Logos could have helped with 2010 elections

October 28, 2010

The Art Institute of Chicago is home to masters such as Picasso and Manet. But in the design and architecture section, I was surprised to find a framed copy of the brand guidelines for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign logo.

Among the Frank Gehry sketches and Frank Lloyd Wright windows were the standards for the logo’s minimum space and do’s and don’ts. Does the logo itself — uncomfortably close to the Pepsi logo — belong in this prestigious collection? I’m guessing Chicago pride played a role in its inclusion. And the logo of the first African-American president will always have significance, no matter how historians judge his presidency.

obama08_logo

The best political graphics need to read quickly and work in media as diverse as bumper stickers and TV titles. But Obama’s logo was even more important because it showed how a graphic device could quickly capture a political campaign message. It spoke of change and hope in color and shapes. Unfortunately, most of this year’s candidates for the mid-term elections have not learned from this. While many candidates are campaigning on messages of not being Washington insiders or incumbents, they are not using powerful design to communicate the idea that could easily be reinforced by a different kind of logo. Instead, most have gone with the same old staid word mark with some version of stars and stripes. Yawn.

Candidates — like all brands — struggle to stand out from each other and a well-design logo can encapsulate and strengthen their message. I’m not saying a logo will get them elected on its own, but it can be a valuable tool. I look forward to seeing if and how the 2012 presidential candidates will use visual branding to compete against Obama. After all, his first logo was so powerful it was honored to be in a museum.

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