John Barros finished outside the top two last night in the preliminary election for Boston Mayor. He impressed voters, his opponents and the media with his ideas, energy and campaign style.

We take some solace that his campaign logo – created by Hairpin – came out on top, at least to the Boston Globe and the design experts the paper polled to evaluate the signs of all the candidates.

Edward Boches, a Boston University advertising professor, and Lindsay Kinkade, a graphic designer in Phoenix, both agreed the best-designed sign belonged to John.

His two-toned, blue and green background adds depth, Boches said in the article. “It’s modern and clear,” Kinkade said, “but more considered and beautiful.”

When we first met with our team, John came to us with a clear vision, about himself and for the city. This clarity, we thought, came through in the mark.

The blue in the logo was a personal reference to the Cape Verde flag and John’s family roots. The two tones of blue spoke to the candidate’s sophistication.

The tall letters remain readable yet differentiate the mark from what we anticipated to see from the rest of the pack, especially the san serif type popularized by the Obama campaign.

Hairpin first met John during a video shoot we produced for the Barr Foundation. (He was a recipient of the foundation’s well-regarded fellowship program.)

While John will not be moving on to the next stage of the mayoral election, he had his share of victories during the campaign. He received a laudatory endorsement from the Globe and praise from the Boston Herald.

We hope it’s not the last we hear from this promising candidate.


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Paul Westerberg is reuniting the Replacements, or at least he’s playing again with the bass player which, for wistful fans of a certain age like myself, is enough.

Why is that? Westerberg writes songs that stick with you. Catchy, yes. Clever, sure. But as he explains in a recent New York Times essay, the trick is to keep it simple.

“My own creed is simple or impossible,” he explained.

I’ve become a Simple person (not be confused I trust with simpleton). The more I think about how to communicate, the more I want to strip things away.

Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity is a new book that makes the case. The authors, Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn, Siegel and Etzkorn define simplicity as the rare sum of convenience, clarity, usability, timeliness and beauty.

Unfortunately, they see a world where simplicity is in short supply. Needless complexity, especially in language, is holding back our economy and our democracy.

Take the disclosure statements from banks, or terms of service from web services, or instructions from tax agencies. They are poorly worded and jargon-filled.

It’s as if the writers intended to confuse you. “Complexity is a failing,” Siegel and Etzkorn write, “unless it was intentional — in which case you’d really better watch your step.”

The long word counts of disclosures, service terms or tax instructions, supposedly needed in the interest of transparency and disclosure, serves neither. People just tune it all out.

“When inundated with information, people are apt to lose sight of what’s important and stop paying attention,” Siegel and Etzkorn write. As an example, they point to the growing length of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, which have reached an all-time high in words but also are notable for failing to provide clear guidelines for lower courts, according to judicial experts.

Another new book, Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass R. Sunstein, uses the author’s own experience guiding the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to champion the benefits of going simple, especially in government.

Sunstein is a liberal and progressive but of a certain kind. He believes that government must play a significant role in society to protect safety, educate children and provide the infrastructure for modern life. But he believes that it must do so in ways that nudge people as often as it mandates. Government must “ease people’s choices” to do things like apply for a license, get food assistance or sign up for health insurance.

He believes language is key to achieving these goals, but also key is what he calls “choice architecture,” defined as the “social environment against which we make our decisions.” For example, a book store’s choice architecture includes which books are on display when you enter the store. For a website, it would include the labels given to the main pages in a site navigation.

The Simple Movement — and let us hope that indeed it’s a movement — obviously applies to the work of nonprofit and cause communicators as it does to government bureaucrats and corporate lawyers. You may spend most of your waking hours thinking about nuclear arms control, but your audience most definitely does not. Same goes for climate change, or labor rights, or education reform.

So keep it simple, or it’ll be impossible to hum your tune.


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Recommended this month in Boston:

Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001–2012 showcases a selection of 122 posters to offer the public a chance to experience this magnificent body of empathetic and visually compelling messages for our time. The exhibition will be on display at Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Stephen D. Paine Gallery in Boston, January 15–March 2, 2013. It will then travel within the continental United States.

More via the MassArts website, here:

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Smart people have always placed value on a smart business card. Thanks to Emily Temple writing for Flavorwire, check out 20 such cards from folks such as Andy Warhol, Abraham Lincoln and Neil Armstrong.


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Can we invent a universal language in symbols? Designers at Catapult think so. They’ve created a platform for creating and sharing a global symbolic language called The Noun Project. Nonprofit designers can make use of the growing database of designs for their own infographics and other needs, within some common sense parameters. (Courtesy of GOOD.)

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Tim Brown, CEO of the global design firm IDEO, alerts LinkedIn followers to an encouraging development for both democracy and design: the United Kingdom’s government embrace of user-centric, clean design for the country’s online services and websites.

Prodded by government report, bureaucrats took its recommendations to heart, Tim writes, guided by a manifesto that many of us in our work for nonprofits would do well to adopt:

  • Start with needs (user needs, not government needs)
  • Do less
  • Design with data
  • Do the hard work to make it simple
  • Iterate. Then iterate again.
  • Build for inclusion
  • Understand context
  • Build digital services, not websites
  • Be consistent, not uniform
  • Make things open: it makes things better.

Tim writes:

From a design point of view, what is remarkable to me is the absolute simplicity with which information is presented. No gratuitous imagery or complex navigation. The site uses simple text and simple layout, cleverly putting the information you are most likely to want right in the center of the screen in very large type. Some designers might view the visual design as looking more like a wireframe, but I find the clarity very refreshing. is a wonderful example of the power of design to make the complex simple.

Read the full article on LinkedIn.

Image from Tim’s post.


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No nonprofit or cause websites made the newsweekly’s annual list, if one excludes PBS Kids. But valuable viewing nevertheless.

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Check out the new annual report for the Washington DC watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO), designed by Hairpin and now posted on POGO’s website. We’re proud of our association with a group engaged in such absolutely essential work.

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The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence represents virtually all of the statewide coalitions in its field, yet suffered from low profile in Washington DC — troublesome, since the alliance is focused solely on federal legislation. To punch above its weight in a crowded marketplace of inside-the-beltway players, NAESV needed a fresh start.

The organization’s stakeholders needed to believe in the identity and help us shape it from the get-go. So Hairpin surveyed volunteers and allies, interview board members, studied their peers before any design. The identity had to follow bedrock principles of good branding: be authentic, be relevant to target audiences, be clear and above all, be different. Projecting the identity had to succeed within very real constraints for our client, since it operated within a limited budget, staff time and an environment that required cooperation among allied nonprofits.

We virtually banished the use of the group’s unmemorable acronym and focused on the name’s action words — “end sexual violence” — a mission statement and call-to-action in one. On a whim, we checked on the phrase’s availability as a URL and, surprisingly, it was available. We re-wrote the organization’s stock descriptor and elevator pitch to echo that language and cut out unnecessary detail. We designed a simple square mark built around the bumper-sticker phrase that formed a natural wedge while reflecting the activist, tenacious personality of the organization.

We embraced the color teal, adopted by the broader movement of anti-sexual violence activists as their official color — a nod to the organization’s desire for cross-organization solidarity. We took full advantage of the block design by creating a brochure and business card as squares. The website, too, melded the signature teal within a no-nonsense, black-and-white design.



Website set to launch in February 2012:

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