Barack Obama

Design for Obama Revisited

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterWe are less than a year away from electing a new American president, and campaigning is officially underway.  There are so many candidates that I can’t keep up with who is who and how their positions will affect this country in the future.  Most people are introduced to political campaigns by brand communications, namely through posters and logos.

Because there are so many candidates, especially on the Republican side, it is hard to really distinguish their differences on major policy issues and what image they are trying to project.  From a design perspective, none of the visual communications of any of the candidates really stand out, with the exception for one by a Bush.

Jeb Bush has rebranded himself as Jeb! – as if no one will figure out that he is a member of the war criminal Bush family.  I am supporting Hillary, but even her logo leaves much to be desired. Donald Trump, well, of course his brand is his mouth and his hair…

It was around this time eight years ago, when a more inspired collection of political branding came to light with the burgeoning campaign of Barack Obama.  After the disastrous Bush administration, starting from 9/11 to the so-called “War on Terror” to Hurricane Katrina, Americans were in serious need of change, and they saw that change in the junior senator from Illinois.

Graphic designers felt inspired by Obama’s brand of Hope, Change, and Yes We Can.  Taking advantage of this new idea of campaigning on the Internet, suddenly there was a variety of print and web designs being distributed everywhere.  The most famous Obama poster is the above image designed by Shepard Fairey, but there were many other designers from the period who didn’t get the same recognition.  

A collaborative was formed – Design for Obama – in late 2007 by Rhode Island School of Design students Aaron Perry-Zucker and Adam Meyer.  Design for Obama was built to be an online forum where other designers could post their work and download other designers’ work.  Taschen published a beautiful coffee table book about Design for Obama with the help of Spike Lee a few years ago.  

Obama was largely elected thanks to online supporters.  Below is a discussion with Sol Sender and Scott Thomas, creators of the official Obama for America logo and website on how political branding has evolved.

Two Examples of Old Media and New Media

3D rendering of President ObamaThis summer I am teaching classes in web design, programming and entrepreneurship to a group of teenagers as part of a STEM empowerment program.  Last Thursday in my weekly class I showed them the videos below, which showcases examples of how technology is all about your creativity.

The saying goes what is old is new again, and that is certainly the case with Tufts University computer engineer Chris Gregg, who decided he wanted to transform his vintage 1960s Smith Corona electric typewriter into a printer that could be controlled by his computer.

The Smithsonian Museum created a 3D printed portrait of President Obama a few months ago. It is the first bust of a head of state created using 3D rendering. Pretty cool stuff!


A Few Thoughts on President Obama’s Community College Plan

President Obama Community Colleges
Last week President Obama announced that he wanted to make the nation’s community college system free of charge to students.  Under his not-so-detailed-yet plan, $60 billion will be spent over the next 10 years to make this possible.  I already have a bachelor’s degree, but I went back to school at my local community college recently to get certification in web development and programming.

Going back to school after being out for so many years can be daunting, but I had a great experience.  There are many things to like about community colleges; they are inexpensive, you don’t feel like the oldest person in the classroom and there is a lot of academic support.  Many of the teachers at community colleges do everything to help you succeed.

While I think the president’s plan so far is ambitious and promising, I also have a lot of questions that I hope he will address during his State of the Union next week.

Class issues? – Nine million students will save money from this proposed plan; however, middle class students will most likely benefit, since low income students already have their tuition covered by the Pell Grant.  Maybe the money should be given to low income students who matriculate to a 4-year public college or university if tuition exceeds the Pell Grant and maintain a certain GPA.  Speaking of which…

Higher GPA, More $$$? – Obama’s plan proposes that community college students can retain free tuition if they have a 2.5 GPA, or a ‘B’ average.  I think money should be given on a progressive scale.  If you have a 4.0 GPA, you get full free tuition.  A 2.5 GPA would be half or three quarters payment for tuition.  I think incentives systems force students to achieve more by thinking about the value of their education.

First time, and second time around? – Most scholarships and grants, including the Pell Grant, are geared towards first time college students fresh out of high school.  There are a growing number of people who may already have bachelor’s or master’s degrees, but due to the changing economy or layoffs, have to go back to school and retrain in a new field.  There should be money for those who have been affected by the recession to help them get back on their feet.

Support high demand careers – It seems like Obama’s proposal supports students majoring in all subjects.  However, the country is lacking in graduating students who are pursuing in-demand careers in STEM and this is becoming more obvious everyday in the global economy.  Priority should be given to students majoring in fields that are actually in-demand and hiring right now.

Zadie Smith: Life After

British author Zadie Smith became an instant literary success upon the publication of her first book White Teeth in 2000.  The novel is a semi-autobiographical tale about living in London’s new multicultural landscape.  Many of her subsequent books including her latest work NW examine the intersection of race, class and identity.  In the 13 years since White Teeth’s publication, racial politics and the publishing world have evolved tremendously.  Recently, she came to Boston to discuss life in Obama’s America and why writing online is the new normal.

Smith has been a tenured creative writing professor at New York University for the last three years.  It was announced last year that her third book On Beauty will be adapted into a film and the BBC film adaptation of White Teeth has finally been put out on DVD and online streaming formats.  The Internet and media have made seismic shifts in the way the written word is shared with readers.

Like many of her contemporaries, Smith contemplates why she should continue to write in the digital age.  Writers not only have to contend with book reviewers at major newspapers and magazines, but also with social media critics, as well as have to fight copyright infringement to protect their work online.  She says today there is no difference between fake and real writers, as anyone now can be considered a published writer with the click of a mouse.

“Some might say it is harder to write now than it was years ago,” Smith said.  “How will writers be paid online? I have no idea.”

Maybe a culture tax she suggested.

However, she also says that the Web can be a great place for writers too.  She spends a lot of time reading blogs, and not just literary blogs, but a lot of the “trashy blogs” the rest of us read.  Writing online has also created a new intimacy with her readers that has helped inform her writing.  But she is still a fan of the printed, written word.  Smith says she owns over 10,000 books by authors ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to Zora Neale Hurston to Jean-Paul Sartre.  While many of the books are used as teaching aides, she also enjoys casual reading.

Smith never expected to become a writer, but has been an avid reader since she was a child.  She seriously considered becoming an actress at one point, but writing eventually became her true calling while attending Cambridge.  The only real writing training she had came from reading other books and having her work critiqued by her classmates.  Smith only wrote three and a half essays while in university, but those essays became the impetus for White Teeth.

While a great deal of that book came out of many hours of research at libraries, White Teeth is based on many aspects of her own life.  Born in North London to a black Jamaican mother and white British father, identity politics is part of her everyday life.

Smith said before a crowd Wednesday night at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that she has many identities including being a liberal, feminist, black woman and British.

She also identifies with President Barack Obama’s multicultural background and his gift of mimicry.  Smith wrote this about Obama in 2008:

“Obama can do young Jewish male, black old lady from the South Side, white woman from Kansas, Kenyan elders, white Harvard nerds, black Columbia nerds, activist women, churchmen, security guards, bank tellers, and even a British man called Mr. Wilkerson, who on a starry night on safari says credibly British things like: ‘I believe that’s the Milky Way.’ This new president doesn’t just speak for his people. He can speak them.”

Smith says that she didn’t watch Obama’s second inauguration, as she doesn’t own a television and she is not into the “pomp and circumstance” of such occasions.  But she was pleased Obama mentioned climate change in his inaugural speech, since she lives at the tip of Manhattan – ground zero for Hurricane Sandy.

As for her other identity as a writer, she will continue to do that, even as the Internet reinvents content distribution.

“Why I write? Because I am a writer,” she said.