The Art of Election Posters

The general election is over at last, and the country has discovered the cathartic satisfaction of kicking Fianna Fáil in the balls – it’s pretty bloody satisfying, as it turns out. Less satisfying has been the standard of election posters on every pole and post in the country, the ubiquitous faces staring out at us, pleading to be loved, or at least tolerated enough to get a high preference . They’re like previously anonymous neighbours who suddenly want to be your friend.

I might be more inclined to be friendly if these posters showed any sense of good taste, but on the whole they’re on the garish side. I live and voted in Dublin South East, and it’s fair to say only a handful of these things could be described as showing any sense of good design. Here’s a party apolitical critique on a few of them…

Enda Kenny, Fine Gael

I suspect Enda Kenny’s squinty-eyed, clenched-jaw thing, a kind of amateur-drama “Dirty Harry” Callahan shtick, is going to define his leadership – any hint of backbench unrest, and he’ll be emphatically demanding to know which punk feels lucky. The Kenny posters were a pretty good example of this, and the rest of the design felt just as forced: a heavy sans serif font with some odd little flourishes; that peculiar ninja star that looks like an 80s Olympics icon; the monochrome stock photo of clean-cut, manically grinning models. That photo is supposed to emphasise his leadership skills, I suppose, but none of those models look remotely Irish, never mind like Fine Gael members, and one of them lurks behind Kenny’s left shoulder, as if he’s about to whisper soundbites in his ear. Classic soundbites like “Join us at doubleyoo doubleyoo doubleyoo dot finegael dot com”.

Eamon Gilmore, Labour

Unsurprisingly, Labour’s material was among the best designed out there – simple, elegant, clean. The upward-rising bottom border under Eamon Gilmore, an optimistic swoosh from left to right, is a subtle cue that these guys are going to make things better, like charts of increasing GDP, life expectancy, and, well, emigration. Is that background, all green fields and blue skies, an attempt to distract from Labour’s overwhelmingly urban appeal? The overall effect is sturdy if dull, like our new government, probably.

Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil

How do you put lipstick on a decrepit old pig? You pretend it’s an entirely different, nubile young pig, that’s how. Micheál Martin’s poster is an astonishingly mendacious piece of propaganda – after what Fianna Fáil has done to the country, about the only reasonable tagline would have been “Real sorry, Better get our coats”. But apparently they had a great plan all along, the cads. And now we’ll never know what that better future might have been. I’m sure the electorate won’t be regretting that on their deathbeds, though.

John Gormley, Greens

You’d imagine a political party named after a colour would be careful not to hire a colour-blind designer, but nothing else can explain this lurid monstrosity. Is John Gormley’s shiny forehead supposed to be complemented by that shocking pink? They go for a similar upward swoosh effect to Labour, but bang a skewed Vote No 1 box over it, purple this time, somewhat ruining the effect. About the best thing about the Green posters was the nicely rounded corners, but rounded corners aren’t a vote-getter, obviously. The lack of good taste and the lack of seats are strongly correlated, as it turns out.

Ruairí Quinn, Labour

Labour’s candidate posters were in the same mould as Gilmore’s, but the red-fringed border pushes Ruairí Quinn way up this poster, with nearly half its space given over to the words “Ruairí Quinn Labour”, giving it a slightly lopsided balance. No green fields or motivated teams to dress up the background, oh no, and I kept being distracted by the relatively skinny “U” and “I” in Quinn, but that’s possibly more due to my astigmatism.

Eoghan Murphy, Fine Gael

My, young Eoghan Murphy looks like a nice young accountant/solicitor/bank teller in this cookie cutter Fine Gael poster. His tie goes so well with that bottom-of-the-poster gold, while his boundless optimism goes so well with those fluffy clouds. Right?

Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael

Lucinda Creighton’s main poster was just like Murphy’s but she got these diamond signs dotted around the place too, with one-word summaries of her most admirable qualities. No mention of Creighton anywhere on these ones, just the familiar Lucinda, which suggests that Creighton considers herself the Madonna of Irish politics.

Chris Andrews, Fianna Fáil

I’m sure Chris Andrews was dismayed at the rule that said the name of his party had to appear on his posters, but yep, squint and you can see Fianna Fáil on there. Looks nothing like the Micheál Martin poster, though, with no talk of plans or the future. At least Andrews is concerned with employment in the area. His employment, mind. He’s not working for us anymore, needless to say.

Ruadhán MacAodhain, Sinn Féin

If there was an award for the most radically different campaign poster in the election, Ruadhán MacAodháin’s second effort would win it. His first was a conventional Sinn Féin poster, all green, white, orange and patriotism, but this one is profoundly odd – is it going for a street-art aesthetic? A friend suggested it was like the rotoscoping effect from Waking Life, but while the portrait is actually quite eye-catching, what in the name of Republican politics is that black triangle in the bottom-right corner about? An inexplicable design choice. There’s no award for the most radically different campaign poster, by the way.

Dylan Haskins

This poster was the subject of much discussion when it started popping up around Dublin city centre a few weeks back, but more for Dylan Haskins’ prepubuscent face than anything else. For a candidate who was loudly celebrated by every hipster in Dublin, this effort was disappointingly bland, displaying none of the creativity and confidence that marked out his excellent campaign video. His name just kind of sits at the bottom of the poster,  heavily anchoring it rather than lifting the image, and the placement of his cri de coeur, “It Starts Here”, is quite distracting, sitting over his forehead as if it’s missing a speech bubble. All that said, have a funny feeling we’ll be seeing this poster for years to come as Haskins grows up – doubtless he’ll be playing a part in Irish public life for many years.

Paul Sommerville

Minimalism is a lot more than stripping away elements to achieve the perfect blend of functionality and form – there are few more minimalist posters than indie candidate Sommerville, but the final effort isn’t exactly the election equivalent of a piece of Swedish-designed furniture. The colours, a pink-puce combo, can’t be ignored, but neither do they suggest electoral seriousness, a pity considering Sommerville’s calibre.  The portrait, meanwhile, resembles that of a supermarket manager – pleasantly smiling, shoulders angled, fringe tousled. The burghers of Dublin South East didn’t buy it.

Mannix Flynn

Well this is just lovely – these are the same posters Mannix Flynn used when getting elected to Dublin City Council in 2009, and it was nice to see them back on the streets, this time with added bow in the bottom-right corner. There’s a pleasing retro-aesthetic to these posters, a subtly nostalgic quality that complements Flynn’s earnest, old-fashioned face. If you imagine Bill Murray’s face here instead of Flynn’s, you have the plot of the next Wes Anderson movie, a kind of political Steve Zissou, whimsically exploring Dublin’s south inner city. The rest of Flynn’s campaign literature was just as well-designed, from his flyers to his website, Flynn will continue to be an independent voice in the city, but hopefully he won’t be the only person paying attention to good design.

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