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Akst: Taking other views and perspectives

I’m blessed/cursed with being able to see things from other perspectives.

The upside is that I’m empathetic and willing to consider alternative viewpoints.

The downside is that I’m persistently uncertain, distrustful and full of doubt (in self and others).

So, let’s focus on the downside. At the moment (on deadline), I can only think of three things I know to be absolutely true and which I never doubt: I love my family and friends, and am grateful for them; it’s a hideous injustice that neither The Doobie Brothers nor Rush are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; it’s largely futile to write about politics.

Though methodologically interesting (I didn’t realize until recently that several national polls quoted in the news still don’t call people with cellphones only, i.e., approximately one-third of America), I find polls pointless. I know who I’m going to vote for regardless of what others do.

Also, though I’ll watch them, I think presidential debates are dog-and-pony shows.

Finally, it’s hard to wrap my head around the statistical perception that this ugly, expensive campaign season is about convincing some 7 percent of undecided voters (everybody else decided long ago).

What could we have built, fixed or funded with the money flushed down the campaign toilet?

Part of my teaching load is introductory graphic design (part of the journalism program at Northern Illinois University.) You can’t teach journalism and avoid politics, and I want students to grow into caring, engaged people – one of those “other duties as assigned” that lands the big teaching bucks.

So last fall, I hatched a plan that would get students thinking more about politics, test a belief a colleague has about elections (college students nearly always accurately pick the winner), and give students a challenging, fun assignment that’s easy to grade (working smarter, not harder, y’all).

They created presidential bumper stickers.

I knew it would be challenging because of a bad habit students fall into. In many classes, students write research papers. Professors give guidelines on length (e.g., 15-20 typed, double-spaced pages) … and students freak. They think if they don’t get to 18 pages, they’re doomed. Alas, quality dies at page 14, so nonsense consumes 4 pages (or the paper is in a REALLY LARGE POINT SIZE).

But a truism of good graphic design is that less is more.

Good design tends to be minimalist – simple but attractive typography, one dominant image, and a minimum of hype.

Flip through a magazine with good ads and you’ll see what I mean.

Bumper stickers usually are 10 inches long and 3 inches tall, they’re meant to be seen from several feet away, possibly at high speed, and in this assignment, they’re supposed to convince you to do something important.

I’ve collected 95 bumper stickers. They’re witty (“Obama 2012: Yes We Can … Vote Him Out”; “adMITT he’s wrong … vote Obama in 2012”), visually creative, often angry and a couple are disturbing.

Speaking of disturbing, don’t get me started about students’ apathy about voting.

Anyway, 14 are what I would call “outliers” endorsing Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Roseanne Barr and Sarah Palin. The other 81 are pretty clear in their intent.

The winner? According to my colleague’s theory, incumbent President Barack Obama will crush GOP rival Mitt Romney on Nov 6. Obama received 52 votes to Romney’s 29.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at

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