County Council Campaign Sign Design Review

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We’ve launched a campaign sign challenge tournament where you, our readers, can pick the best sign from the at-large County Council candidates.

To help, we contacted professional designer and Source friend Eric Robbins to provide some guidance on what makes a good sign. Read all the way to the end to see his comments on the entries.

Then go vote today and the rest of this weekend.

Put a bunch of political yard signs in one place, and the most striking designs always shine through. But what makes those signs come out above some of the others? What makes you remember the candidate’s name? What does the typography say about the candidate? Why did they use that particular color scheme?

I’ve spent 25 years working in design, and I can look at one of these signs and immediately tell if the campaign hired professional designers to build out the campaign material, or if someone on staff happened to have Photoshop on their computer and volunteered to do the design. Between refined visual cues and slapdash execution, there can be a fine line or a wide chasm. To the trained eye, it’s usually the latter.

As we take a look at local campaigns this voting season, presenting a good primer on what makes good design helps show why some designs work and some don’t.

Best Practices for Design

First and foremost, great design is transparent. For example, if I’m developing an interface for a web site or application, I want the user’s reaction to be less “Oh, that’s pretty!” and more “Hey, that was easy.” Design shouldn’t interfere with the messaging; it should lend itself to the image, feeling, or even zeitgeist someone wants to convey.

Starting at the branding level, the first thing to be designed is usually a logo or mark. Whether it’s an icon, text, or both, there are standard guidelines that should be followed. Logos should:

  • Be built as vector files so they are infinitely scalable
  • Look good in small formats such as business cards or stationery
  • Look good scaled up on signs or billboards
  • Be able to transition from color to black and white or greyscale, and
  • Be easily reproduceable.

Of course, those are high-level guidelines. Getting down into the weeds of color and typography start to add more variables that are both independent and need to work together.


The use of color speaks volumes, particularly for political signs. The colors need to blend well together while standing out among competitors. While traditional colors tend to focus on red, white, and blue (because ‘MURICA!), signs around Montgomery County run the full spectrum.

Color relies more on science than any other part of design. Those pairs and triads of color that seem to always go together? That’s not just coincidence. On the color wheel, pick out a color —any color. Now look at the one directly across from it. That’s its complementary color. Green and Red. Purple and yellow. Blue and orange. These work particularly well for high-contrast color schemes, but all of these color schemes are common, usually with varying shades and hues.

Figure 1 – Color sheet depicting types of color schemes

Colors also evoke particular emotions. Red can show anger and intensity, and green can convey life and growth. While these color choice guide what campaigns want to evoke, sometimes those choices also come down to the fact that the candidate’s favorite color is blue. Problem solved.


If you don’t think typography is important, send out your next professional memo using Comic Sans and see what happens. While every company (or in this case, candidate) may not have a logo icon, they all have names. How you choose to display that name matters. Similar to colors, fonts can evoke particular feelings: serifs are softer and good for large blocks of text, while sans serifs are more traditional and industrial.

For campaign signs, bold is the key. Contextually speaking, the name and messaging need to be apparent to someone at speed in a car. Sure, there will be people walking by or driving more slowly on residential streets, but it’s best to design for the worst-case scenario and progressively build your campaign from there.

What Design Can Be

Design can inspire. It can make you angry, ecstatic, or contemplative. It can foster action and establish purpose. And design is always very subjective. Sure, you can apply a certain amount of science to designing a solution, but that will always be viewed through the eye of the beholder, and those people inevitably have opinions. This is where you come in…make your opinion known.

Sign Comments

  • Gabe Albornoz—Clean and simple. Easy to read name. Good WaPo endorsement placement. Outline of MoCo gets lost since it’s incomplete.
  • Marilyn Balcombe—Different color choice is good, as is prominent last name. First name may get lost in at-speed traffic, but may not matter.
  • Bill Conway—High contrast, nice use of county line with stripes.
  • Cherri Branson—the words “Elect” and “Branson” are good to have shown prominently, but lack of contrast on first name (light blue) makes it disappear.
  • Brandy Brooks—Good concept but difficult to read the first name, and border of county lines interferes with last name.
  • Hoan Dang—Something to be said for “DANG’ in big letters. But the yellow for the first name totally washes out.
  • Evan Glass—Good name typography. Simple and direct with non-traditional color scheme.
  • Hans Riemer—Good upper and lower-case bold sans serif font. Light green on dark green reduces contrast and visibility. What do the leaves mean? Environment focus?
  • Will Jawando—Good, classic high-contrast color scheme with blue and orange (War Eagle!). Lines at the top help frame text and draw the eye down to focus on the name.
  • Jarrett Smith—I really like the logo treatment on “Smith.” Good color scheme, too. But first name? Will there be no other Smiths on the ballot?
  • Lorna Phillips Forde—White on the light orange is low contrast and potentially hard to read in some outdoor conditions. This sans serif font doesn’t help readability.
  • Loretta Garcia—What’s more important here? The check box or the name? Name should be MUCH bigger relative to other visual content.
  • Melissa McKenna—Nice font treatment with “slab”=serif lettering. Looks sports related. Plus boxing gloves? Why? Actual boxer or fighting analogy?
  • Danielle Meitiv—Simple and direct, though trying to extend the 15 minutes of free-range-mom fame is getting old.
  • Michele Riley—Good font treatment with blue tints. A little more bold on the name—even just the last name—could help with recognition.
  • Neil Greenberger—Looks busy, but I get a name, an office, and an important policy statement all in one blow that’s easy to read.
  • Jill Ortman-Fouse—Classic blue and gold color combo for high contrast. Movement on star draws the eye to the name. Good size on first name, but length of last name forces it to be smaller.
  • Graciela Riviera-Oven—Good use of full width for longer last name. Like the swoosh as a hyphen. Could have taken advantage of space and done “GRACIELA” (memorable name) the full width.
  • Seth Grimes—Another green sign with environmental iconography. Good, bold high-contrast typography.
  • Shruti Bhatnagar—Good work using the full width for first and last name. Contrast is a little light, and the star in the “R” is off center and driving me crazy.
  • Steve Solomon—Red, white and blue with stars. And big bold last name. This is the ACME of lawn signs.
  • Chris Wilhelm—Good high contrast scheme with large, bold type. Angle gives good differentiation.
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