PART 3: Design in the Election

You Win Some

Recap of the 2015 Canadian election from a communications perspective

Rarely are election campaigns able to push the boundaries of design. Their job is to quickly win the support of the majority. While Obama’s first campaign was new and fresh, there is a huge difference between US elections that run for over a year and our own Canadian election, that at 11 weeks was the longest in Canada’s history since the 1800s. American candidates have time to massage their message and hone it to perfection while Canadians are forced to get right down to business.

Here are a few communication design highlights we noted during the campaign:


In a last ditch effort, the Harper campaign pulled out all the stops with costly front page ads appearing across the country, a week before election day. Their similarity to Elections Canada signage is at best troubling, and harkens back to the Conservatives’ strategic polling station confusion in 2011. Many voters were shaking their heads as they noted signage in yellow and black, a palette voters had not yet been connected to because these are internal and polling station brand colours at Elections Canada.

Elections Canada branding seemed all over the map. Their outward facing communications on TV, online and in all other graphics I found, are burgundy and black. No wonder wayfinding was confusing to some. We’re also wondering if any of the signage was multi-lingual.

photo credit: Crystal Lee



It wasn’t just political campaigns playing with colour. Other organizations such as Friends of CBC ran two impactful ads in October in an effort to promote public funding of the CBC. One ad ran in the Globe and Mail and the other in Quebec’s newspaper Le Devoir

Interestingly, the ads followed the branding of the newspapers themselves as opposed to CBC colours. The ads appeared in the Globe and Mail in red and white and in Le Devoir in blue and white.


Colour branding is important, as we know, and this was not the end of colour confusion. Canada’s beloved and vibrant Hazel McCallion (aka Hurricane Hazel) threw her support behind Justin Trudeau while wearing an orange jacket, completely confusing those who didn’t know her. I recall shaking my head and asking myself, who coached this woman. Why is she wearing NDP orange?


Canadians voted together to remove the Harper government from office using user-generated content. Social media played a meaningful role. Where once ad agencies were called upon to create content, this election citizens posted their own views that spread virally through Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a testament of voter engagement and it’s possible fewer print ads were used as a communication tool during the election, significantly reducing paper usage.

There are some things that don’t change though and that is the need for human interaction. Door knocking remains the most effective way for candidates to gain votes, as do the thousands of phone calls made by volunteers. Trudeau’s last couple of years engaging youth audiences look like they may well have played a role, We’ll have to wait for more voter turnout results.


And lastly, in support of Lego politics, CBC’s Ian Hanomansing invited Dave Meslin from Friends of the Reform Act, himself a supporter of proportional representation, to review how this election would have looked if we used a proportional representation system. What made this special to many of us was his use of coloured Lego, which we felt outdid the awkwardly sophisticated graphic rendering selections forced on Peter Mansbridge during the election coverage. 

As we delve into the next four years, we hope for a new electoral system, which could spur more engaging design in part by encouraging a broader political palette of candidates running for office. We also hope that our new government has a deeper appreciation of the power of communication design and recognizes the need for well-researched, consistent, process-driven branding for Canada for Canada’s 150th in 2017, and beyond.

Watch for our Erika Rathje's article on sustainable gift giving for your ciients, coming soon!

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