Commentary

4 Key Design Lessons From 2020 DNC Candidates

Even with the 2020 election a year away, the buzz about branding for the presidential candidates continues to heat up, with design nerds already having a field day dissecting and critiquing font size, color choice and web imagery. 

As we get closer and closer to primary season, these campaign logos will begin popping up on bumper stickers, in our social media feeds and as the backdrop to stories on the evening news. 

The good news is, there’s a lot for marketers to learn from the visual branding hits and misses of the contenders vying for the White House in election 2020. Here are a few key takeaways:  

1 - Color provides an effective means of veering from tradition and standing out. This election’s field embraced a variety of diverse palettes beyond the standard red, white and blue. From Elizabeth Warren’s use of a deep purple and unique contrasting mint green to Beto O’Rourke’s monochromatic black and white and Pete Buttigieg’s shifting nine-color industrial palette reflective of his Indiana hometown, many of the candidates steered far clear of expected political hues in an effective effort to stand out in a crowded field. 

2 - Millennials’ preferences for personalization and interactivity extends even to their choice of president. At least, it seems that’s the thinking from Pete Buttigieg’s camp, which opted for a “make your own brand” approach via an interactive tool on his campaign site that lets you mix and match graphics and brand color combinations for social media. Buttigieg also offered ready-made, hand-lettered localized templates for social media posts and rally signs. 

3 - Even if you’re going for a down-to-earth or casual tone for your band, many basic principles still apply. For example, opting for the first-name-only brand has been a popular choice among the DNC in this race -- see “Amy,” “Bernie,” “Julian” -- perhaps a strategy to foster familiarity and approachability. However, in the case of Amy Klobuchar, the use of three distinctly different fonts in her logo execution detracts from the message and possibly the trust of future voters.   

4 - You can’t please all the people all the time, especially when it comes to logos. Anyone who pays attention to the uproar across social media whenever a major consumer brand rolls out a new logo knows that change of any kind provokes controversy. And for every person who loves the new look, a hundred others detest it.

The same seems to go for politics. For example, while design critics cited in various articles this year seemed to universally praise the clean design aesthetics of Cory Booker and the creativity of Pete Buttigieg, the general public (according to a survey of U.S. adults by Crestline) favored Biden and Bernie’s more straightforward, traditional logos. 

According to some branding experts quoted in business and marketing pubs, Elizabeth Warren’s color choices were inventive and bold, while others deemed them safe and boring. And while some applauded Kamala Harris’ bold approach, others said it looked more like a protest sign than a logo. 

Certainly as the field for 2020 narrows in the months ahead, attention will turn from these external imagery toward more substantive policy issues -- or at least that should be the case. But in the meantime, how each candidate chooses to visually represent him or herself to prospective voters provides some invaluable lessons for the rest of us.

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