I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but when talking about the advancements in campaign technology and design one cannot underestimate how much Barack Obama’s campaign team has brought to the industry. Whether it was the revolutionary techniques and concise planning employed by the campaign team in 2008 or the impressive data-driven objectives set out by the 2012 re-election team. Either way the ground work laid out by The Obama campaign machines in both elections has ushered in a new era within the political world and has essentially set the standard for the importance of a candidate’s online presence.
And since the end of November those of us who are engaged in this niche market have been lapping up the revealing blog posts from core members of Obama’s 2012 election team. Whether it’s discussing the lean start-up techniques implemented by the tech team or the advanced User data and A/B testing utilized to improve conversion rates or even reminiscing about the design philosophy behind the Obama brand through 2008’s quintessential Designing Obama there is a wealth of valuable information available at our finger tips. (Side note: Designing Obama is a must read for anyone looking to get in the game) So after digesting many of these posts and articles, I keep coming back to this question, why is Canadian political campaign web design and development so far behind our southern counterparts?
Now, I understand that there are some glaring differences between our two systems and one can’t start questioning this industry without acknowledging this. Yes, the American standardized election dates makes it easier for long term planning and budgeting in comparison to the fluid nature of our Parliamentary System – which sometimes needs to react to election calls on a moment’s notice. And one cannot discount the massive difference in population base and the unlimited fundraising advantages with American Campaigns in comparison to our system. But those elements alone do not explain why good design and good development is not front and center in a Canadian Political Team’s mind.
All the tools for Canadian campaigns to build a strong intuitive online presence for their candidates are there. Inexpensive content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, BuddyPress and even for larger campaigns – Drupal – have been around for years and are widely utilized by many professionals. There are also dozens of very sharp campaign examples from our southern counterparts for us to pluck ideas from and they’re all quite well known – many of them have turned into purchasable templates that can be easily customized. In addition, Canada has a wealth of design, development and user experience talent in each major city. So really at this point there is no excuse for why Canadian political campaigns sites are still so horrible in 2013. If you want an example of what’s going on in this industry, one only has to look at some of the candidate sites for the Ontario Liberal Leadership race. A good majority of these sites are either unappealing or “bland”:http://www.votesousa.ca/. Many of them almost seams like an after thought to the campaign and add little excitement to their candidate’s profile. Now compare them to the stunning and fluid design of Kathleen Wynne’s campaign site www.kathleenwynne.ca, which just shines in comparison to her competition.
Now, in defense of the some of these campaigns, they’re not the only ones out there. I could have easily used other campaign examples over the past two years (Alberta’s 2012 Provincial Election, The Recent Federal By-Elections or municipal elections in Saskatoon and Ottawa over the past year), but the stark difference between a strong majority of Ontario Liberal Leadership candidates and Kathleen’s team shows a massive disparity in the industry. On the one hand you have a collection of sites that look and feel as though they have been hammered together in haste, while Wynne’s site acts and feels like a well throughout focal point of campaign information and activity. And I’m not even considering the parallax microsite The Way Forward which is just miles ahead of anything the other candidates are bringing to the table. Wynne’s site engages users from the get go, gives off the aura of a modern and forward thinking candidate and draws users to get involved. While the other campaign sites rarely invoke an emotion or instill confidence in the candidate, most end up taking away from the candidate’s true attributes and qualifications with small but glaring errors.
Again, I don’t mean to harp on these hard working teams, as there are dozens of examples across many recent Canadian campaigns that could easily prove my point. But what is the issue in Canadian campaign design? If we understand that money and campaign finances are a hindrance, but at the same time understand that there are many free tools out there and a wealth of available talent, what is the problem? Why are the majority of these sites so bad?
I’ll throw this out there and I’m open to counter points, but in my opinion, the problem with the state of web design in Canadian politics actually ties back to the recent success of Obama’s team. Whenever Obama’s success is discussed on a higher level the conversation ultimately focuses on the social media myth of that team’s success. While there is no question that Obama broke major ground with his use of social media, what is easily forgotten, even with the wealth of information out there, is that Obama’s online presence included the entire package. The iconic Obama imagery and the campaign slogans created a symmetry across all the campaigns networks. The web site was designed with users in mind and interwoven with an aura of modernization. All these elements were designed together to form Obama’s online presence. Yes, social media was a factor, but social media was only a tool to reach out to voters and supporters, ultimately it drove them back toward the main Obama web site to donate, interact, organize and learn about Obama. In most Canadian campaigns, I’m not seeing that sort of full package concept or planning, which is what I believe is wrong with the industry. There needs to be less focus on the myth of social media and more on the overall online package – ideas that Obama’s team have written about since the 2012 campaign ended.
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