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The typography of politics

A reader alerts me to that rarity: an interesting article in the London Evening Standard.

Londoner’s Diary notes:

Simon Garfield, author of a book on fonts entitled Just My Type, notes that Barack Obama’s success was connected to his choice of letter style. Obama’s campaign used a new typeface called Gotham for the 2008 US election campaign. His challenger John McCain used Optima, often used in branded goods. “That was never going to work as it reminded people of the hygiene aisle in supermarkets.” Garfield noted that Obama’s choice of Gotham has caught on. “I can prove it was a success,” said Garfield. “Because Sarah Palin is using it.”

Well, I will put aside Garfield’s dubious claim that “Obama’s success was connected to his choice of letter style”, other than to note that many of the world’s present and most expensive ills and misunderstandings are due to commentators who wilfully, and often mendaciously, ignore that correlation does not equal causation (yes, I talking about you, George Monbiot. And you, Polly Toynbee. And you, Johann Hari. And you, the UN IPCC).

But as a saddo who loves typography and is a great collector of fonts, I was struck by Garfield’s analogy. Indeed, I can see it opening up an exciting new line of employment, with politicians hiring their own “Typography Special Advisors” to tell them when it is demographically advisable to use Comic Sans, or when a prevalence of ABs demands the use of serif fixed-width uppercase. In these times, anything which creates jobs is to be welcomed, no matter how mind-numbingly useless.

Londoner’s Diary didn’t supply samples of the two fonts used in the US elections. Here’s Gotham, a comparatively new font:

Gotham Bold typeface

Gotham Bold: The typeface of Hopey-Change

Obama poster

Obama: Going gotham

Optima is a font I’ve always had a liking for: it has a certain formality loosened slightly by jauntiness, like that black-sheep uncle who attends a wedding in full morning suit, but murmurs suggestive jokes about the bride, the groom, the vicar and most of the principal guests in your ear throughout the service.

Despite what Garfield maintains, a search of McCain’s campaign posters only turned up a couple of examples of the use of Optima, so I’m not convinced it was ever adopted as his “official” typeface in quite the same way Gotham was Obama’s:

McCain-Palin election poster

McCain and Palin go for the Optima

It’s a friendly, self-assured font, but not exactly one that exudes gravitas or authority. In the US, where they seem to elect everyone who claims a wage from the public purse, it would probably just the ticket for a candidate for the local dog-catcher, but not really the stuff for a presidential wannabe.

But I started thinking: what would be the typefaces best suited to our own political leaders?

Lib Dems: Everything they're Cracked up to be

Nick Clegg: Well, given he’s trying to hold together a party that splinters faster than a pinetree struck by lightning, what else could it be than Cracked?

Ed Miliband: The Labour leader’s perennial wide-eyed air of Year 7 ingenuousness immediately makes me think he could probably do with keeping within the straight and narrow, hence the choice of Schoolhouse Printed A.

Stay within the rules, Ed

David Cameron: I couldn’t find quite the right font for DC, so I had to fiddle around with an existing one (Apple Chancery) to come up with one that I call Red Rag To A Bullingdon. It’s posh, it’s expansive, it’s rosy-cheeked, but it does lean rather worryingly to the left:

Here you are, Dave, your very own font

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