Category Archives: politics

Campaign signs 2014: Final results

The Maryland 2014 primaries are now over, and it’s time for me to wrap up and name some final winners. I’ve had a busy past few weeks with a dozen posts critiquing more than six dozen signs (plus one car magnet). In case you want to revisit signs in any of the primary races, here’s the complete list of posts (rearranged from the order in which I posted them):

Note that I’ve updated the Board of Education and House of Delegates District 12 posts to add pictures of signs for Allen Dyer and Eric Ebersole respectively.

I already selected winners (or in some cases, multiple winners) for signs in each race. Now it’s time for me to name winners in some special category, as well as an overall winner for all signs I saw.

mirabile-delegate-9a-largeThe first category is for the best slogan. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not too hot on including campaign slogans on signs, and certainly there were a number of signs in this election where the slogan wasn’t doing much more than taking up space. However on Frank Mirabile’s sign the slogan “Time to Stand Our Ground” is both memorable and does something useful, namely letting the more partisan voters in a party primary know exactly where the candidate, uh, stands.

stewart-delegate-12-2014-largeAfter seeing lots of signs I get tired of looking at conventional color schemes, either the American colors red, white, and blue or the Maryland colors red, white, black, and yellow, and I yearn for a change. I thus decided to have a “color my world” category, in which the winner is the large Nick Stewart sign and its orange on blue color scheme.

miller-delegate-9a-2014-small-changedSome signs I thought were almost but not quite what they could be. In some cases (as, for example, with Ryan Frederic’s sign) I don’t know enough about graphic design to determine how the sign could best be improved. In other cases I thought just a relatively small change would do the trick. Hence we have the “most easily improved” category, with the winner being the small Warren Miller sign once the (in my opinion) superfluous design elements in the upper left and right corners have been removed (as I’ve done here).

broccolino-states-attorney-2014-largeFinally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for (or not, as the case may be): My pick for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014. Those of you who’ve been reading this entire series will not be surprised at my pick, the large Dario Broccolino sign. This sign made me go “wow” the first time I saw it, and I haven’t seen another sign to top it since then.

With that I’m concluding this series, at least for now. I did collect pictures of signs for the gubernatorial race and the race for Attorney General, but I just ran out of energy to post and critique them; maybe later. Also, if I have time and the inclination I’ll post closer to the general election if there are any new signs that didn’t show up in the primary.

Finally, some thanks: First, thanks to all of you who’ve come to this blog to read these posts; I appreciate your attention, and hope your time was worth it. A further thanks to those of you who stopped to comment, who sent me pictures of signs, or who pointed out where I could find them; I love hearing from readers, and thank you for taking the time to contact me. And last but not at all least, thanks to all the candidates who put themselves out in the public eye and ran for election to public office. As I wrote before, you had to endure people commenting on your public appearances, counting up your Twitter and Facebook followers, and making videos about your direct mail pieces. And thanks to me, not even your signs are safe from criticism. Thank you for bearing it all in good grace, and being willing to serve the citizens of Howard County and Maryland.

This is the end of my one-a-day posts; I now return you to your regular (or I should say in my case, irregular) programming. I’m not sure when I’ll post next, or what I’ll post about, but if you’re interested in what more I might have to say please take a moment to click the “Subscribe via email” button or add my RSS feed to your newsreader. Till later!

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Executive

Today is primary day, and the day I cover the last of the local campaign signs, this time for Howard County Executive candidates Allan Kittleman and Courtney Watson (both of whom happen to be unopposed in the primaries).

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed.


I’ve previously written about the problems inherent in using all four colors of the Maryland flag in a single sign. This sign handles those problems as well as they can be handled, mainly by avoiding the red text on yellow background found in signs from Trent Kittleman, Frank Mirabile, and others. Instead this sign carefully restricts itself to the exact color juxtapositions found the Maryland flag: black with yellow, and red with white. More specifically, it restricts itself to what I think are the best color combinations: black text on a yellow background and white text on a red background.

Some other things to note about this sign: The typeface is clean and readable; it’s bold enough to stand out but light enough to allow adequate space between the letters. Using both upper and lower case in “Kittleman” means that the text isn’t quite as wide as it would be if it were in all upper case, and thus it can fit better on the sign. (“Kittleman” has nine letters, just like “Grabowski” and “Markovitz”; compare this sign to the Grabowski and Markovitz signs I discussed in my previous post.) The red banner-like design element in the upper right corner is well-done; note that on the left side of the element the yellow background seems to form an arrowhead pointing to the “Proven Independent Leader” slogan. The slogan itself points diagonally upward to the right to make the sign more dynamic (the same technique used on the Dario Broccolino sign). Finally, note that the horizontal line separating “Kittleman” from “Howard County Executive” is not just red on yellow (a poor combination) but is both red and white in order to maintain the preferred color juxtapositions I mentioned above.

The one thing that bothered me about this sign is that the “Howard County Executive” seems a bit thin. When I was walking around the neighborhood I had some trouble making that text out when viewing the sign from a distance.


The design of the large version of the Allan Kittleman sign is the same as that of the smaller sign, except that “Howard County Executive” is now one line rather than two, is in a slightly bolder typeface, and (at least to my eyes) is more readable.


Like Courtney Watson’s 2010 sign, this sign uses white text on a blue background to good effect: The text is very readable (especially “County Executive”), and there’s a good visual progression from oblique serif type and all caps in “COURTNEY” to the bold san serif typeface of “WATSON” to the sans serif mixed case of “County Executive”.

The one potentially problematic part of this sign is the design element in the upper left corner. Typical non-text elements in signs are either totally non-representational (e.g., lines or borders) or are common symbols that are immediately recognizable (e.g., stars, apples, flag-derived banners). This element is clearly intended to represent something, but it’s not immediately clear what that something is. My personal interpretation is that it’s symbolic of Howard County’s rural heritage: (yellow) sun above (white) road above (green) field; however I’m not sure the average person would see it the same way as I do. Nevertheless the colors are very nice and brighten up what would otherwise be a plain and unadorned sign. (Note also that subtle green line that separates “WATSON” and “County Executive” and echoes the green in the upper left conner.)

Now for the tough part: Which sign to vote for? This contest is certainly not as lopsided as we saw four years ago with Trent Kittleman’s sign vs. Ken Ulman’s sign; these signs are much more closely matched. Both sign designs are professional and effective but neither is perfect, for reasons explained above. On Kittleman’s side I think this the first black/yellow/red/white sign design I actually find attractive; on Watson’s side I really like the sign but consider it just a step down from the 2010 sign. In the end I’m going to take the coward’s way out and call this a toss-up.

This concludes my look at the campaign signs for Howard County local races in 2014. In my next post I’ll wrap things up and name some overall winners in various categories, including my choice for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014.

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Council District 1

With the primary one day away, I’m close to the end of this campaign sign adventure. Today we look at the signs in the race for Howard County Council in District 1, a seat left open when Courtney Watson decided to run for Howard County Executive. The candidates are Democrats Dave Grabowski, Lisa Markovitz, Wendy Royalty, and Jon Weinstein, and Republicans David Blake Melton and Kevin Forrest Schmidt.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Note that I could not find any signs for David Blake Melton.


Dave Grabowski, like Lisa Markovitz and Dario Broccolino, has the problem of having a long name that’s difficult to fit on a sign; unlike Renée McGuirk-Spence, hyphenating it is not an option. Unlike the Dario Broccolino sign, which provided more room for the name by displaying it on the diagonal, this Grabowski sign adopts the simple strategy of displaying the name horizontally in a serif typeface that is pretty readable. Overall the sign is clean and well-designed, with no extraneous elements or slogans. The background color isn’t one of my favorites, but that’s just a matter of taste; certainly it provides a good contrast to the text.


I like the color on this sign; it’s a change from the typical colors and is not so pastel that it causes contrast problems. However I think the typeface used for “Markovitz” is just a tad too bold, and that does affect readability a bit. Compare this sign to the Grabowski sign above; both names are the same length but I think you’d better be able to recognize “Grabowski” from a distance. Also, I’m not sure the “Vote ‘14” design element in the upper right corner adds anything.


This is a solid sign: No extraneous clutter, typeface that’s bold but still readable, and a good background color.


This is almost the same design as the small Wendy Royalty sign, but it’s missing the white border found on that sign. To me that’s to its detriment: I think the white border works well to frame the main part of the design. Without the border all that red in the background gets to be a bit much. The design is cropped really tight as well; notice how close the “R” and “y” in “Royalty” are to the edge of the sign.


A nice minimal sign that highlights the candidate’s (full) name and position sought without trying to cram anything else in. The color and typeface look good as well.


This is an interesting sign. Kevin Forrest Schmidt couples this sign with his regular sign, for example putting the “RUN FORREST RUN” sign next to or in front of his other sign. It’s a cute gimmick to lend some personality to the signs, although I’m not sure if it’s worth printing double the number of signs that normally would be required.


Jon Weinstein likes yellow and white text on blue backgrounds; his 2010 campaign signs used the same color scheme. This one is interesting because it’s a variant of the design on his other small sign. I don’t really like the stars intermixed with dots; it seems a bit busy. However I do like the typefaces on this sign.


The different typeface and the switch to mixed upper and lower case on “Weinstein” make this sign a bit more legible. However I think the typeface on this sign is a bit lacking in personality compared to the previous sign.


This sign is just a taller version of the small sign, with “Howard County Council” spread out over three lines to add height. I think that’s a mistake, as it makes the design look too skinny. I think it would have been better to drop the “Howard”, put “County Council” on one line, and reduce the height just a tad.

Which sign should go on to the general election? There are no clunkers in this race, but overall I think I like the small Wendy Royalty sign the best. However the large Wendy Royalty sign serves as a warning that a good design can be significantly compromised by seemingly minor changes (in this case removing the border and cropping more tightly).

In my next post I’ll look at the marquee Howard County race, and the last local race for which I was able to find signs, namely the contest for Howard County Executive.

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Board of Education

Today I take a break from party primaries and look at the signs for the Board of Education race. There are 13 candidates in this race: Bess Altwerger, Corey Andrews, Maureen Evans Arthurs, Tom Baek, Zaneb Beams, Olga Butler, Allen Dyer, Sandra French, Dan Furman, Leslie Kornreich, Christine O’Connor, Mike Smith, and Cindy Vaillancourt. FourEight of them will go on to the general election.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Thanks to Corey Andrews for sending in a picture of his sign. I couldn’t find any signs for Zaneb Beams and Dan Furman. I did see one sign for Allen Dyer, but couldn’t stop to take a picture; by the time I came back later that day the sign was gone.


This is a good minimal sign with a nice clean typeface and a dark blue background to provide excellent contrast and legibility.


The core of this sign is good: Nice typeface, readable, stands out. However the top and bottom of this sign succumb to the syndrome of treating a campaign sign like a direct mail piece.


This is a well-designed sign as far as it goes: The typeface is great, the candidate’s name is prominently featured (even though it takes most of the sign to do so), and the apple design element is really well-done. Unfortunately the pastel color scheme just doesn’t work well in the great outdoors; it gets washed out in bright sunlight and the sign becomes difficult to read.


I don’t understand why this sign uses an American flag; it’s a Board of Education race, not a national election. Other than that the text elements are OK as far as they go—but note that ditching the flag motif would have allowed splitting the candidate’s name onto two lines and making the text significantly larger.


A nice sign. The main typeface used for “BUTLER” stands out well, and the other typeface complements it well. (Note that the typeface used for “Olga” is an oblique version of that used for “Board of Education”. The thin white line above “Board of Education” is a nice touch too; it breaks up what otherwise might be a too-heavy red background.


A good solid sign that’s quite readable. The red, white, and blue color scheme, though quite attractive, doesn’t exactly say “Board of Education” to me.


The background apple makes the “CH” in “FRENCH” almost unreadable on this sign from a distance. Also, why “Return” and not “Re-Elect”? Because it sounds more “nonpartisan”?


As I’ve mentioned previously, apples are a cliché in the context of Board of Education campaign signs. The strategy of this sign is that if you’re going to use a cliché, own the cliché. That together with minimal text and good complementary typefaces makes for a good sign. My only nitpick is with the stars in the upper right, which make that area of the sign look a bit busy.


The sun adds visual interest to this sign, its yellow color complements the green background and text colors, and the childish look of the drawing evokes education without resorting to the usual clichés.


My daughter writes: “An awesome sign. The bow-tie makes it look totes adorbs! Even though they are soooo 2012, it’s still a nice touch.” I write: Why a (trademarked!) bow-tie that’s inspired by the Maryland flag? Apparently because Mike Smith wears one; see for example this Baltimore Sun story. I guess it’s a change from the usual apples, but to be honest I’ve been looking at this sign for over a month now and just now cracked the code on it. (For a while I wasn’t sure it was even supposed to be a bow-tie.) In any case, whether the bow-tie is a good idea or not, including it in the middle of the sign means that the candidate’s name is relegated to a small space at the top of the sign. That’s definitely not a good idea in my book.


This sign goes heavy on the apples, but oddly enough where one might expect to find yet another one, i.e., replacing the “o” in Vaillancourt, instead there’s a large globe and three small children. This is another sign where I had to puzzle out what was going on: The globe isn’t that visible from a distance, so you have to get up close to see what’s going on. Again, this might be OK on a direct mail piece, but with a sign the viewer will likely be driving by at 20 mph or more and there’s not enough time to notice and interpret sign elements that aren’t boldly drawn.

This is a tough race to call an overall sign winner. The Olga Butler sign had no missteps, but it also didn’t have anything in the design that specifically evoked a Board of Education race; ditto for the Allen Dyer sign. The Leslie Kornreich sign did do that effectively, and was definitely the best of the “apple signs”; the Christine O’Connor offered an alternative way to evoke education and childhood that I thought worked well. Finally, the underlying design of the Maureen Evans Arthurs sign was really excellent, and if the colors had been a bit bolder I would have likely named it the winner.

In my next post I’ll look at the signs for candidates in the Howard County Council race in District 1.

UPDATE: Corrected the number of candidates going on to the general election; thanks go to Corey Andrews for the correction.

UPDATE 2: Finally found a sign for Allen Dyer and updated the post to add it.

Campaign signs 2014: Maryland State Senate Districts 12 and 13

The Maryland State Senate races in Districts 12 and 13 are relatively quiet in terms of signs, especially since none of the candidates have opposition in the primary: Incumbent Ed Kasemeyer is unopposed in the Democratic primary in District 12, and will run against Republican Jesse Pippy in the general election. In District 13 Democrat Guy Guzzone will face off against Republican Jody Venkatesan to win the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Jim Robey.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Note that I couldn’t find any signs for Jody Venkatesan.


Hey, haven’t I seen this sign before? Yes, it’s Team 13 once again, with Guy Guzzone apparently not having any signs just for himself. As I wrote before, this sign is effective but otherwise lacks interest.


Another sign we’ve seen before, as Ed Kasemeyer piggybacks on Terri Hill’s sign design. Again I’ve noted the problems I have with this sign, including the somewhat overly idiosyncratic typeface and the botched banner.


A simple sign that gets straight to the point and drives it home without any missteps along the way: candidate’s last name, position sought, and web site address for those wanting to know more.

The final tally? I’m going to give this one to Jesse Pippy, first for actually having a sign of his own and second for having it be a simple but nice one.

In my next post I’ll come back to Howard County local races and evaluate signs for the Board of Education candidates.

Campaign signs 2014: Maryland State Senate District 9

With this post I turn my attention to signs for candidates for Maryland State Senate, starting with District 9. Gail Bates is giving up her current House of Delegates seat for District 9A in order to run for this Senate seat, which became open when Allan Kittleman decided to run for Howard County Executive. Bates is unopposed in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side Ryan Frederic and Daniel Medinger are vying for the right to run against her.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed.


This is a good sign, especially for using only two colors. The “BATES” is large and readable in a clear serif typeface, and the smaller “Gail” in a script typeface adds a nice informal, almost personal, note. The integration of the Maryland flag-inspired banner is also done very well; note that the banner is outlined to prevent confusion between the sign background and the white parts of the banner.


This sign does some things quite well, and one thing not so well. The good news: The sans serif typeface used for “FREDERIC” is bold and readable; it really sells the sign. The serif typeface used for the smaller “RYAN” is also a good choice and complements the main typeface well; having the “R” be slightly larger than the “YAN” is also a nice touch. Finally, the red star to the right of “RYAN” both balances the composition and makes it more dynamic—note that the star is slightly off-center to the right, which adds visual interest. Overall, it’s an uncluttered and powerful design.

Now for the bad news: Printing “STATE SENATOR” and “DISTRICT 9” in red ink on a dark blue background makes them almost unreadable, particular if you’re driving by rather than walking.


The main thing I don’t like about this sign is the “VOTE DANIEL” banner at the top. It looks just a tad odd, and I feel like it’s undersized relative to the rest of the sign. Otherwise the sign is competent and unexceptionable.

The results: This sign contest is a good example of “might have been”. The Ryan Frederic sign design is really strong, but I think it was sabotaged by the color choice on the lower text. I understand the desire to echo the red star at the top of the sign with red at the bottom of the sign and thus tie the thole design together. However ultimately this is a campaign sign, not a print ad or direct mail piece, and I think a campaign sign has to meet more stringent criteria for readability than designs in other media. This stumble on the part of the Ryan Frederic sign opens the way up for the Gail Bates sign to claim victory.

In my next post I’ll evaluate signs for State Senate candidates in District 12 and 13.

Campaign signs 2014: Maryland House of Delegates District 13

Since election day is not far off it’s time to pick up the pace and look at the signs for the Maryland House of Delegates race in District 13. On the Democratic side there are five candidates for the three positions: the “Team 13” slate of Vanessa Atterbeary, Shane Pendergrass, and Frank Turner (along with Guy Guzzone for State Senate), and then Fred Eiland and Nayab Siddiqui as the “challengers”. On the Republican side there are only three candidates, Danny Eaton, Jimmy Williams, and Chris Yates, all of whom will go on to the general election.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate , along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. (I’m doing Team 13 first because “Atterbeary” starts with an “A”. Also, I couldn’t find signs for Eaton and Yates.)


The Team 13 sign seems to be a repeat of its sign from 2010 (from what I can recall). Is it effective? Yes: The sign reinforces that this is a slate, and tells you who’s part of it. Is it attractive? Only if you like bare-vanilla minimalism. I will say though that I think in some ways doing red text on a white background is superior to doing white text on a red background.


Another basic sign that gets the job done but doesn’t hold much interest from a design perspective.


I like the orange background color on this, as well as the white outlining around the black letters in “SIDDIQUI”, which makes the name stand out nicely. This sign also has three more subtle characteristics: First, and most trivial, the orange background and black text with white outline remind one of the Baltimore Orioles (for example, this version of their uniform); if this isn’t simply a coincidence then it’s certainly appropriate for a candidate running in the Baltimore suburbs, especially in a district that also takes in part of Baltimore County.

Second, omitting the first name means that this sign could have been used equally well by either Nayab Siddiqui or Janet Siddiqui, prior to the “great switcheroo” that saw Janet withdraw from the District 13 race at the last minute and be replaced by Nayab. (Of course, if either Janet or Nayab Siddiqui had been accepted into Team 13 then presumably they would have been on the standard Team 13 signs and if they wanted to they could have saved money and not done their own signs.) And in any case it allows Nayab to get the benefit of any positive feelings people have toward Janet.

Finally, if I recall correctly, on every other sign I’ve seen for House of Delegates races the word “Delegate” appears on the bottom of the sign, below the candidate’s name. On Nayab Siddiqui’s sign, and only on his sign, it appears at the top, so that a casual observer would read the sign as “Delegate Siddiqui”. (The word “For” appears at the beginning, but it’s in fairly small letters and is east to miss.) Again, this may be a coincidence, just based on the way the design evolved, but it can also be read as a way to compensate for being left off of Team 13: Encourage less-informed voters to think that you’ve already been elected and are running as an incumbent.


Another basic sign that gets the job done. I don’t like the way the white stripe at the bottom transitions into the Maryland flag-based banner, but that may just be me being picky.

As with District 12 it’s not difficult to pick a winner here. If nothing else Nayab Siddiqui’s sign evinces an attempt to put some thought into the sign’s design above and beyond the minimum required, and it also has fun subliminal cleverness whether intentioned or not.

In my next post I’ll evaluate signs for Maryland State Senate candidates in District 9.