There were some great speakers at the Design Thinkers 2010 conference in Toronto this year. Some of the highlights included Paul Lavoie (“Challenge the status quo”), Khoi Vinh (“Design is secondary to behaviour”) and Roger Martin (“Balance analytical and intuitive thinking”) but the standout for me was Scott Thomas, Design Director for the 2008 Barack Obama campaign.

As I sat in the small conference room with about 100 other attendees and listened to Scott speak, I realized that what made the Obama campaign so successful (he did win after all) could also be applied to design in general. 

1. Capture Attention

People today are savvy and selective. You have a few seconds to catch their eye, connect with them and make them care. It’s not enough to stand on the mountain top and shout. You have to develop innovative ideas that attract attention and stand out from the crowd. Through a combination of colour, typography and imagery, the Designing Obama team developed a cohesive visual message that was both highly attractive and instantly recognizable. They challenged the conventional and created the exceptional.

2. Make a Connection

Elements in the Obama campaign were not chosen simply to make the campaign look stylish, but also to promote an idea and inspire action, to relate a story and describe an experience, to build knowledge and gain trust, to solve problems and answer questions, and to share ideas and exchange information. Effective design has the ability not only to inform but to emote, and emotion is the key to every decision people make. Hope. Change. “We” not “he”. Through selective language and emotional content the Designing Obama team engaged their audience and promoted the campaign’s spirit, beliefs and values.

3. Motivate a Reaction

Before anyone will give you their time or money, in order for them to take a chance, they have to trust you. Effective design projects confidence and promotes trust. It is not an issue of aesthetic judgement – it is a process. The more that people understand your process and the more you prove that you understand their needs, the more they trust you. Through relevance, trust and emotional connection, the Designing Obama team was able to not only raise awareness but also illicit a response.

Capture attention. Make a connection. Motivate a reaction. By following these 3 steps you too can become president (or at least deliver a successful design campaign).