Designing a sustainable election campaign

Designers can be the key decision-makers when it comes to sourcing printers and suppliers because clients trust our recommendations. We also have a unique role in advocating that clients’ materials be accessible to everyone and authentically represent diverse audiences. We examine how these factors play a role in a sustainable election campaign.

When Tony Valente embarked on his second attempt at being elected to North Vancouver City Council, I recommended starting from scratch with a direction informed by a new brief and up-to-date brand characteristics. With his campaign team, I set out to create something completely different that was authentic, bold and presented Tony as an approachable and personable candidate. The campaign needed to engage the under-represented 18-to-35 demographic with fresh, punchy and lively materials, while also appealing to the cohort of seniors who make up most of the voting public in typical municipal elections.

A friendly and vibrant colour palette, inspired by an activated alley in the city, perfectly represented Tony’s personality. Inviting typography and photography reinforced a positive and approachable candidate image. These elements were applied across his campaign materials, which included a custom website, brochures, signage, car wrap, stickers, t-shirt and social media graphics.

Website homepage

I used the WebAIM colour contrast checker to determine which colour combinations for type treatments would be most accessible to those with visual disabilities and to inform tweaks to ensure optimal contrast. This was then applied to the website which incorporated other best practices such as labels for standalone icons — to help people using screen readers — and mobile optimization for touch navigation and font size.

For street and apartment signage I chose yellow as it is the first colour the eye sees, with dark purple for good contrast. In a torrent of mainly blue and green signage, Tony's vivid, uncluttered sign stood apart. This design choice also served to reduce the number of signs needed, contributing to a more environmentally and economically sustainable campaign. Tony was the only candidate with signs in multiple languages, including the Squamish Nation’s language, a strategy I recommended given his commitment to representing a diverse community. I felt it important to be inclusive in our material (some of the website content was translated into Farsi), but I do acknowledge that it was a small step in that direction.

Signage, brochure, t-shirt and car wrap
Photo credits: Heather Drugge (car wrap), Dan Campbell (t-shirts)

For the main brochure, we weighed our options for low-impact printing. We settled for a middle-ground option due to our limited budget. The brochure was printed locally, in small volumes as needed, on Sugar Sheet, a paper derived from the waste product of sugar cane production, which has a smaller environmental impact than wood pulp paper.

We also sourced the most environmentally-friendly t-shirt printing service that we could find in the city. Unfortunately, while we had carefully chosen the advertised "made in North America" t-shirts, these turned out to be made in Central America where the reality of labour and environmental conditions vary between media reports and company statements. This illustrates how important it is to do research before placing an order. Choosing to source through an ethical supplier like FairWare or other B Corps is the better option.

Tony was elected to North Vancouver City Council in November 2018. Of course design alone can’t swing an election, but given the glowing feedback from the public on the design and photography, I feel that my work played an important part in making Tony’s campaign a success.

Erika Rathje CGD runs a social impact-based design and web development practice, working primarily with non-profits and social ventures. She has been a member of the National Sustainability Committee since 2013.