Making the Gradient: A Convo With Dianne’s Creative Designer
If you’re a fan of Dianne Morales and her candidacy for New York City Mayor, then it’s pretty much a given that you’re also a fan of her campaign’s eye-catching, head-turning, can’t-miss-it logo.
Maybe you first noticed Dianne’s telltale, rainbow-shaped insignia on some campaign merch being carried or worn by one of her supporters. Perhaps you’ve seen it on a Dianne poster in the window of your favorite bodega, and the way its purple, magenta, orange and yellow hues jump out at you, it’s like getting an extra shot of caffeine alongside that coffee you’re about to go in and buy. And if you’re on social media (which, of course you are), then you’ve undoubtedly seen that same ombré-like blend of colors splashed across hundreds of progressives’ avatars, with more popping up every day. (It’s the cool-kids way of declaring you’re down with Dianne!)
Inside Dianne’s campaign, the color scheme that’s become her signature is known simply as “the gradient.” And to find out more about how the gradient came to be — and came to take on a life of its own — we talked with the woman who designed it: Dianne’s creative director, Jiar Zeman.
Tell us a little bit about your background. What did you do before joining Dianne’s campaign?
I’ve pivoted all my life. Early in my career, I did marketing for studio movie releases. From there, I went into planning music festivals and performance art festivals, doing a lot of backstage stuff with artists. When I came to New York five years ago — I’m from Malaysia, where most of my career was built — I became a marketing coordinator at a nonprofit, but I also started doing a lot of freelance design work, even though I wasn’t really calling myself a designer.
Was that the first time you’d actually done graphic design work?
I’d done a semester of graphic design in college and really liked it. The class was about learning to use the tools of graphic design, and then all the jobs I had taught me how to apply it. So when I went into music festivals, for example, it was about creating things very quickly, but also creating something very fun because, you know, you’re promoting a festival. Through every job I had, the designers I worked with were really generous with their knowledge and taught me things that helped me become the designer I am today.
How did you come to join Dianne’s campaign?
Whitney Hu, Dianne’s campaign manager, is a good friend; we met when I first came here, and I designed her campaign when she ran for City Council last year. After Whitney, I went on to design for a few other city council candidates, like Sandy Nurse and Lincoln Restler. When Whitney joined Dianne’s campaign, she asked me if I’d be willing to take on this project, and I did.
At that point, Dianne already had some visual materials, correct? Was your job to revamp those?
Yeah. I think they thought that the visual message didn’t really communicate who Dianne is and the spirit of the movement we have. And from a design point of view, the materials weren’t flexible to work with; if you had to shrink the template, for example, it became really hard to read. So I think those were the main sore points.
Did you have a conversation with Dianne before you got to work on the redesign?
No, because we didn’t have time! I had less than a week, so Whitney just told me, “I trust you. Go for it.” I did watch a lot of videos of Dianne to grasp that energy that she has. I think the first time I got to talk to her was after the first pass I shared with Whitney.
I think I heard, though, that the colors you chose are based on Dianne’s favorite colors?
Her favorite color is purple. Her one request was to keep the purple from her previous visuals in there.
So how did you approach your redesign? What was your goal?
I looked at the other candidates in the field and I thought, “OK, how can I elevate her to be on the same level?” Then after a while I realized, “Well, actually, she’s not on the same level as them. She’s better … How do we take this further?”
A lot of people think the arch-shaped logo you designed is meant to suggest a sunrise.
I look at it as an aura. An energy aura.
Were there any specific references you had in mind while you were designing? Any touchstones of inspiration while you were putting the visuals together?
I would like to say yes because I know that will make me sound very professional [laughs]. But I design with a lot of gut, and I actually try not to get too inspired by what other people do, because then I’m in fear of replicating instead of creating something new. So it was really just videos of Dianne, sitting in it, and then pushing out a whole bunch of ideas that came through my head.
The colors themselves are very energizing. I’m curious if you have any thoughts about what kind of work the colors are doing to convey the feelings and the message of Dianne’s campaign.
I really think a lot about colors and the emotions they evoke. The political world is very traditional and conservative in its design. People don’t take risks and it’s very repetitive. My intention was, “We’re not gonna do any of those things, we’re gonna be as fun as possible, because we have a lot of time ahead of us for campaigning and we want the branding to keep looking fresh. we want to look different every time to stay fresh.” From the get-go, there was an expression that this is for fun; it’s fun and it’s meant to be energetic. Dianne always reminds us to “find joy in the resistance,” and that’s definitely what we want to emulate through the campaign, including the design. And I think maybe that’s why it kind of blew up the way it did.
Did you have any concerns that you were maybe doing something too out there, compared to the political norms?
Not really, because I think we needed this. And Dianne needed it. I look at design as a tool to help, right? So the gradient is to catch your attention, and then once you learn more about Dianne, you’re like, “Oh, OK, I agree with her, and I want her for my mayor.”
Tell me what you find most inspiring about Dianne and her campaign.
I really love how she leads with empathy. Every decision we make as a campaign comes from a place of empathy and there’s no ego; it really is because we want to see a better city that serves everyone.
As an immigrant, I’m very privileged to be able to live here and have a green card, but at the same time, the systems that are in place are unjust. You grow up from a developing country and you’re like, “Oh, America’s so great, America’s so great” — and you come here and you see people stay with jobs that are not dignified and don’t give them any fulfilment because they need healthcare. And, you know, that has never been my fear, where I’m from, even though we’re not, you know, a big country. And I’ve never had to worry about mass shootings where I’m from.
Coming here, I’ve learned how there’s so much we can do better. And I think Dianne, her vision, really aligns with the city that I hope to see.