05 How design played a vital role in the success of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign

By Editorial Director, Alex Blyth


Last Wednesday evening Red Setter was privileged to join the New York chapter of the AIGA in the main auditorium of the Parsons School of Design to hear the story of the branding of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign.


When in June, Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district covering parts of the Bronx and Queens, she defeated the incumbent Congressman Democratic Caucus Chair, Joe Crowley, and the world’s media described it as the biggest upset in this year’s mid-terms.


When she takes office in January, she will at 29 be the youngest woman to serve in Congress in the history of the United States.


Ocasio-Cortez has already made such an impact around the world that she has become known by the emblematic “AOC”. Yet to Scott and Shaun of design studio Tandem NYC, she’s simply “Sandy”, the sparky, passionate person who used to serve them coffee in their local café, who soon became their friend, and who eventually became by far their most famous client.


Scott Starrett took us on that dizzying journey, and showed us just how the visual identity he, Shaun Gillen, and their one employee, Maria Arenas, created came to fruition and then played a pivotal role in drawing people’s attention to AOC’s name, ideas and appeal.


He set it in the context of other previous campaigns – the bold green of Carter’s campaign, the ground-breaking dual-tone yellow of Jesse Jackson, and of course the iconic Obama posters by Sol Sender. He showed us the Cesar Chavez stamp that provided the inspiration for the three-quarter gaze, and how the 15% sheer with 15% rotation to the wordmarks conveyed the energy of the AOC campaign. He showed us the clever speech bubble devices they used to integrate the Spanish language.


The story hasn’t ended. The Ocasio-Cortez story is surely just beginning, but as for the design collaboration, a movie will launch at Sundance, and Tandem and AOC will meet in January to discuss where next. As Chelsea Atwell, Partner & Creative Director at Zero Studios, wrapped up the talk, Scott left us with the intriguing question: how does the fact she’s now in office affect what was a successful but insurgent visual identity?


Throughout the evening Scott was keen to stress the limits of his craft and that the success of the campaign was down to the candidate – “All of this design – if we hadn’t had a firebrand standing it would have fallen flat,” he admitted.


However, there’s little doubt the brilliant work of Tandem contributed hugely to that success. It was an informative and inspiring talk which highlighted the impact design can have on our politics. On both sides of the Atlantic politics is in urgent need of leadership and inspiration, and this story shows the vital role design can play.


Share This