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Posted on Jun 5, 2016 in Kitchen Sink | 3 comments

Misleading Election Advertising: A Designer’s Perspective

Misleading Election Advertising: A Designer’s Perspective

As a graphic designer, I am fascinated by the upset about the claims that Nancy McCarthy’s ads are misleading. The design suggests she is an incumbent judge by simply putting a very small star between the word “Judge” and her name. Her response was that her campaign signs “are small and it is hard to see what office someone is running for, emphasizing the word Judge, makes clear the position sought.” The sign I photographed must be 8 feet wide and you still read “Judge Nancy”, who isn’t a Judge.

Redesigning for Clarity & Humor

I thought it would be fun to talk through the design of a sign and how I might do it differently. I am not endorsing her (my endorsement is at the end of the story), so I created a sign without her name and photo. Since I used a stock photo, I decided to call my candidate Susan Stock. Here we go.

We start with the misleading design. A star between Judge and Susan is a little design trick to fool you into reading “Judge Susan” as one element. When the signs are small, your eye can’t even see the star. Good trick.

Base sign

Unfortunately, there is some public upset about this. I can imagine the conversation about how would they run around and hand fix these expensive signs. “Let’s make it a line! Get some red tape at Staples and we’re good. $10 max.”

Sign with line

This is still confusing. One basic tenet of design is that our eyes follow color. In this design, your eyes move from the red check to Judge to Nancy. No red line or star stops that. So how do I fix this? Perhaps a clear statement to clarify.

Clarify text

Or maybe I just take “Judge” and “Susan Stock” and put them on different lines and bump up the font size on the word “For” (oh the clarity of it all).

Sign one line

Still pretty dull. What attracts one person to another? How do you get the point across immediately that this is a good, solid person? Nothing better than kittens!! And, from a design perspective, our brains can’t help ourselves but look at where the kitten is looking. Purrfect.


Now we’re talking. But I kind of like the kitten better than Susan.

Judge Cat

Now this cat is saying something, and gives the impression of a Judge looking down from the bench. “I’m watching you.”

Sold. Maybe next election season I’ll get more political business.


As for me, I voted for Shiela Lichtblau for Marin County Judge. I’ll tell you why. Shiela asked me for my vote. I was at a caucus event to vote for delegates to go to the convention this summer and she walked up to me, introduced herself and actually talked to me. I got online and read the bios/statements of the judges running for office and she stood out with her diverse background, volunteer activity, and work experience. And no, she wasn’t endorsed by Willie McCovey. I’m okay with that.


  1. All very funny, and if you knew McCarthy’s background and history, you might have made up a different set of ads…

    • Judy, I did hear, however, that Susan Stock is a fan of cats…

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