Earlier this month “The Life of Julia,” an interactive slideshow designed to contrast the Obama campaign’s policies with Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney’s managed to cause a bit of a stir, generating over 2,900 tweets on Twitter, 51,000 “Likes” on Facebook (as of this writing) and filling the blogosphere and online news channels with an assortment of rebukes, responses and parodies.
Politically speaking, perhaps not much remains to be explored. But what about from a graphic design standpoint? Embedded in all the political commentary a subtle design critique has emerged. In fact, almost every article makes reference to some design aspect of “The Life of Julia” in tandem with political critique. From the color palette and style described by Ryan Messmore as “a retro-chic illustration of Julia against a pastel-hued background,” lacking “the full color of a human life” to The New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Ross Duthout’s article dubbing it “propaganda.”
A particular focal point of critique is Julia’s face. Much like an isotype, Julia’s face is featureless, a design decision which I perceived as intended to make Julia more relatable and not marked as a particular ethnicity, or as Daily Beast writer Judith Grey described it “an everywoman” but has been characterized alternatively by some as a “creepy” and “faceless” cartoon.
Regardless of political message or even information accuracy, as a designer, my first impression of Life with Julia was “this is effective.” Let me clarify, by “effective” I mean from an engagement and communication standpoint. The narrative is clear (whether one agrees with it or not is another matter) and the interface has a simple “ease of use” factor. Click on “years old” and a slide up menu allows quick navigation to any point on Julia’s timeline, or click the arrows to move along in sequence. Ironically, the same simple format and graphics that make it easy-to-follow and understand are what make it, as the Atlantic Wire put it “made to be mocked.”
Big Think contributor Kris Broughton begins to come close to a straight on design critique in his article “Is the “Life of Julia” Ad Really that Bad?” when he gives his thoughts on the intended target market for “Life of Julia” as “hip, trendy, twentythirtyfortysomethings who read local alternative magazines like Skirt.” and makes reference to the “colors, the tonal palette, the shape and proportions of the graphics, and the tone of the prose” but then moves back into analysis of the message.
All of which raises the question “Is it possible to separate the politics from the design?” Post a comment and let us know what you think.