Let’s take a break from the raucous debate playing out on Facebook feeds across the country about this presidential election.
Rather than discuss the merits of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump’s personalities or policy, let’s talk instead about something a little less fraught with emotion.
They’re both pretty bad.
Graphic design may seem like a mere accouterment in politics. However, global leaders would not be elected without a graphic designer to help shape their message.
Design tells you something about how the candidate wants to be perceived. Hillary’s arrow says “forward-looking,” while Trump’s battle cry is combative. (The campaign’s slogan implies that America isn’t great – a provocative claim.)
Design’s influence can be felt in other ways – remember those poorly designed butterfly ballots in the 2000 race?
Conversely, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was a watershed for applying design thinking to a political campaign. While it wasn’t unprecedented, it was generally agreed to be the first time a presidential candidate was marketed like a high-end consumer brand. Love it or hate it, Obama’s “Hope” poster was as recognizable as the Golden Arches. (That poster, designed by street artist Shepard Fairey, wasn't Obama's official campaign logo. The candidate's actual logo was an "O" with red and white stripes.)
The two candidates aren’t in that league. If one was, the race might not be so close.
Setting policy aside (if you’re somehow able to do that), you might expect Donald Trump to be a whiz at marketing himself at least. Arguably, he is. Those red “Make America Great Again” hats are probably the most known brand images of this election.
Unlike the man, however, Trump’s campaign logo is boring – bold sans-serif type against a red background. The candidate also famously stumbled after the campaign updated the logo to accommodate VP pick Mike Pence.
In an effort to add something interesting, the T in Trump appeared to be doing something illicit to the P. Within a day or so, the campaign pulled the logo. The new one just says: “Trump Pence Make America Great Again!”
As at least one designer has pointed out, Trump-Pence missed an opportunity because both have the same number of letters in their names, which could have netted a more sophisticated treatment.
Give the Clinton campaign points for trying to do something different. Unlike Trump, the campaign’s FedEx-like arrow doesn’t appear to have a sexual element. That arrow is pointing right, which is a bit tone deaf for a candidate who struggled so hard against lefty Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
As logos go, Hillary’s isn’t terrible, but it lacks energy. This one, suggested by an Internet commenter, is a bit more lively.
Why Design Matters
I don’t believe that a great logo can aid a terrible candidate, but in both cases. Trump’s and Hillary’s logos aren’t in the same class as Obama’s. This was a missed opportunity.
Clinton’s campaign at least is applying data-driven targeting via mobile and social media. Maybe next time around whoever is running in 2020 will put similar energy into creating iconic imagery.