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Local ElectionsSeptember 8, 2019

Face, name, tick: An analysis of NZ’s good, bad, and very bad election hoardings

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This year’s crop of local election signs range from the inspired to the utterly terrifying. Professional illustrator Toby Morris delivers his analysis of the best and worst designs.

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.

Faces, faces everywhere. Big names, at least in terms of font size. Ticks galore. Yes, it’s local body election time again, where thousands of would-be mayors and council and local board hopefuls plaster their signs along the edges of parks and busy intersections all around the country.

Other people more qualified than me will talk about their policies, but today I’m here to review their hoardings. Design won’t tell us everything we need to know (and seriously, don’t choose who to vote for based on this), but it does tell us something about how they see themselves, how they want us to see them, how competent they are, how seriously they take the job, and how attentive they are at looking after the details. I’ve taken some photos around Auckland where I’m based, and helpful Spinoff readers have sent some examples of notable or interesting examples from the rest of the country. I’m sure there’ll be hundreds more we missed, but we can’t review every hoarding. Unfortunately.


Group hoardings in Auckland. Photo: Toby Morris

These group shots are the nuts and bolts of election hoardings. The bread in the sandwich. There are a million of these up and down New Zealand with slightly varying designs, so I won’t try to cover them all, but the trick with these is to read between the lines of the templates for clues.

In Auckland, for example, C+R teams look business-like and capable. Sometimes they’re next to boats, usually they’re all in business suits. The blue is a clue here folks. City Vision have white backgrounds that look clean and non-threatening, and a more diverse range of candidates. Again the green and red logo is a clue.

If all else fails with these ones, imagine they’re a hot new group about to drop a fresh album. Would you listen to it?

John Tamihere and the backwards French flag. Photo: Toby Morris

John Tamihere’s signs are pretty classic, traditional work: solid and functional if slightly unspectacular. The font is Gotham or a very similar rip off – first made popular in political campaigning by Obama in ’08 (RIP Hope). Gotham is popular because it’s sturdy and dependable, but still has warmth. It’s been used so much that at this point it’s ubiquitous. It still works but it’s a bit generic. The photo is effective though – he looks confident and strong.

Where this gets slightly interesting is the attempt in the background to portray himself as a man of the people above the left/right fray, with his half red (on the left, geddit?) and half blue (right) background. Nice idea, but what it actually ends up looking like is a backwards French flag, or a poster for Les Miserables. And maybe that’s somewhat fitting – it’s important to remember that these hoardings only tell you so much, and when you think about his unworkable policies, and remember his track record of being sexist, homophobic and terrible to cats, you might think these signs are slightly less Les Miserables and a bit more just plain miserable.

Phil Goff’s signs, v1 (the morning after a big storm, hence the droop). Photo: Toby Morris

Sssh… can you hear something? Is it the voice of a teeny tiny man politely suggesting he wouldn’t mind being elected mayor again if that’s okay with everyone? And can anyone read his name? I didn’t bring my glasses.

Graphic designers talk a lot about hierarchy of elements. Basically, you need to work out what you want people to see first (biggest), then second (second biggest), then third, fourth etc. Usually that’s a big headline, a fairly big image, a logo, then some smaller details. It’s Design 101. Very simple stuff. I can see what Goff’s team have tried to do here. It’s an ambitious attempt to make Auckland the hero rather than Goff – an attempt to break out of the monotony of the endless boring hoarding template by looking clean, positive and modern. There’s also a desire to sidestep red/blue party baggage, but (and it’s a massive but) they’ve gotten a bit ahead of themselves and forgotten these signs’ most basic function. They still look great – the type is modern and smart, the photography is bright and beautiful – but the job is to put Goff in people’s minds. At best, if people even spot the teeny mini-man in the corner, they make him look small and shy, and at worst, people just miss him altogether.

The view driving down New North Rd. Spot Phil (spoiler: you can’t). Photo: Toby Morris

In some instances, you literally can’t see him. For example, there’s a billboard right above John Tamihere’s campaign HQ, which is a genius flex, but as cars drive towards it down New North Rd the placement of mini-Goff in the far corner means you don’t see him until you’re very close, and the headline is way too long to read from a moving car.

Phil Goff’s signs v2. Photo: Twitter

The breaking news though, to be fair, is that more recent signs popping up seem to have rectified this, opting for a simpler clearer and much more effective layout. A lesson learned I guess.

Ted is watching, watching us all. Photos: Supplied

Where do you start with Ted? Is it accidentally making the hoardings portrait, not landscape? Is it getting large photos printed up, but forgetting to put any text on them? Is it realising both those mistakes and realising they you’re going to hand paint on your name, and then choosing to do so in a dripping slasher film style that feels more nightmare than mayor?

The cherry on top is the choice of photo. Ted squints out at us, confused and mildly upset. His eyes say “what the hell is going on?” and we have no answer. The rumour is if you say Ted Johnston three times into the mirror he’ll appear and slash something. Will it be rates, or your neck? I’m too scared to find out.

Best in the west. Photos: Supplied

Out west they do things differently, thank god, and no one is standing out like Dillon Tooth. There’s a fairly long list of criteria you want to see in a mayor, but for local boards, let’s be honest, you’re really just asking for the person to be legit (ie. not another in the endless stream of business people in it to protect their own business interests), and have some passion. Dillon’s signs are all one-of-a-kind designs, hand-painted by his partner Esther. Legit? Tick. Is he keen? Tick. These are overloaded with character and personality and I love them.

Getting stuff done, such as making stylish posters. Photos: Supplied

My other favourite from Auckland are these posters for Pippa Coom. It’s a bold move to only put the first name, and they’re more arty and highbrow than your usual election sign, but they’re bright and fun and will appeal to a certain younger crowd which I’m guessing is the plan.


Louise Hutt’s sign. Photo: Supplied

Among the many bright side effects of the new wave of younger candidates entering local politics is a drastic uptick in the number of candidates who know how to effectively use computers. It’s not always a lot to go on, but one clue design can give you is that someone who puts thought and care into their campaign branding might be the kind of person who puts thought and care into other things too, like, for example, running a city. I don’t know a lot about Louise Hutt, but these designs give the impression she is young and confident and, more importantly, has her shit together and has some ideas. Millennial salmon pink is a bold choice, and the typography verges on being slightly fanciful when you’d maybe want to suggest solid and dependable, but overall it stands out as feeling new and young and fresh.

(Full disclosure: Louise Hutt has in the past contributed articles to The Spinoff)


Classic tick. Words. Bullet Points. Snazzy jacket. Photo: Supplied

Are we thinking Mr Macpherson is suggesting he’ll bring more reform, more rates, more debt and more waste? Or that he wants less reform, rates, debt and waste? So, no change at all, but also no debt or waste, suggesting everything is fine? Or is this a shopping list?

Pro-tip: don’t be confusing.

Hawke’s Bay

Kirsten Wise’s sign. Photo: Supplied

Here’s another thing about design -–good design has to allow for context. The right design for the right job, and the right place. The photography and typography here are nicely done and would fit beautifully on a food ad, a Netflix menu or the cover of a novel, but they look slightly out of place in an election. Overall they almost work, but not quite. The white blur above the headline is distracting, and the typography is too intimate and relaxed. Sometimes breaking the rules is good, but it’s a fine line.

Cats and dogs! Cats and dogs! Please! Photos: Supplied

Speaking of breaking the rules, these signs are on their own planet, and that’s great. According to RNZ senior reporter Anusha Bradley, who sent me these, when Napier City Councillor Richard McGrath was asked why he used kittens, he said: “who wants to see another suit-wearing councillor on a billboard?”

It’s a fantastic point. Saying ‘please’ on the sign is pretty sweet too.

FOSS. Photo: Supplied

This one, for former National MP Craig Foss, is another rule breaker, in the total opposite way. It’s four letters in a brutalist stencilled sans font, minimal to the extreme. No photo, no first name, no slogan or policies, no indication of what he is running for or even that the sign is connected to the election at all. In a way, it’s genius – if there’s one simple thing you want people to remember, then cut out all the other crap and just say that. FOSS FOSS FOSS.


Please don’t hurt ’em Tina. Photo: Supplied

Politics is a battle and Tina Nixon isn’t afraid to go in armed. There’s a lot going on here: even on top of the pun, the wild eyes and the inherently violent threat of the chainsaw idea, there’s the, um, position of it too. The fonts are tidy but slightly bland, and the desaturated colours feel more scandi-noir than community positivity, but hell, the thing is memorable, different and shows a sense of humour at least. Incredible work.

LOL – lovely original language. Photo: Supplied

While some might say comedy and local body politics don’t mix well, there’s another ancient saying that says anytime you can slip WTF, FFS and FTP onto a public sign is a win. The fake graffiti style is a bit school disco 1997, and the faded out shoulder is a bit ropey, but I call this a win for Ronald.


Solid work. Photo: Supplied

All jokes aside, after criticising and/or ironically praising all of the above, you might be wondering what an effective design should look like. In total seriousness, this effort for Victoria Kaye-Simmons in Horowhenua is about as good an example as you’d hope to see of how to do it right. The layout is clearly organised and easy to read. The text is clear, strong and to the point. The typography and the photo are well executed – the vibe is smart and capable, but still with character and personality. Hands on hips is an underrated election pose too I reckon. It says ‘let’s get working’ and ‘OK Michael, my turn now’.

Wellington/Hutt Valley

What on earth are you playing at Ray? Photos: Supplied

This, on the other hand, for incumbent Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace, is total amateur hour. The layout is a mad jumble, the generic default font looks like it has been thought about for a total of four seconds, and the whole thing looks like it’s been created in Microsoft Word. Luckily for us, Ray hasn’t stopped there. He’s also using the kind of roadside light up sign that’d usually indicate roadworks or a flood, and you might even assume is owned by the council. Is this legal? It seems fishy to me.

Out-of-the-box effort. Photos: Twitter, @whatthesamhall

Also in the mighty Hutt, several readers sent us pictures of Brady Dyer’s life-size cutout roadside signs. This is impressive – literally thinking outside the square. They’re well executed with tidy design and a good idea that’s unique and memorable and stands out from the crowd. Only problem is, as several readers also noted, by night they’re absolutely terrifying. Please don’t give anyone a heart attack Brady.

Sam With The Man Plan, holding the Man Plan. Photo: Supplied

The! There’s a lot to admire here, from the mad type layout (The!) to the frazzled photo, to the pixelated style. Best of all, this does a great job of creating intrigue and mystery. What exactly does Sam With The Man Plan’s Man Plan involve? From the photo, it looks like the plan might be only two sentences long. I like to think he’s calling for a low resolution revolution.


Good times, Rainbow Magic. Photo: Supplied

These are cool! Rachel Sanson in Nelson gets around the colour connotations puzzle by making posters in all colours, and along the way comes up with one of the best designed posters you’ll see. The handwritten name is a smart shortcut to communicating personality and intimacy that I’m surprised you don’t see more often, and overall the design is well composed with a great photo. Again, we see the ‘let’s not muck around’ hands on hips – I told you it was underrated.


Lianne with the plan? Photo: Supplied

I don’t know much about Christchurch local politics but I get the impression Lianne Dalziel is pretty firmly established as mayor. These posters give off a confident, comfortable vibe like she isn’t too stressed about it. The typography is pretty run of the mill, but of interest is her campaign logo in the corner – the lower case lianne is surprisingly casual and informal, with an L that looks alarmingly like a learner driver sign. Surely she’s on her restricted by now.


Aaron Hawkins, Marie Laufiso and Scout Barbour-Evans’ signs. Photos: Supplied

My friend James sent me a big set of Dunedin signs, and these are ones that most caught my eye. Aaron Hawkins and Marie Laufiso is the rare example of using straight up political party branding, for better or worse depending on your feelings on the Greens. I think it’s neat and friendly if a little safe, but I really like the very Greens touch of being economical with resources by sharing the sign.

Scout’s sign is another example of doing it right. The politically neutral orange colour is a smart and appealing move and the type choices are modern and pull off the Gotham balance of being both strong and friendly without being Gotham.

Jules Radich (business and casual editions) and Mandy Mayhem-Bullock’s signs. Photos: Supplied

Jules Radich does a subtle and ingenious move I’ve never seen before: work mode and casual mode. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m hoping you see suit-Jules on the way into town in the morning, and chill-Jules on the way home out of town in the evening. Something for everyone.

Mandy Mayhem-Bullock is called Mandy Mayhem-Bullock, so what else do you need to know? I’m into it. Look, this is getting long ok?


Becs Amundsen’s sign. Photo: Supplied

OK, last one. Invercargill has arguably the most famous mayor in New Zealand, so I guess anyone who tries to come for the king better be ready to really shake things up, to mangle a metaphor in the style of Sir Tim Shadbolt. There’s a lot going on here in Becs Amundsen’s poster – several different fonts, more hands on hips and even a splash of teal paint – but the scene stealer is the background. Seriously, what is going there? It looks like she is running some kind of Abu Ghraib torture camp. Is that what she’s planning to do to Sir Tim?

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.

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