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VOTE: First year A&D students design advocacy handbills for election day

October—In 2008, the voter registration rate at the time of the national election in the United States was about 88% of the voting eligible population. However, most midterm elections usually generate lower voter turnout than presidential elections. Only about 40 percent of those eligible to vote actually go to the polls in midterm elections. With this as a beginning, students in the art & design department at Ohio Northern University had the assignment to create handbills aimed at promoting participation in this year’s November mid-term election.

The AIGA|The Professional Association for Design, a nationwide association which works to “advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force” (, organized a Get Out the Vote campaign. It was a national AIGA Design for Democracy initiative that was initiated after the 2000 election and enabled designers to engage in the public arena by contributing to a coordinated voter mobilization campaign. A 2012 poster campaign built on the efforts made in 2004 and 2008, when participants created more than 50,000 AIGA posters that were displayed in public places in communities across the nation and made available as online PDFs for anyone to download, print and post independently.

Students in an introductory visual communication class did their part this election season with a chain of vivid and spirited typographic handbills, each of which urged the community to vote. The handbills, small printed advertisements distributed by hand, communicated the message to vote or to register to vote, and motivated citizens to turn out on election day.

The assignment fulfilled an ongoing AIGA objective of demonstrating the value of design to the public, public officials and business by providing a clear call to action for an activity that was important to everyone. The project also addressed an important objective of the design program at Ohio Northern.

“One aspect of the assignment forced students to address formalistic visual qualities of typography and composition,” explained Prof. Brit Rowe, the instructor for the course. “But, it also introduced students to visual advocacy.”

“Visual advocacy is being discussed more and more frequently within the graphic design profession,” said Prof. Rowe, associate professor of design. “In essence, this project introduces the importance of a social and an ethical approach to students’ work. We want students to understand that they are citizens participating in a democratic society, and as such, they should be cognizant that their communication skills can be put to use as a powerful tool for social change for any number of issues.”

The introductory visual communication course is a freshman level design course that primarily serves as an introduction to the basic methods, processes, language, visual principles and underlying theory of working in two-dimensional communication design. The course aims to integrate visual communication theory while introducing professional practices in graphic design.

AIGA, the professional association for design, stimulates thinking about design, demonstrates the value of design and empowers the success of designers at each stage of their careers. AIGA’s mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. Founded in 1914, AIGA remains the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. For more information, visit

The mission of the Ohio Northern graphic design program is to prepare undergraduate students to become socially and environmentally aware leaders in the field of visual communication. Focusing on development and mastery of conceptual and technical skills in graphic design, illustration, and advertising as well as studio electives, cross disciplinary courses and collaborative experiences prepare students for the convergence of the design fields and for positions as creative directors across a broad spectrum of increasingly media-based careers. Graduates from the program have gone on to work at companies such as Wunderman Design, Foothold Design, Smithsonian Institution, Milan Historical Museum, NiSource, Bubbles Academy, and Recess Creative.

Originally designated as the School of Fine Arts and later the College of Fine Arts, the art & design program was first established as an independent academic unit at Ohio Northern in 1878, largely as an outgrowth of course work in engineering and architectural drawing. Today, Ohio Northern offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts with concentrations in two-dimensional, three-dimensional and pre-art therapy. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, AIGA: The Professional Association for Design, and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is recognized in the “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2014–15 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.