Politics and Graphic Design

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There’s no denying that in 2008 the Obama campaign changed the game when it came to running for office. It didn’t just stop at the “Obama Coalition,” Sol Sender’s Obama campaign logo drastically changed the way campaigns approached design. Before, it seemed that if you wanted to run for office and needed a campaign logo, you just popped into your local print shop and asked for something with your last name and make it patriotic because THIS IS AMERICA.

What a difference 20 years make.

Since 2008, every presidential campaign has been trying to catch up. Some were more successful than others and some failed so spectacularly that they invoked an overnight change.

‍TP and penetration jokes aside, what is this Ralph Lauren?

The latest in the spectacle of political campaign design, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson (seen here posing for Men Who Love Ayn Rand 2017) and his campaign have recently been caught stealing a whole brand identity from Florida-based design house Spark. Spark having noticed that the Libertarian’s campaign identity was pretty mediocre, set out to make their own identity based on the candidate. It turns out that it was so good, the Johnson campaign was just going to up and use it without any attribution. It didn’t take long for Spark to find out and notice that they weren’t even doing it right. This led to Spark just straight-up releasing the style guide to their spec branding campaign.

DesignCo has the full story if you want to check it out. Since the story broke, the Johnson campaign has admitted to the wrongdoing and has slightly changed the branding on their website. They switched it from a nice red/blue combination to a yellow/blue that were also the school colors of my middle school (go Liberty Lions!).

As more political campaigns try to understand what the Obama campaign did to inspire millennials, it’s clear that they also don’t understand what made the Obama brand identity work so well. The Obama logo worked so well because it was iconic like the Apple logo or others. It was aesthetically pleasing and encouraged people to want to stick it on their car or their laptop. It wasn’t just an O, it was the embodiment of his message. The idea that his campaign was the start of a new day for the U.S. was represented by the sun rising over a field.

What a lot of political campaigns are failing to grasp is that a well-designed brand can make a candidate appear to the better of the two (or the 17 if we’re talking about the Republican primary). Brand identity is a visual language that says just as much about a candidate as their stump speech and it can be the foot in the door for a candidate to increase their recognition. Then maybe, just maybe, that candidate can actually move on to talking about policy.

Published on
October 6, 2016
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About the Author

Alex is 30-years-old. Alex has been working on graphic design since he was 15. 30-15 = 15. 15! 15 years of graphic design experiences. When Alex is not working on graphic design, he likes to write stories and play vidya games.

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