Newsmakers with JR
6 Tuesdays to Go: Campaign Yard Sign Power Rankings; More about that Business Poll; Meagan Speaks
(Editor's Note: It's campaign yard sign season in Santa Barbara, as candidates for mayor and city council stipple the city's landscape and lawns with a cacophony of composition, colors and typography, not to mention clashing fonts. For today's Power Rankings on yard signs, Newsmakers reached out for professional expertise and judgment to John Roshell, a Santa Barbara-based graphic designer who has created hundreds of fonts and logos for the comic book, movie, TV and video game industries, including Black Panther, Daredevil and Angry Birds. Ranked worst to first, here is his review of signs of nine major candidates).
By John Roshell
9-Mark Whitehurst. A disastrous mishmash of text, colors and spacing. Arial is probably the most generic font choice possible, made even worse with strange inconsistencies in letter spacing and leading (that's the space between the lines). Why is the unreadable “Elect” box on the left while the rest of the text is aligned on the right? Why is “Mayor" all-uppercase but the translation “Alcade" is not? Mark looks like a friendly guy, but how can he be so happy next to this typographic abomination? More importantly, if he approves of slipshod graphic design, can we really trust him to do... whatever it is a mayor does?
8-Randy Rowse. The pastel color and bland type make this look like the sign for a dentist’s office or maybe a yoga studio. The text is arranged competently enough, but the flower takes up space where his name could have been bigger, so everything appears to have the same relative level of unimportance. And if you’re going to mix serif and sans-serif fonts (serifs: the little hooks on the ends of letters), you gotta use the serif one a second time somewhere for balance. Play a mistake once, it's a mistake; play it again, it’s jazz. I don’t get the impression from this sign that Randy Rowse is into jazz.
7-Meagan Harmon. Is she running for city council, or starring in a forgotten rom-com from the early ‘90s? And what is that stripe? Did the designer cut themselves? Are they okay or should someone call an ambulance? Inquiring minds want to know.
6-Cathy Murillo. This one is so close to good, but not quite. The heavy geometric “Murillo” has style without being too fussy, and stands out in white on dark red. Stars make every design cooler, but why does the top line just…not… quite… fill the width? Did she not have one more star? The real design crime here, however, is why, oh WHY suddenly use a different sans-serif font for “for Mayor”?!? Did she think we wouldn't notice? Well, we did. This sign makes me wonder what other questionable decisions she might try to sneak past me.
5-Kristen Sneddon. This one ain't bad. It ain't great. It’s in the middle. The all-caps geometric sans-serif style was groundbreaking for the Obama campaign back in 2008; now it’s become a bit predictable. The wavy sea line and sky blue are very Santa Barbara, but the orange is nearly invisible against it. Blur your eyes (or drive past it at 30mph) and all you see is “Kristen” and the wavy line.
4-James Joyce III. I can’t decide if this is a boldly fresh and original take on political posters, or something purchased from one of those cheap “YOUR COMPANY NAME HERE" logo design sites that could also work for a bold, fresh patio shop or bold, fresh meal kit delivery service. I’m also not sure if those are hills in the foreground, or a bird, or… someone bending down to read what Nina is running for (see below). On the plus side, the lowercase text projects a friendly, low-key confidence, and choosing a font with those distinct double “J"s was smart. Upon closer look, though, the wildly inconsistent kerning (that's the space between letters) makes me wonder, is Joyce ready to be our next… um, what is he running for?
3-Nina Johnson. This one’s fun and lively, but clearly, ahem, “borrows" the style and color of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's OC's fantastic "¡OCASIO!” branding from 2018 (see the famed AOC poster here). I suppose if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. And do it fast, before it becomes a cliché. The checkmark-shaped V in “VOTE” is a nice touch, but I can't read what she's running for, even at 5 mph.
2. Barrett Reed. I love these colors. The white type and yellow border pop against the navy, and that yellow block shadow on “Reed” is oh SO sharp. This walks that fine line of looking a little bit retro without being overtly so. But the bottom half feels like it wasn’t fully thought out… shouldn’t the job he’s running for look like more than a footnote? Swap that text with "District 4" and this might have taken the top spot.
1-Deborah Schwartz. This is the sign Kristen Sneddon wishes she had. The design hierarchy is perfect: the most important info (“Schwartz”) jumps out, followed by “Mayor” and so on. The blue is dark enough to contrast with the orange, and the wavy line subtly suggests “ocean” while holding the whole thing together. The font choice is kinda boring, but the boldness and the careful, deliberate design seem to confidently proclaim she would do a good job at the boring mayoring stuff, too.
( John Roshell may be better known around these parts as his wife Starshine’s arm candy. Visit www.swelltype.com to see his designs and provide your own snide commentary).
Images: Power Rankings (NASCAR.com); Yard signs courtesy campaign photos); John Roshell (Chris Yasko).
In other news...
More poll takeaways. On last week's show, the Newsmakers panel kicked around the results of a secret poll that downtown business interests commissioned about residents' views of local problems and early preferences In the elections for mayor and two council seats.
Since then, we've spoken with both Jim Knell, the downtown property owner who contracted for the survey, and public affairs consultant John Davies, who designed the poll and analyzed its results; neither was eager to divulge much about it, but we did glean a few more factoids.
Who's it for? Knell refused to discuss specific findings of the poll except to say, "It speaks for itself - people are fed up," while Davies told us, "It was not meant to be released," and apparently would not have been had Knell not emailed it all over town, as part of an attachment that presented a slide deck the consultant prepared in furtherance of an "issue advocacy group" the real estate kingpin wants to launch, to be called the "Santa Barbara Better Committee."
What's the plan? This committee, according to Knell's email, needs $100,000 (he said he would provide the first $50,000) to finance a proposed "campaign... centered around broadcast cable TV applied with digital ads hitting civically active city residents (featuring) three ads." The three, as described, would 1) "highlight poor conditions in the city and call for change. Additionally, it will transparently name the Santa Barbara Better Committee as a way to cast the group as a player going forward"; 2) "highlight problems while promoting action for change (without stepping over the direct advocacy line)"; 3) a "final closing argument ad (to) run the last week of October and...be supplemented by targeted digital to likely Republicans and Independents." Knell told us that none of the ads has been produced yet: "Everything is still in progress," he said.
Poll methodology. The universe of respondents for the poll was 359 "high propensity voters," i.e. registered voters who have participated in recent local elections; they were asked horse race questions, in addition to questions about specific city issues and problems that were formulated based on focus group interviews with 37 local residents; the poll interviews were conducted via a combination of cell phone, landline, online and text inquiries; polling was conducted between Aug. 1-8; one slide said the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percent..
How solid is it? Davies declined to show us the poll questions, but said a measure of its accuracy is that 55 percent of those surveyed said they were against the recall; although Santa Barbara County and city ended up disapproving of the recall by higher percentages, he noted that the poll was done at a time when some statewide surveys showed the recall more closely contested.
Coming three months before the election, the horse race finding that Randy Rowse significantly leads Cathy Murillo in what appeared in the poll like a two-person race is too early to have much forecast value, and the subsets of voters who live in Districts 4 and 6 seem too small for us to report the numbers.
What seems most significant and substantive as a poll takeaway, however, is the response ratio to this question: Are things in Santa Barbara headed in the right direction or the wrong direction? The result: 61 percent of those surveyed said "wrong direction," compared to just 23 percent who said the "right direction" (the balance of 16 percent said they didn't know).
Worth noting as a point of comparison: when Newsmakers asked a very similar question in a poll we did about six weeks before the 2017 balloting that elected Murillo, 49 percent of respondents answered "right track" while only 35 percent said "wrong track," with 16 percent also saying at that time that they didn't know.
For those keeping score at home, that's a net negative swing of voter attitudes about the state of the city of 52 percent, a switch that might give pause to incumbents running on a platform of what a swell job they've done. We name no names.
Does Meagan have a glass jaw? Campaign scoop of the week honors to the Indy's Tyler Hayden, who turned a routine endorsement story into a buzzworthy talker, after council member Alejandra Gutierrez not only disclosed in an interview that she is endorsing Nina Johnson's District 6 challenge to Meagan Harmon, but also threw some serious shade at the incumbent.
"She creates division -- I don’t want a person like that leading our community” Alejandra said, while Nina framed the endorsement as an alliance of underepresented "women of color."
This race marks the first time that Harmon, who was appointed to her seat by council and already has served more than two years, is being forced to run a campaign, and it will be intriguing to watch how she reacts to attacks. As Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
For that reason, we were stymied when Harmon wasn't quoted in the piece, and wondered what she had to say in response to the tag team thwacking.
So we asked her what she would have said, had she been asked to say something.
"Our civic dialogue has suffered in recent years from a heightened level of toxicity and divisiveness that helps no one and that does a great disservice to the needs and issues that matter most to local residents," she said via email. "Working constructively, with respect and common decency regardless of whether we agree or disagree, has always, and will always be my approach on the City Council."
So now you know.