Daniel Ryan and Josh Higgins are the first to admit they are not the typical politicos of Capitol Hill.

Ryan has gauges, and his favorite piece of clothing is a black hoodie. Higgins has several visible tattoos, and his professional career includes time in a band that played on the Warped tour.

But as the lead developer and lead designer, respectively, the two men led a lean, mean team of designers who created the unmistakable and ultimately persuasive look of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.


Ryan and Higgins spoke to an audience of designers, voters and soon-to-be-voters Wednesday as part of The Public Library’s Creative Citizenship Program on The 4th Floor. The partners covered their experience working for President Barack Obama, the battle stories of pulling 24-hour shifts and the merit and functionality of metrics in the creative process.

Herein are the lessons we learned:

-Red means stop: Visitors to the re-election campaign website were more likely to be drawn to or swayed by a donation button that was any color but red.

-Girls rule:When comparing the popularity of three photographs-one of Obama, one of first lady Michelle Obama and one of the couple together-with visitors, the picture of the first lady solo ranked highest.

-Must go mobile: Ryan and Higgins made a strategic choice to build a responsive website, one that would function on any platform from desktop to iPhone. The data suggested that mobile devices were clutch avenues to reach three coveted voter populations-the affluent, those between the ages of 18 and 24, and ethnic minorities. In October 2012, those with mobile devices accounted for roughly 20 million visitors of the nearly 30 million total visitors.

-The Irish Obama: The merchandise store presented a few surprise popular items, including a St. Patrick’s Day-themed T-shirt that read “O’Bama” on the front. Though the design was originally created for a single state-Pennsylvania-the T-shirt was an instant success across the country.

-The glory of design: Ryan and Higgins joked that the moment they knew they had arrived in the full sense of the phrase was the night their “The Life of Julia,” an animated explanation of how Obamacare would affect Julia through the stages of her life, appeared on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.

-A welcomed delay in the process: Contrary to the pervasive understanding of how consumers in the private sector would like to go through any process or transaction (quickly and painlessly), visitors looking to contribute to the campaign were thrilled to savor their donating time. The same multistep forms Ryan was once paid to remove from similar processes in the private sector were positive for the political sphere.

-On the same page: Outside of the main headquarters in Chicago, the 2012 campaign included field offices in every state with more than one office in a battle state. To ensure continuity in policy language, graphics, photographs and even typeface, Ryan’s and Higgins’ teams created a 125-page brand book.

-A picture’s worth a 1,000 words: The poster-making child in each designer got a time to shine when Ryan and Higgins watched a simple graphic or photograph of the president or first lady with a quote or message set in typeface over the graphic or photograph receive almost 20 times the number of shares that plain text or video experienced.

-Testing works: Despite the strangeness of testing the creative process, of quantifying and measuring every piece of output, the dogged thoroughness that was applied to all aspects of the campaign paid off-literally: $690 million was raised online for the re-election campaign, and $125 million was because of decisions made about the look and process of the website, thanks to the information gleaned from testing.

-Get involved:Of the experience on the whole, Higgins said, “You can change things by being engaged. This is just how we did it.”

Ryan seconded that opinion: “Do it. Get involved. It’s so worth it.”