Font, tick, face, tick: The great 2020 election hoardings design review

In contrast with last year’s often terrifying local election offerings, 2020’s election signage is big on bold colours and simple messaging. Spinoff creative director Toby Morris delivers his analysis of the best and worst designs.

All along suburban fences and major intersections around New Zealand a virus is spreading. Desperate faces splayed out across corflute and wooden frames, calling out vague and indecipherable self help affirmations in the hope of catching our eye. Save me, they say. Make me real, send me to Wellington. Thankfully, you don’t have to look them in the eye, we’ve done it for you.

Yes, it’s time again to review New Zealand’s election hoardings. The fonts, the colours, the slogans, the forced smiles and everything in between. This year most of the parties have one general “party vote” hoarding, and a separate but related template for the candidate ones. I’ll go through the parties one by one, in alphabetical order, and try to not to let my feelings about policies or track records affect my judgement. To be clear, we’re reviewing the designs, not the parties or candidates, and seriously, don’t let this alter your vote.

Act

A group shot! More than one person! (Photo: Toby Morris)

Act has put the party into Act Party, combining the colour scheme of an early 2000s nu-rave band with a clean sans serif font and devil-may-care all lowercase logo. I don’t hate the colours and font choices – it’s bright and feels young and confident, but it’s so colourful that it’s turned the candidates black and white. They recede nervously into the background, wallflowers at their own party.

But the big news is that on the party vote hoardings there are two of them. More than one! Look how happy David Seymour is, he can’t believe it! Brooke Van Velden looks slightly less enthusiastic. Is she sure she wants to sit next to this guy for the next three years?

Lastly, in another new development, they’ve also included a QR code that will apparently tell us the latest updates on something. The QR code is even on a phone, to remind us how QR codes work.

Honestly, points for trying something different, and QR codes are kind of begrudgingly almost sort of nearly back in the public consciousness thanks to the smash hit contact tracing app, but someone didn’t really think this all the way through. As a designer making billboards or hoardings or street posters, you can guarantee that halfway through someone will always ask “but does it makes sense from a moving car?”. And annoyingly, it’s a useful question. If anyone dies in a fiery crash after hanging out a car window trying to scan it, that’s on you Seymour. (Brooke, you are new, you get one free pass).

Slogan check: vague, could be for any party.

Looked at his kingdom he was finally there, that’s how he became the MP for Epsom (Photo: Toby Morris)

The Act candidate posters follow a very similar template, and it works. It’s a nice photo, but again the black and white means his face is the third or fourth thing your eye gets to. With solo Seymour the pink and yellow suddenly takes you back to the unforgettable vision of him twerking in lycra in national TV. On the plus side, the colours also give you some Fresh Prince vibes, which is much cooler than Act has ever actually been.

Green

Simply Green (Photo: Toby Morris)

Simplicity! Clarity! The colour green! If you’re into those, you’ll love this hoarding. This year the Greens have gone for a strong, straightforward approach, with their actual slogan playing second fiddle to a basic call to action command. No photos, no leaders, no decorative elements, just five words (the legal stuff doesn’t count) a tiny version of the logo, and a lot of the colour that is also their name.

I have a theory that design trends are like a pendulum oscillating slowly between states of florid decorative embellished lavishness on one end and spare minimalism on the other. Right now we’ve swung right to the minimal end, and we’re seeing it across all the hoardings this year: no gradients, no sparkles, no drop shadows, no serifs even. Nothing pretty or decorative or “fancy” – just simple humble sans serif fonts, clean flat colours and straight photos. Maybe it’s a looming recession thing. Sensible, sober times.

Of everyone this year, the Green hoarding maybe sums this up best. It’s a probably a bit of missed opportunity to not remind the public who the leaders are, but it’s actually on brand. It’s tote bags, unbranded minimal clothes in sensible breathable fabric, recycled cardboard in your Marie Kondo-ed house. Quality, clarity, no fuss and no frills.

Slogan check: Thinking ahead is very Greens, so it makes sense, but it’s not super inspirational. In other party materials the full slogan is “Think Ahead, Act Now” but I guess you can’t put another party’s name on your hoarding, can you, so they’ve only used the first half here. And put it quite small.

What!? The Greens running candidate campaigns? (Photos: Toby Morris)

Individual Green candidate hoardings are usually a rare sight, but this time in central Auckland we’re seeing two at once. Design wise these are much more conventional, using a full bleed photo and tick icons. Somewhat strangely they’re ever so slightly different (green ticks vs white ticks?) but they’re both well done – nice photos and a clear layout and hierarchy of elements.

I don’t want to dwell on judging photos here too much, but Marama Davidson’s deserves some extra discussion. The formula and style of these photos is normally so rigid and formal that it’s kind of stunning to see her pictured in a family setting. I like it. Quite a lot. More people looking like humans on hoardings please.

Integrity New Zealand

Can you believe it? (Photo: @LachlanForsyth)

Did you know about the Integrity Party? I am a politics nerd and I did not until right now. They seem to be saying growth is equally as important as people which seems odd, but I’m not judging policies here.

The design here is a little sloppy, I have to say – it has a lot of elements and several of them are too small and floating aimlessly.

Slogan check: vague

Labour

A massive part of design is figuring out the hierarchy of elements: basically what you’re trying to say, and in what order. Labour this time has made it absolutely clear they know exactly what their biggest selling point is: We. Have. Jacinda.

Overall, the Labour designs are impressively cohesive as a set, and again we see the same sensible 2020 design trends emerge: leaning heavily into your bold, recognisable colour, sensible if unspectacular sans serif typography and a minimal clear layout that says everything they want it to say (Ardern, red, sensible, friendly, Labour) without cluttering it up with anything else. There’s a very subtle chevron pattern in the background suggesting forwards movement, which is a slight indulgence, but overall the white background feels fresh and clean and positive.

Slogan check: The rare sequel slogan: Let’s Do This II. It’s still vague (moving where? in circles?) but it mostly works.

Remember the prime minister? I am near her! (Photos: Toby Morris)

Honestly, look at the design discipline on show. The candidate templates are identical and carry the exact same message and vibe as the party one. Having PM Ardern on every single one is a remarkable demonstration of her current popularity, and it’s notable that they’ve not only put the candidates so close to Ardern (literally touching!) but that they actually have Ardern in front of the candidate too. That’s wild.

But even beyond that it’s a slick looking set with a lot of details to admire. Look closely at the candidates’ outfits: black, white and red only, not a hair out of place. The balance and sizing of the elements is near perfect on each – not exactly exciting, but extremely professional. Looking at these you get a sense that Labour is a big unified machine right now, the messy Goff/Shearer/Cunliffe/Parker years a distant memory.

One of these things is not like the others (Photo: Toby Morris)

My only gripe here though (sensible 2020 design trends aside) is that the only time they break the template is on the electorate candidate hoarding of Ardern herself. What are we looking at here? Is this Jacinda the leader, or someone hoping to win the seat of Mt Albert? Huge missed opportunity for a classic gag by not putting a second Ardern looking slightly nervous behind the leader in red. It’s not too late, the people would love it.

Māori Party

Photo: Toby Morris

OK, compare this with the Labour candidate ones above and you’ll see what I mean about balance. Same elements, same colours, but this one looks messy and a little more amateur. Maybe it’s the default Windows 95 vibe of the main font, but mostly it’s the hierarchy thing again. Again! What’s the main thing they’re trying to show us first here? The logo? The photo? His name? The slogan? When everything is big, nothing is big.

Slogan check: General consensus around The Spinoff office was that it sounds like a Celine Dion song. And we mostly like Celine Dion.

National

First of all, tip of the hat to National for being this election’s last minute we-need-to-reprint-the-hoardings party. It seems like it has come at great cost to the party (and probably the environment), but they’ve also supported Kiwi businesses and the hoarding printers of the country will be thankful for all the extra work. Very generous of them.

This hoarding is fine. We can argue about the merits of keeping or dropping the Strong Team slogan at a time when your team is very visibly slipping through your fingers like sand, but in terms of design, these are pretty run of the mill but competent. I’d say the slogan could be a touch smaller and the shade of blue a little lighter and cheerier, but you know who it is and what they’re standing for instantly. Again we see all the same design trends – it’s simple, clear design with no decoration or tricks.

Slogan check: The decision to stick with “Strong Team” given the situation is so borderline absurd that it tips into a kind of belligerent stubbornness that’s almost admirable. Aside from that, it’s a bit too long but at least it’s a slogan that actually tells you what they are aiming to do.

National? Brown? Really? (Photos: Toby Morris & Twitter)

Onto the candidate hoardings. The first time I saw one of these I said “woah” out loud like Keanu Reeves. And you thought the Greens’ party vote sign was minimal. No photo, no leaders, no slogan, not even anything to say what electorate the candidate is standing for, just a giant logo, a name and a lot of blue.

In some ways, it’s a really smart, bold move: right now the party name is stronger than the faces of leaders. These are confident and strong – you can read these things from a mile away and on a busy corner with a bunch of hoardings this is probably the one you read first.

The problem is, the photos are on there for a reason: so people can get familiar with a candidate. At times these get so simple that it verges into being confusing and a bit messy. Denise Lee and Melissa Lee are in neighbouring electorates, so they’ve had to put their first names too. And the Brown one for example could be read as a very unlikely slogan rather than a name.

Renegade templates? (Photos: Toby Morris and @whatthesamhall)

The sign that the ultra simple ones above can’t do the whole job is that National candidates still seem to be using a few more traditional hoardings with photos alongside the main ones. Fair enough to use different hoardings for different tasks, but there seem to be several different templates being used, and overall the effect, especially compared to Labour’s cohesive team effort, is that the campaign looks fragmented and messy.

A Good MS (mystery shoulder) (Photo: @zenpeacekeeper)

Speaking of rogue, it’s always fun to see which senior MP refuses to be told what to do and goes completely off-template. Last election it was Labour’s Stuart Nash with his N*A*S*H signs, and this time it’s Nick Smith who has made his own style and slogan (and admitted himself into the Beyonce Madonna one name only club).

A fun bonus on this one: why doesn’t this hoarding cover the whole wooden board? Why is the National logo off-centre like the whole thing has been trimmed? If you look closely on the left can you see a mystery shoulder painted out. The ghost of Muller, or Bridges? Only Nick4Nelson knows.

New Conservative

Get off my porch (Photos: Toby Morris and @whatthesamhall)

Every election there is one band of suckers with too much money and an unrealistic view of how easy it is to fart your way into parliament. These bad boys (and I mean bad as in both ineffective and offensive) are everywhere and all I see is fringe cranks pouring money down the drain. The logo looks like a limp knock-off brand of cheap plastic sneakers from 2002 (honestly what does that swipey swoosh thing mean?) and the layouts are sloppy and dull. These look like they’ve been designed in Microsoft Word. Designers love using negative space, but these just look blank.

And slogans? They range from totally bland and inane (which party doesn’t say they support first home buyers? It’s meaningless) to utter nonsense. “Keep NZ Ours”? Whose? If you’re going to be racist, just say it.

Mask on, mask off (Photos: Twitter)

These ones are are still amateur, but a little more notable, if only for the innovative Yes-face, No-face design technique, like a grumpy grandpa version of the Drake meme. It’s kind of a hilarious idea, but hampered by the fact Mr Baker’s emotional range seems completely stunted. Both expressions look creepy and too similar – ham it up Leighton, get that frown on!

Blank space (Photo: @whatthesamhall)

Look this is getting too long. These are the candidate ones. They’re slightly more functional. Bland and a bit clunky but at least readable.

NZ First

Nice ‘slogan’ (Photo: Toby Morris)

Ah, the old familiar face of Winston Peters. These are pretty unremarkable really – they follow all the same trends mentioned above and as a result they’re fine but kind of blend in to the background a little.

A couple of odd details to note: Peters not looking at the camera makes it feel a bit like they downloaded a stock news photo from Getty. The quote marks around the slogan are odd, like it’s not a “real” slogan or they don’t “mean it”. Then lastly, the little Twitter tags and Facebook and Twitter logos are a touch that I guess is supposed to make them look modern but actually comes across like elderly parents trying to seem with it. Which, accidentally or not, is probably who they’re talking to.

Slogan check: “Vague”.

A mess (Photo: Twitter)

I haven’t seen individual candidate hoardings around Auckland, but someone on Twitter sent me this mess from Northland. It’s loud and chaotic and has no flow but at this point I think it’s also on brand for the party. It looks like a crappy facebook meme or the back page of a low-rent muckraking British tabloid and will  probably appeal to a certain demographic.

New Zealand Public Party

I looked everywhere to try and find hoardings for the New Zealand Public Party, but I couldn’t find any. Maybe Bill Gates took them down already.

The Opportunities Party

You wouldn’t steal a hoarding (Photos: @whatthesamhall and Toby Morris)

These are OK too. They have the balance pretty much right and it’s interesting Top has started to claim the teal that represents the mythical blue-green middle ground.

Two more points: the photography on all of these I’ve seen has the candidates avoiding our eye contact, and instead looking to the right, or perhaps their left. If that is supposed to be symbolic of something it’s extremely unclear what that is.

Secondly, the layout of the slogan in a condensed font, in different sizes and stacked like that brings to mind the legendary old “you wouldn’t download a car” anti-piracy campaigns. To be honest, “you wouldn’t download a car” would be a cooler slogan for Top than this.

Slogan check: Confusing. At first it makes no sense, then after thinking about it for a while, it seems to be urging us to not take a risk and stick with known quantities, which seems an unexpected thing for a party that’s never been in parliament to say.

Recycling! (Photo: Supplied)

I do like this though. Of all the hoardings we’ve looked at here, none have done anything interesting with the wood used to hold them up. Adriana Christie has made hers from old pallets, then plans to recycle those again post-election into compost bins. It’s a smart idea.

Vision

Oh no, where did it go? (Photo: Toby Morris)

Last one, and I’m very much holding my tongue re my feelings on the party. If you’d just shown up in town and knew nothing about Vision, you might think at a glance this was a regular mid-range established party based on this. The layout follows all the same trends as all the other parties, and the photo is nice, but I think there are two little clues these are rookies making it up as they go.

Firstly, the logo is trying to do several different things at once. Choose between the hidden tick, and the added Māori element. Trying to include both makes neither work very well.

Secondly, check out that jazzy pattern down the right hand edge. In all the hoardings we’ve looked at in this whole article, it’s one of the only frivolous purely decorative elements used. I asked around The Spinoff office to see if anyone could decipher any hidden meaning I’d missed and Jihee Junn suggested printing registration marks, or video game health bars. Honestly I think the Tāmaki crew just couldn’t resist sprinkling something blingy on there. The election’s last little lonely sparkle.

Slogan check: Gross. Doesn’t make grammatical sense (back from where?) and the thought is nasty.



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