An Artistic Critique of Guelph’s Election Signs

After all the talk of negativity, maybe what we need is levity. And since there are, apparently, a lot of people in the city interested in collecting signs, I was forced wonder if there was some artistic significance to them. So I decided to consult an expert. Scott McGovern, the programming director of Ed Video Media Arts Centre knows art, and he knows what he likes. He’s also politically astute, so when I reached out to Scott (who’s currently in Paris where is wife in an artist-in-residence), he was more than happy to lend his keen eye for colour and composition to the concept, and I present his insights below.

I gave Scott nearly 30 samples to work with, 15 are posted here. Included with them are Scott’s ranking 1 though 10 in terms of his grade for the sign overall. For the record, no offense was intended. The point, and the fun, of doing this was because the municipal election offers so much variety and option in terms of themes, colours and designs without the influences of major federal or provincial parties. For local politicos, it’s a true opportunity to play with limited and sometimes confining concept of the election sign. How will has Guelph’s candidates taken advantage? Check out Scott’s critiques…

Bob Bell 9/10
Bob Bell is the only candidate to break free of the boring rectangle. The obvious play on words is effective and the tilt is dynamic. However, the font is lackluster and could be a bit bolder, and the colours say ʻJohn Deereʼ tractor more than bike trailer. Sadly, just using an unconventional shape seems downright radical compared to the competition.

Scott Butler 8/10
Never mind the Bollocks, Hereʼs Scott Butler! Why not use this punky DIY aesthetic with ransom note inspired lettering for an election sign? At least it is attempting to have a bit of edge, a trait sorely lacking elsewhere.

Terry OʼConnor 7/10
The overall layout is commendable, but itʼs an odd choice to be so obviously… Irish. The serif font works, but perhaps the drop shadow isnʼt required. The shamrock creates a nice layer, a basic design technique so rarely seen on other signs, but should the symbol of luck be on a campaign sign?

Karen Farbridge 7/10
If you mix red and blue, you get purple, the opposite of orange, and an interesting choice for a background. Great text layout, and it is clever to skip the word ʻforʼ between the name and position. I canʼt tell though if the headshot is overexposed, a common technique used to flatter the subject, or maybe it’s just sun bleached from the sign being reused several times. The headshot could be larger and extend closer to the top, and if the text overlapped the hair, layers would be introduced for visual interest.

James Gordon 6/10
Hey, those cyan James Gordon signs were orange a few months ago! Interesting choice to use a serif font, which normally could be awkward for a sign, but it does stand out in a sea of Helvetica and Gotham and seems classy. The headshot should be larger, and the close cropping around the hair could be executed with more precision.

Rob McLean 6/10
Normally a white on black design is just the easy default, but in a sea of primary coloured signs, this seems mysterious, intriguing, and rebellious. The missing Oxford comma is disturbing though.

Phil Allt 5/10
Phil Allt looks to the left with a serious gaze, perhaps wishing the camera was positioned slightly lower. The background looks like a video green screen awaiting the effect. I thought the space between the words ʻforʼ and ʻWardʼ was missing, but then realized it is intentional.

Jason Blokhuis 5/10
Jason Blokhuis has a tight and segmented sign, but it makes him feel a bit trapped in a box. The juxtaposition between the light and bold typography creates the right emphasis on the message, but the font is a bit trite. Green is a nice colour for Guelph, but placing it next to the black and white headshot suggests a pallor complexion.

Cam Guthrie 5/10
This has a classic 1950s Americana feel along with reminisces of Obamaʼs 2008 ʻChange We Can Believe Inʻ signs, and a bit of Toronto Maple Leafs thrown in. Not having a single lowercase letter makes me feel like Iʼm being yelled at. The white space is utilized well, but the headshot is sliding out of the frame, like heʼs leaning too far to his right.

Scott Tracey 5/10
The headshot needs better lighting and colour correction. The white strip featuring the surname is visually arresting, and the text is prominent. Maybe Cam Guthrieʼs designer was having a 2-for-1 sale?

Craig Chamberlain 4/10
Perhaps Craig Chamberlain used the ʻelection signʼ template in Microsoft Word, and selected the ʻAppeal to All Party Membersʼ option. It may be a wise strategy to use a variety of colours, but seen together may be a bit toady.

Greg Schirk 4/10
Perhaps fiscally responsible leadership starts with fiscally responsible graphic design. However, if signs are primarily to attract the attention of motorists, it is wise to make the surname huge to create name recognition, something that many others donʼt seem to understand.

Martin Collier 3/10
The yellow and black combo says, “Caution, this graphic design is under construction.” The headshot needs colour correction, thereʼs gratuitous use of bullets, and the layout and fonts need a complete revision. It is nice to see a candidate actually list the highlights of their platform, and including ʻHeritage & The Artsʼ is indeed bold and commendable too.

Andy Van Hellemond 3/10
This is meant to be sporty, but it appears more like an ad for construction equipment. If the referee motif is desired, really go for it instead of sticking the strip at the bottom, where it looks more like an erroneous piano.

Maggie Laidlaw 1/10
This is the wildcard of the bunch. Thereʼs something wrong with the letters, like they were hand cut, or the printing machine was running out of ink. More importantly, and mysteriously, what has been redacted with that white rectangle? Overall, it looks cheap and bizarre.

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