As the Republicans decide who will represent their party in the upcoming election and President Obama campaigns for a second term, the public is hearing a lot of speeches and political sound bites. But what about the campaign logos emblazoned on podiums, social media pages, and Web sites? What do the candidates' campaign logos say about them? Three School of Visual Arts faculty members — experts on design, branding, and design criticism — weighed in.
Steven Heller, co-chair, MFA Design Department: Last campaign's logo. Needs something to show a new beginning— just a tweak of some kind. But it may be too early for the Obama logo. Perhaps a new one will be unveiled at the Convention.
Debbie Millman, chair, MPS Branding Department: After four years, the identity still holds up. But I am disappointed that his campaign isn't using the branding more creatively. There is no question it is recognized worldwide. Why not have another riff on the logo or the man à la Shepard Fairey?
Alice Twemlow, chair, MFA Design Criticism Department: Sol Sender's design for the 2008 Obama campaign reset the standards for campaign logo design. His iteration for the 2012 re-election is less revolutionary but no less sophisticated. The sun rising over the American fields emblem, which the campaign presumes is now so recognizable that this is all is needed to signify the president, has taken up residence in the 0 of 2012. The choice to reverse the text in white out of cornflower blue feels fresh and bright, and still hopeful. The typographers Hoefler & Frere-Jones created a custom slab version of Gothic with serifs for the 2012 campaign and so the numerals are made of blockier bolder stuff than they were in 2008. Let's just hope the man is too.
Heller: Clean and predictable. Yet almost a parody. Still can't take the name "Newt" seriously.
Millman: His branding and website looks like a banking identity. Intentional?
Twemlow: With its dull dark blue, serif typeface, and a double-lined border, the Gingrich campaign signals conservative classicism as emphatically as it can. It would be almost too boring to contemplate if it weren't for the delightful synchronicity of the word "Newt" being underlined by a swoosh that resembles a slimy salamander.
Heller: His name is the most bland of all. Fitting [that] the logos are equal to the name.
Millman: Old and trite; branding has a corporate hollowness to it. Web site feels like an infomercial. What identity?
Twemlow: Ron Paul's campaign, if you could honor it with the name, is a veritable grab bag of different styles, resulting in a visual chaos that prefigures his deregulatory politics. He has co-opted every iconic visual device from the "I heart NY emblem" to the Facebook "like" symbol. The audaciousness and lack of systematic thinking in this ploy is funny until you remember that this guy is running to be presidents of the U.S., not prom king.
Heller: Did you know his real name is Willard (like the rat)? Actually the R representing the PEOPLE is not a terrible idea. I can see this growing on people. I'm not sure I believe the tagline.
Millman: Simple and self-confident, but very much about the man (not so much about our country or our future).
Twemlow: This is the scariest logo of all, because it's subtly clever in its attempt to steal the middle ground from Obama. Romney is three men-red, white, and blue-according to the layers of the initial "R," and thus he hedges his bets politically. He has co-opted Obama's cheery shade of blue, attempted to replicate his clean graphics and the mix of serif and sans serif, and he's even picked the word "Believe" to stand behind, since "Hope" was otherwise engaged. This logo is like a fake Louis Vuitton handbag.
Heller: What's right with this logo, other than his political stance?
Millman: For a corporation, it would feel established and a bit stuffy. Seems as if there should be an image of the Bible on this page… If you're going to make a site that looks like Tumblr, why not just create a Tumblr account?
Twemlow: The further right you get, the less care seems to have been taken with the visual presentation of a candidate's image. Like a graphic equivalent of his lamely monogrammed sweater vest, this logo looks as if it were created from an interchangeable selection of hackneyed devices that signal American values (eagle, red and blue, stars) in a DIY business card machine.
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