The first image that comes to mind from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is probably not his logo. Instead, you might think of the now-classic “Hope” poster or signs emblazoned with “Change We Need” and “Yes We Can” in assertive, all-caps typography. While a singular logo helps define a political candidate, it’s just one part of what graphic designers call an identity. Designers also deploy color, fonts and illustrations in the way a chef might mix ingredients and spices. When part of a larger design menu, each element adds context and nuance to the visual flavor of a brand. ¶ The flexible graphic identity from Obama’s 2008 campaign is now regarded as archetypal political design. The combination of a bright primary-color palette, the sunrise O and bold typography implied a confident candidate with a clear vision for the future. Whether President Obama could ever live up to this image, his campaign’s savvy and powerful use of design set the bar for today’s presidential candidates. While none of 2016’s campaigns rise to the level of Obama 2008, some intriguing ideas and shared visual themes have emerged from the field.
Martin O’Malley‘s noteworthy design, which attempts to duplicate Obama’s success with its own flexible graphic identity, is one of this cycle’s most compelling. The speech-bubble-like box around his name in bold italic type suggests that O’Malley is a strong populist voice. His campaign shrewdly uses this box as its own design element to brand all of O’Malley’s material — the notched box says “O’Malley” even when it surrounds a different word, a graphic about college tuition or the shorthand “O’M.” Problematically, however, the identity’s key element, the tail of the voice bubble, sticks awkwardly out of the corner, making the bubble as ill-defined as the public’s perception of the candidate himself.
For the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton‘s identity is surprisingly daring. Her H arrow logo sidesteps cliche flag imagery along with the baggage of the Clinton name, creating a zippy mark that translates just as clearly into tiny social-media icons. Such an unanticipated logo from 2016’s most-anticipated candidate was met with critical scorn and incited the Tweeting masses when it was released. But her logo can double as a container for photography and even the pride flag, allowing it to speak to different audiences. This flexibility should be a boon to Clinton’s campaign, though its use of the identity is inconsistent and full of missteps. Her Web site is a hot mess and lacks a clear design vision. Many of Clinton’s rally signs put her campaign URL front and center — blatant pandering to the handful of voters who haven’t heard of Google.
With her business background in the design-savvy tech world, it’s no surprise that Carly Fiorina’s graphic image is smartly constructed. Her logo dismisses the crossbar of the letter A, replacing it with a star, a subtle salute to patriotic iconography. The thin, attractive sans serif typography in her logo and on her Web site reflects current tech design trends. A clarity of vision is implied through precise design and generous breathing room around each design element — a quality that makes Fiorina’s identity stand out from those of the rest of the Republican field. But even though her design is appealing, it lacks some of the weightiness of her competitors’ and feels a bit dry, though the use of her personable first name provides some warmth.
Like Fiorina’s, Bernie Sanders‘s campaign puts the focus on his friendly-sounding first name. Warm typography and clean design on the candidate’s Web site add to the feel of approachability. Though affable, Sanders’s old-school political-style logo is not particularly distinctive. For a progressive candidate who wishes to defy his age, a fresher, more contemporary mark would have been better.
Jeb Bush‘s branding wisely omits the last name of his unpopular brother. Bold, snappy and memorable, Jeb! has an aw-shucks vibe that plays down Bush’s background in finance. When designing a simple, purely typographic logo, attention to detail is important. Bush’s logo underperforms in this department and feels slightly unbalanced. The exclamation point appears to sit higher than the J, while the 2016 is crowded underneath. The oversize, flamboyant punctuation risks feeling cartoonish and makes Bush’s otherwise catchy mark seems like it’s trying too hard.
Several Republican candidates have embraced logos and graphic identities that feel decidedly more corporate than political. With its bold typography and modernist design sensibilities, Rand Paul‘s well-designed logo could pass for the mark of a multinational corporation. Though this quality may turn off some voters, it distinguishes his logo from those of the other candidates of both parties. (It would also look great 15 feet tall on the side of a factory.) In a nice touch, the space between the A and the N forms the handle of a torch. Whether by accident or design, Paul’s torch bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic logos of Amoco and Standard Oil — perhaps a subtle fundraising appeal to the libertarian oil magnate Koch brothers?
Ted Cruz‘s logo bears similarities to Rand Paul’s mark, though it misses some of the nuance and strength. Cruz’s flag-flame could just as easily be an oily water drop — an apt logo for this Texas senator who comes from an oil-industry family. The frequent use of large type on his Web site appeals mainly to the over-60 demographic.
Mike Huckabee’s identity also adopts the visual language of corporate America, but it lacks simplicity, memorability or a unified message. The landscape-like stripes and Huckabee’s “From Hope to Higher Ground” slogan pointedly reference the 2008 Obama campaign. But the unwieldy logo mixes three different typefaces and tosses in a random burst of puffy yellow stars. The overall effect is more “Bank of America throws a party” than “clear-eyed leader of the free world.”
Some candidates, on both the left and the right, have adopted brighter, fresher hues to indicate their status as outsiders. Amid the more standard color palettes of this year’s campaign, the vibrant blues and reds of O’Malley and Sanders signal their progressive bona fides. George Pataki, Rand Paul and Ben Carson also use brighter colors that suggest their alternative brands of conservatism. Lincoln Chafee daringly introduces a touch of green to a logo that otherwise has all the memorability of a local car dealer’s — possibly hinting that he’s an unorthodox shade of Democrat or that he’s running mainly for a position in the next president’s Cabinet.
Perhaps the biggest curveball from the 2016 candidates is Rick Perry‘s logo, which would feel more at home on the jersey of a minor league baseball team called the Perry Presidents. The giant shooting star obscures the awkwardly proportioned P to the point of illegibility. Despite its passing resemblance to the Popeyes fast-food chain logo, Perry’s mark feels neither business-savvy nor populist.