Through The Static

The pen may be mightier than the sword, sure, but here in Wisconsin a radio tower is all you need to help change a nation. [For better or for worse depending on who you ask] Those involved are either suddenly ecstatic to change their believes after the outcome of the last presidential election, or franticly un-open Pandora's Box and fight it at every turn. With all this white noise nothing clear, and everything is up in the air. Just ask Charlie Sykes.


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Admittedly there is a lot going on in this design. It is so covered with elements that it is almost hard to read. However, given the sudden flip in Charlie Sykes politics and the lead up and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election it seemed fitting. Wisconsin talk radio and by extension Charlie Sykes, changed the game. Now could they live with it? Charlie not only stepped away from his position as a conservative commentator, but he went to the other side. A once staunch proponent of the republican party was now with MSNBC and Public Radio doing his best to undo what had been done. Others filled in the cracks. 


With all this white noise, nothing clear, and everything is up in the air.


Perhaps the only fitting place I can begin to talk about this design is the photography. Mostly because the portrait by  Max Thomsen was commissioned before I began working on the project. In fact, it came back to me before the story was even written. Our editors knew there would be a something big to say, before they knew what exactly what that would be. 

The expression on Charlie's face combined with the dark blues and Red tints become a profoundly fitting and inspiration to my design. Not only were the red and blues of the portrait reminiscent of America's two party political system, they were important in the story of Charlie Sykes. A political commentator who's work helped to build a new kind of conservatism. It would grow out of southeastern Wisconsin, statewide and, eventually, nationally—only to have it implode on itself.

 Illustration: Michael Marsicano

I aimed to pair this portrait with something that could match the red and blue theme, but also show the part of the story where Charlie was trying to reseal the can of worms he had opened. His expression seems almost tired. A mixture of sorry and desperate hope in his eyes. The growing "radio waves" enter from the left towards Charlie as if what he help to start had now turned on him. In it, I put the headline of the feature, trapped and tangled in the waves as if a spider web.


The growing "radio waves" enter from the left towards Charlie as if what he help to start had now turned on him.


The color palette was chosen to based on Charlie’s sudden flip from one side of the political spectrum to the other. From red to blue—Republican to Democrat. I also chose to build this layout on top of a textured gradient. The grain texture I added was as an ode to the often fuzzy sounds of the AM radio, of which Charlie built his career on.

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The sounds of hazy crackling is almost palpable when one listens to the ranting radio personality hosts. I chose to use the font Knockout as call back to the voices that often spit and patter out of radio. I used different weights of the font family to visually mimic the pops of the mic.

For the headline font I chose Arvil. A font that stood tall, much like the radio hosts do for their beliefs day in and day out.


The last and perhaps most cerebral element to this design was the use of an optical illusion in the column structure. This flip-flopping ladder effect was placed behind the body copy. As the reader reads the story they go from reading something “close” and in front, to falling “away” and back—which was inspired by Charlie’s flipping from one side to the other, a truly topsy turvy time in our nation’s politics.

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Follow the link above for a closer look at this project