials.

The same with the fonts: the team carefully chose a font that 'felt' American, rather than the previous 'British' font. Then they made sure to use the same font across all their banners and posters.

Even signs that appeared in the background when Obama was speaking on his campaign used the same fonts and colours.

These subtle design touches reinforced feelings of stability and consistency.

But another part of the strategy was to make the campaign not about Obama, but about the American people. A fundamental goal was to get people involved. The team wanted to emphasise "We" not "He".

The team supported the supporters. They made available images for supporters to download and use in their own signs, posters and buttons.

The Obama campaign engaged with social networks of all kinds. Under the heading Obama Everywhere they linked to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr and a dozen other social media sites. They blogged up to 40 times a day, and sent daily messages to a mailing list for supporters.

The team wanted to be sure that the campaign wasn't at the mercy of media organisations that might choose to show only extracts from campaign speeches. Every single video of Obama's speeches went on the site, in full.

They also put analytics at the centre of the campaign. At any time they could assess whether a one column or a two column page was more successful, for example, whether a green or red button worked better.

As Thomas explained it though, the fundamentals of the website were dynamic, sometimes held together by 'duct tape'. He said of the site "We were truly building an airplane ... while in flight."

While the website structure may have been shaky, the outcome of the strategy has been clear. The team wanted to build loyalty and activate participation, and they achieved their goals.

Thomas explained "Branding is a gut feeling". The team built a consistent brand, working towards explicit goals to create feelings. It sure looks like it worked.

- Miraz Jordan on Scott Thomas' presentation 'Web design that grabs people' at the Webstock conference.

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