Obama's web presence key to election victory

Designer shares insights on website revamp, development of Vote for Change

The design director behind the website for the 2008 election campaign of US President, Barack Obama, has argued the digital media aspects played a crucial part in the Democrat candidate's victory.

Speaking at the Web Directions South 2010 conference in Sydney this week, Scott Thomas revealed the short amount of time his team had to re-design the website which, before Thomas' entrance "wasn't bad".

“[The web design team] jumped on when the campaign was already rolling,” he said. “We were truly building an airplane while in flight, and time was crucially important.”

Thomas worked under the umbrella of Obama’s new media team, with director, Joe Rospars, overseeing the use of social networks, videos, online ads, analytics, states people, blogs and emails. Since the campaign, Thomas has released a digital book detailing his experiences on the trail, which he told attendees of the web developer conference was focussed around replicating the up-to-date news models of mainstream media outlets CNN and New York Times.

“All of us were able to communicate with people in a brand new way,” he said. “People were more informed about the election than ever before.

“This campaign was often talked about as not being politics as usual… design was usually on the backburner. Design plays a crucial role in how we interpret politics and campaigns.”

The home page became the focus for the site, according to Thomas, which was designed to "get people off their chairs" and become an active part of the campaign. The website redesign incorporated live streaming of events around America, a login for followers of Obama and a more personalised experience for the end-user.

As well as redesigning the website, Thomas and his team designed Vote for Change; an online enrolment system that used personalised language in an attempt to increase the number of eligible voters.

Obama's victory at the polls in 2008 has been widely attributed to his 'grassroots' campaign and his use of social media and web tools to involve volunteers, reversing the careful treading of previous campaigners when using Web 2.0 media.

“Barack Obama was the best at using social media,” he said. “People that are connecting with Barack Obama weren’t doing this by email; they were doing it through Twitter and Facebook.”

However, Thomas said before he came to the team the website wasn't impressive.

“There was a lot of room for improvement," he said. "Every shade of blue was being used and there were 47 typefaces and consistency was not occurring.

“It was so important for us to create signs and moments where the message became the person's voice rather than the voice of Barack Obama. By changing that messaging, we could control what we were doing a bit more.”

Since coming to the role, Obama has overseen the re-design of the official White House website with a chance for public consultation

“We now have a president who gives weekly addresses on YouTube,” Thomas said. “Before Obama, there were bits of legislation that didn’t allow any online political discussion via any other means than through the White House server.”

(See how the Liberal, Labor and the Australian Greens used social media tools during the 2010 Federal election)

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Tags social mediaBarack ObamaWeb 2.0Web Directions South 2010

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