Election Billboards, a critique

Design Assembly article

A post for Design Assembly. A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at this year’s crop of election hoardings. Any opinions strictly mine.

Before we start:
  • This post represents my own political opinion rather than that of Design Assembly.
  • I love a good election and a political rant.
  • I am half-way through Dirty Politics.
  • I’m not going to tell you who to vote for (though I will if you ask).

The defacing of National’s billboards has been the subject of some news stories this year, though I think Chris Finlayson’s claim they have been the target of a co-ordinated campaign is overstated. Unless it was a group of disgruntled graphic designers protesting about the ALL CAPS approach to politics: shout often enough and the message will get across, ne?

Every time I pass a flock of election hoardings, I feel as if I’m being castigated by the National Party.

They’ve gone with the strategy of putting John ‘Teflon’ Key on all the party and electorate billboards, making sure people are certain it’s all about the leader and not about the policies. I wonder whether Dotcom’s Town Hall announcement will render that strategy unwise?

Although polls suggest if you like Mr Key, then you like Mr Key, and no amount of dirty politics will change that.


Labour’s typography is my favourite, though someone did point out in Sideswipe last week that the “Vote Positive” is a bit Supervalue. I’m not sure that association is terribly damaging though.

Their type on top of hero image is more successful than the similar Greens layout because of the marginally heavier typeface.

They’ve kept Cunliffe off the candidate billboards, which makes them cleaner and less symmetrical than National’s and smacks less of personality politics. Most of the party vote hoardings are plain, except in the hotly-contested Epsom electorate, where, despite denying they are actively encouraging left-leaners to vote strategically for National’s Paul Goldsmith (who has no billboards of his own), they have a pretty leading sticker on their boards, which reads, “Only a party vote for Labour will change the government,” but the sub-text is, “A party vote only for Labour will change the government”.


The Green Party billboards are pretty ordinary. My guess is they’ve been focussing on policy (What?! Outrageous!). The billboards have a problem with readability on their hero photo backgrounds, with not enough contrast between the image and the text in some cases.

They also have a plain “Party vote Green” board, which is… well… green.


Have you ever had a job where you had to lay out bio information for a whole lot of people and they all sent stuff in individually and you ended up with a terribly mismatched bunch of photos at all sorts of resolutions and had to massage the rest of the content around those photos? I think that’s what’s happened with the Māori Party billboards. The one near my house (above) is pretty cinematic. Others I’ve seen have been ordinary mugshots, and an unfortunate one I saw down in Taranaki looked like it started life as a 72 DPI web graphic.

Internet Mana

Branding this slightly odd marriage would have been a challenge, since Mana had an existing brand (uninspiring but likely to have been pretty cost-effective) and the Internet Party were initially accused of stealing Peter Dunne’s purple.

The obvious choice was to go with Mana’s existing and recognised branding, but shove some Dotcom money behind it. The resulting billboards have the colour of Mana, the work of some proper graphic designers, and the humour of the Internet Party, who have absolutely nothing to lose. Assuming Hone gets in, he’ll bring another one or two MPs with him. And if he doesn’t, then nothing’s changed for the Internets. Laila et al weren’t in parliament before and they still aren’t, and Dotcom’s just a few peanuts poorer than he was before.

Those peanuts have paid for some pretty impressive design – the Saul Bass-inspired Town Hall announcement poster, below, and the super hero cat/Dad hover board opening address video. Seen it? No? Watch it. You won’t regret it.


I struggled to find a Jamie Whyte billboard that was not defaced. Poor old fanciful Jamie. David Seymour has gone serious, staring out from his Epsom boards. I feel for their designers, having to deal with all that yellow. Yellow doesn’t suit anyone, does it?

If you need some light entertainment, their opening address, right/below, looks like it was made with Windows Movie Maker. Spinning text at 1 minute!

I am crossing my (own, personal) fingers that we’ve seen the last of the yellow party. Epsom, it’s all down to you.


Switching stern Colin for smiley Colin was a good move, though he still looks pretty creepy, especially peering over an extra label applied to a billboard I photographed in Pt Chev (below).

The design of Conservatives boards looks expensive and sophisticated, if you can tear your eyes away from Colin’s, and the decision to design some of them vertically rather than horizontally is interesting, though not sure it quite works, like those business cards you get that are unusual but don’t quite fit in a business card holder. (No? Just me?)

The few candidate boards I’ve seen are a variation on a theme, apart from Christie Rankin’s hoarding, stuffed with extras, in Epsom. What’s their strategy there? Trying to poach from ACT? Rankin will never win that electorate so I think they are just trying to make a point (and split the vote?). The design smacks of a Rankin-dictated vanity board.

United Future

My fish
My Vote!


New Zealand First

It’s all about Winston. I suspect young(ish) visually-aware graphics designers are not NZ First’s demographic.

Focus NZ

Top marks for using Comic Sans. Keeping politics childish and fun. The rest looks like it’s an ad for a Microsoft product circa 1993.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis

I live in West Auckland. Of course we have an ALCP candidate. Keepin’ it real and saving money on billboards since 1996.

Whatever your politics, I strongly encourage you to turn out and vote. You can even do it in advance this year, and it’s not too late to enrol. Get involved. Make your choice known.