Trump vs. Clinton: A Designer’s Perspective on 2016 Election Logos
Fighting over Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has become a sport, but so has trashing their logos and graphic design.
Graphic designer and author Daniel Will-Harris, who has been called “a computer graphics pioneer” by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has written three best-selling books on graphic design over the past 30 years. He pipes in on the 2016 election logos for the two major-party candidates—and how both candidates have logos, typefaces and branding that reflect not only their personalities, but the approaches to their campaigns.
Will-Harris notes inconsistency of Trump’s branding: “Trump has an almost complete lack of graphic design,” said Will-Harris. “He’s not even consistent with his own brand of serif and gold.”
Trump is using Akzidenz Grotesk Bold Extended for his logo and FF Meta Bold for the slogan text. “It says nothing but heavy and corporate,” said Will-Harris.
“Trump has a long history of not paying his contractors,” he said, referring to an investigative analysis showing that carpenters, dishwashers, painters and lawyers who worked for Trump went unpaid. “So who knows, maybe he has a crap logo because he never paid a real designer, or maybe he couldn’t get a good designer with a conscience to work for him.”
He also criticizes the copywriting of Trump’s campaign. “Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ is negative in that it immediately takes the stand that we aren’t great anymore,” he said.
Citing Barack Obama’s success during his campaign for his famous use of social media, Will-Harris sees a difference to how Trump uses Twitter, for example. “Trump has shown, with very little traditional media, he was able to capture the attention of a certain part of the electorate simply by being obnoxious on Twitter—something any troll can do,” he said.
In terms of Clinton’s design, the Sharp Sans logo is, what he calls, “far more polished and professional,” and “a more humanist and friendly face that’s still clean and credible.”
Clinton’s “H” logo is blue and is crossed with a red arrow pointing right symbolizing “an arrow moving forward into the future,” said Will-Harris. “It’s a good, clear message that it’s not about her, it’s about the future.”
It also comes down to the copywriting. “Hillary’s slogan is ‘Hillary for America’ and ‘I’m with her!’ which talk about moving forward—together, rather than Trump’s divisiveness and looking back to an imaginary past,” said Will-Harris.
Clinton has been criticized for having a lackluster social media campaign and for being too low-key in her approach. “Hillary’s taken longer to figure out this game of going direct to the people, but if you look at her language at the start of the campaign and now (famously, ‘Delete your account!’), it’s gotten simpler and more direct, which is good.”
But Will-Harris sees Clinton as having better design. “Clinton’s design is clearly stronger, more modern, more polished and has a much more positive message,” he said. “But when you get down to it—people don’t vote for logos. They vote for personalities.”
The candidates’ logos reflect their personalities, including their strengths and their weaknesses.
“But honestly, even as a designer, I have to say that in this case I don’t think design is going to either make or break either campaign, though the design of the ballots, paper or digital, absolutely could, as it did in 2000,” he said.
“What’s important is for people to pick up the symbol and want to use it, and Hillary’s is simple enough that they can.”
There has been some confusion, though, of Clinton’s logo as endorsing the Republican Party with her red “H” arrow pointing right, but Will-Harris sees it differently. “The arrow is pointing to the right because we read from left to right, so it’s pointing into the future and it’s red because that connotes power,” he said. “Republicans don’t own the color red or the entire side of the world!”
“But Hillary is also not a far-left candidate, she’s a centrist,” he adds. “So if the logo can appeal to undecided Republican voters concerned about voting for a potential dictator, then yes, it’s a smart message.”
But that might seem to be just the beginning. “Because we’re designers, we want to believe that we can change the world with colors, shapes and typography—and we can, to an extent,” said Will-Harris. “We can make things more readable and appealing, to attract more people to read and make that reading easier. That’s important.”
But how much power will graphic design have power over the votes?
“Did Obama win because of his excellent logo, or as a reaction to Bush’s recession, not to mention the Republican’s inept McCain campaign?” he asks. “Obamas logo looked great, as did Shepard Fairey’s famous “HOPE” graphic. But people voted for the man and his message.”
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About Nadja Sayej
Nadja Sayej is a culture journalist and photographer who covers architecture, travel, design, technology and art. She writes for The New York Times, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, The Guardian, Forbes, Harper's Bazaar, among others. She has written four books, including Getting Your S*** Together and Biennale Bitch. Follow her on Twitter at @nadjasayej and check out her work at nadjasayej.com.