Q&A: Robyn Kanner, senior creative adviser for Biden-Harris campaign, talks creative process for virtual campaign

Fiza Kuzhiyil

Creatives from the Biden-Harris campaign shared their experience conducting an online presidential campaign during the South by Southwest 2021 conference session “Politics x Design: How the Biden-Harris Creative Team Won the Election” on Tuesday.

Robyn Kanner, former senior creative adviser to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, talked to The Daily Texan about her design process.

The Daily Texan: How did you use your personal strengths to create unique creative content for the Biden-Harris campaign?

Robyn Kanner: I grew up hanging out with friends who were musicians, and I played guitar. I grew up in the woods in Maine. There wasn't much to do but play music, so I did that a lot. When it comes to design, I think of everything as songs. One of the things that I always look for when I'm designing things is rhythm and how things are supposed to sound even if we're only looking at them. We designed this system, and it could apply to anything (Biden) said in his speech, (where) there would be action words and secondary words. Those big action words, which go in like a sort of loud chord, and (secondary) words would be a softer chord. That way, each graphic, we could talk about it like a song. When we were deep in critiquing the design, I could say something like, ”This chord needs to be a little bit louder. This chord needs to be a little bit softer. These chords work together really well,” and it gave us a shared language to design.

DT: What was your creative process like in an online campaign during a pandemic?

Kanner: I would quite literally take out my guitar and I would say, “This is how your graphic sounds like.” I'd play a ditty and then I'd be like, “This is what needs to sound like.” That was how we were able to talk about things. We basically were on Google Hangouts together sometimes at 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., sometimes at 3 a.m. (The) campaign was a 24/7 machine. One of the things that ended up being great about being remote was that I was able to hire people who are not in the same place. Our project manager was in San Diego. I was in D.C. Carahna (Magwood) was in Philadelphia. Julian (Williams), who ran our opposition design, was actually in Amsterdam. We were all able to be across the world, which ended up being a pretty huge benefit for us.

DT: During the conference session, you said you had 43 minutes in between finding out the VP pick and creating content to announce it. What were those 43 minutes like?

Kanner: Bedlam. We had done a lot of prep work leading up to the rollout. I had probably 300 logos total, and the day before the (VP) announcement I whittled that down to 30. (The next) afternoon (at) 3:17 p.m., Rob (Flaherty) called me and just said, “It's Kamala. Can you get things ready?” From there, you work. Everybody has a role and responsibility in this process. In those 43 minutes, I knew the internet was amped to know who it was, but I wasn't looking at the internet. I mean, I had 43 minutes to produce everything. You do a once-over on things and make sure it looks great and make sure there's no mistakes, and it's game time. Thorough practice goes into something like that, so by the time it's game time, you just know what to do. It was a pretty crazy 43 minutes.  

DT: How did you react to the public’s response to your team’s content about the VP pick?

Kanner: Probably around 8 or 9 (p.m.), I looked at CNN. CNN had a splash of our website, and that's when it hit me that it was public. I was like, “Oh, that's that work that was on my computer screen this morning.” It's a big world, people are going to talk, but to me, the thing that I was focused on was making sure that logo worked and that it was strong and it conveyed a message of unity for the country. And it did that. I couldn't be more thrilled with how everything turned out, how well the team worked, and the fact that the work worked. That's what matters. We did our jobs well.