Amanda Buck (@mandabuck), graphic designer and letterpress artist, recently concluded her position as a Senior Designer on President Barak Obama’s campaign for reelection. After the campaign successfully wrapped, she took some time to discuss with us her experience working creatively in such a public sphere. Buck’s work and that of her campaign associates can be seen on President Obama’s website, BarackObama.com.
How did you get started professionally in graphic design?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved making things. I took every drawing and painting class I could in high school. And although I entered Ohio State with an undeclared major, I knew I wanted to be in a creative field. Honestly, I didn’t fully understand what graphic design was until it was introduced to me in the fall of freshman year by a few friends in my Scholars Program, which focused on technology and communication. Those folks guided me in successfully applying to the design program. Once I took the first design foundation course, I knew it was where I wanted to be.
I landed my first internship the summer after my sophomore year and started freelancing on a contract basis at a branding firm immediately following graduation. I finished school at a tough time, though. The financial collapse occurred the autumn after graduation, so after that, it wasn’t easy finding a job. But it all worked out fine and maybe even for the better. It afforded me the opportunity to travel and pursue an untraditional path that included co-founding a pie shop/community space operated by designers, and then starting a freelance career, which I was doing up until I started working as a Senior Designer for President Obama’s reelection campaign.
How’d you get the gig working as a designer for the campaign to reelect President Obama? What did you work on during the campaign?
I just happened to be at the right place at the right time! I met someone familiar with my work (from Twitter!) who was already working for the campaign. I expressed interest, she passed my name along, and a couple months later, I was hired to work mainly on information design. But as timelines crunched and the amount of work needed grew, my role expanded to include anything that was in demand: print pieces, signage, Web design, social media share graphics, merchandise, and logos.
Obama’s election campaigns, as a whole, have very much embraced graphic design and data visualization. What do you see as the benefits of this?
Graphic design is a form of visual communication, and the purpose of data visualization is to make complex information easy to understand. There is a lot of communication and complex information in politics, so it’s obvious that campaigns can benefit from the use of beautiful and effective design.
For a long time, graphic design has been an afterthought in political campaigns, an expense worth sacrificing in tight budget conditions. But Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 changed all of that. They proved that design is a powerful tool — one that can coordinate and reinforce the message. And I think the design team proved it once again this election season.
What kind of role, either direct or indirect, do you feel that design had in this recent election?
The design team was responsible for clearly communicating the spirit of the Obama brand — to millions of Americans. Words expressed the core of what we were about, but we were responsible for choosing the appropriate imagery, which would reinforce that content. Our goal was to differentiate ourselves from the other side (and to some extent, from what was seen from the Obama campaign in ‘08) and to look like the organized grassroots campaign we were — one that was refreshing to see and hear from. I think that’s a pretty huge responsibility, and I’m honored to say I had a hand in it!
What was the ideation behind the “Life of Julia” interactive? And what are your thoughts on the Twitter storm (particularly from conservatives) that erupted over the cartoon’s publication?
The idea was simple: to let people see, in a visually compelling and different format, how President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s policies could affect the life of an average, middle-class American woman. The design, policy, and development teams put a lot of effort into it, and we had a lot of fun making it.
The day it went live, with the subsequent Twitter storm and mockery, was actually pretty amazing. I was shocked to see the time some conservatives put into making parody versions. But we were flattered by it all. We drove the news cycle for a day or two! It was definitely surreal to see our work splattered all over the internet and television.
Did you feel more cautious designing pieces that you knew might come under such public scrutiny?
Of course. Public scrutiny is inevitable in a presidential campaign, and everything we designed could potentially be seen by millions of people. I felt the weight of importance of each project and tried my best to just stay focused on the goal of getting the president reelected.
In his speech after winning reelection, President Obama thanked what he called “the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics.” Those are pretty big kudos. Any personal highlights from working on the campaign?
Yeah, that was a moment of pride and happiness, for sure! Personal highlights from the campaign include seeing our work in field offices and LGBT Pride parades in Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin; meeting inspiring volunteers across the country; seeing the “Life of Julia” in a segment on the “Daily Show;” working with the most talented, smart, and creative people; shaking the hand of the First Lady; and hugging the President of the United States.
After your campaign experience, as a designer, do you think you are more or less inclined to produce personal work with a political perspective?
What are your thoughts on the importance of believing in a project? For instance, do you think you would/could have done the same quality of work for the opposing campaign?
Absolutely not! I think it’s really important to believe in, agree with, and/or support the work and client. For me, it gives meaning to my work to believe in what I am doing.
Where do you find your own personal inspiration? And what’s your favorite art to create?
I find my own personal inspiration in many places away from the computer screen. My favorite art to create is letterpress posters using wood type.
What are your plans following Obama’s reelection? And what can we expect from you next?
What’s next? A new website, hopefully soon! I plan to visit my family in Ohio for the holidays and spend some quality time thinking about my next move. I just want to keep working on good design with good people. I’m hopeful that the experience from the campaign will lead to something great.
See more of Buck’s work at AmandaBuck.com.