Design elements and logos on stages and at public appearances were among the things Maine native Robyn Kanner worked on for the Biden-Harris campaign. Photo by Adam Schultz

Robyn Kanner watched a fly land on Vice President Mike Pence’s head during a televised debate in October and was pretty sure she could find a creative way for that odd moment to help her candidate, now-President Joe Biden.

“I thought we should really make a fly swatter and sell it on the website,” said Kanner, 33, a Maine native who was senior creative adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign. “We came up with one that had ‘Truth Over Flies’ on it and sold tens of thousands. My team and I did a lot of that, watching events during the campaign and doing rapid response.”

Robyn Kanner helped create a fly swatter for the Biden-Harris campaign. Photo courtesy of Biden for President

The fly swatter played on a frequent Biden campaign line, “We choose truth over lies,” and was among myriad design projects Kanner played a major role in during her 10 months with the campaign. Kanner, originally from Fairfield, also had input on the design and typeface of logos, signs, social media posts and merchandise, as well as the setup of stages and appearance sites. She also worked as creative director for the committee that organized Biden’s inauguration.

Kanner has worked in a variety of graphic design jobs over the last decade or so, including for former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2019. But working for Biden, as he secured the Democratic nomination and then beat Donald Trump, presented her with a host of new thrills and challenges.

Robyn Kanner, a Fairfield native, was senior creative adviser to Joe Biden’s campaign for president. Photo courtesy of Robyn Kanner

For instance, Kanner and others on the campaign’s design team had no idea who Biden would pick as his running mate until about 45 minutes before his choice of Kamala Harris was announced in August. So that meant about 10 different logos had to be designed, one pairing Biden’s name with the name of a prospective vice president. Each of the names presented problems in terms of how they would look or fit with Biden on a sign. Some names were longer, some were short, some had more thin letters and some had very wide letters, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who were both considered at some point.

“If the name is nine letters, then the visuals will be very different than a name with four letters. You have to worry about the balance with Biden,” said Kanner. “When we heard it was Harris, we were excited, because it fits like a sandwich with Biden.”

One of Kanner’s prouder moments was helping to pick the typeface to be used on Biden-Harris logos and signs. When she joined the campaign last March, the Biden logo already had the highlighted and stylized “E” in the middle. But the typeface was sort of “bubbly,” Kanner said.  She and others decided to create Biden logos with two typefaces – Mercury and Decimal – which Kanner said made the logos look clean and “open,” in keeping with themes of openness and inclusiveness.

“I’m sort of a nerd when it comes to typeface, so I liked getting into the weeds on that,” Kanner said.

Robyn Kanner, a Maine native, helped shape the look of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, including adding Kamala Harris’ name to the logo. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

WORK ON MAINE MUSIC SCENE

Kanner, a transgender woman, grew up in Fairfield near Waterville and graduated from Lawrence High School. She said that, for most of her childhood and teen years, she wasn’t inspired by much, and her prime interest was basketball. But in her late teens, around the time she began transitioning, she became interested in music, photography and other creative pursuits.

“I found myself interested in telling stories and found it was a great outlet for me,” said Kanner, who is currently working on starting a new creative design company in New York City. “Transitioning helped me figure out my own voice.”

She attended the University of Maine at Farmington beginning in 2006 and, around the same time, began hanging out with musicians in Portland and working on album covers, both taking photographs for them and designing them. Over a period of three or four years, she estimated she worked on about 40 or 50 album or CD covers for local musicians.

One of those musicians was the rapper Spose, whose real name is Ryan Peters. Peters was in the early days of producing and marketing his own music, and didn’t know anyone who might take photos for his album or help him create a cover. A mutual friend, former WCYY disc jockey Mark Curdo, introduced Peters and Kanner. Peters and fellow rapper Cam Groves built a life-size mock-up of an album cover out of plywood, and Kanner helped them turn it into an actual cover, for the 2011 release “We Smoked It All 2.” Later, Kanner helped Peters lay out a book of his song lyrics.

Long before she worked on Joe Biden’s campaign, Robyn Kanner helped design album covers for Maine musicians, including Spose’s “We Smoked It All 2” in 2011. Photo courtesy of Preposterously Dank Entertainment

“I’m just always impressed by her diverse set of skills, and the way she really throws herself into whatever she’s doing,” said Peters. “I was into design before I was a rapper, so we have that in common.”

Kanner didn’t graduate from UMaine Farmington, but worked a variety of entry-level design jobs, including as an intern at Portland Stage Company and at Dispatch Magazine in Portland, which covered entertainment. She landed jobs in Boston, Seattle and New York, working for both Amazon and Etsy in various design jobs.

In 2019, Kanner heard from a friend, who had worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, about an opportunity to work on O’Rourke’s campaign. She decided to take a break from corporate work and see if she could help change the country, at least a little. She wanted to be part of an effort that might eventually defeat Trump.

“With all that was happening in the world, I couldn’t stand still; I had to get involved,” said Kanner.

O’Rourke suspended his campaign in November 2019. Before getting hired by the Biden campaign, Kanner worked as vice president of digital for STG Results, a political and public affairs advocacy firm in Washington, D.C. Kanner made enough of an impression on Biden campaign officials to get hired in March 2020. She spent much of the campaign based in Washington and consulting with others on the design team via Zoom. She only met Biden virtually.

Another product Kanner had input in was a hand sanitizer container that had Biden’s COVID-19 recovery program written on the label, in small print, under the Biden tag line “Build Back Better.” Those were also sold on the campaign website.

Kanner said working on visual messages associated with such important issues as the pandemic, the economy and national unity was “humbling.”

Robyn Kanner, a Maine native, helped shape the look of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, including adding Kamala Harris’ name to the logo. Photo by Adam Schultz

Kanner didn’t attend the limited-capacity inauguration Jan. 20, but watched it on TV while packing up her Washington apartment. The new firm she’s helping to start in New York City is called Studio Gradients and will be involved with fashion and film, among other things, she said.

Through the years and while on the Biden team, Kanner kept in touch with her friends in the Maine music community, including Peters. He has had her on his podcast and has followed her career. He talked to her a few times while she was working on the Biden-Harris campaign.

“We were talking about the campaign and lawn signs, and I thought about how decisions she’s involved in could affect millions of people,” Peters said. “When she joined the Biden campaign, it blew my mind. But I told myself I need to stop being surprised by things Robyn Kanner does. Because who knows what’s next for her.”


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