Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Herman Cain - Designing A Candidacy

Conservative radio host and businessman Herman Cain recently harvested a bale of positive press after leaping into first place in October's NBC / WSJ Republican primary poll. This lead comes after Cain's sure-spoken debate performances and his convincing win in Florida's Presidency 5 GOP straw poll. These symbolic victories have registered nil in actual primary votes, but they've filled weeks of political news about supporter passion, campaign effectiveness, and media fairness. The mafia-pizza impresario is now receiving renewed appraisals by many in the Tea Party. Even though few in the professional cable class think that Cain will win the nomination, he could springboard into the Vice-Presidential slot or the rabble-rousing Sunday roundtables of Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin.

Source: Friends of Herman Cain, Inc.

As a candidate, Cain's brand features a white background, with his full name delineated in generously spaced, UCLA blue, all-caps, serifed letters. The characters are clear and easy to read, befitting a lesser-known aspirant to the highest office. The rest of Cain's emblem, however, is as quirky as his policies, testifying to his outsider status but possibly jarring to mainstream voters.

Beneath Cain's name is an italicized gray afterthought, "President 2012," which neither emphasizes an urgent "vote for me" message nor sheds light on Cain's character or qualifications. The mild, washed-out font echoes the popular criticisms of Cain, specifically his lack of policy heft and executive leadership.

Most striking about Cain's banner is the carefully rendered (and artistically constructed) torch that dominates the logo. The ribboned flame bifurcates both Cain's name and office, suggesting perhaps that his inner fire burns strong. The choice of a torch as Cain's symbol triggers much design debate, helping Cain's publicity even as it inspires criticism.

The torch invites echoes of Lady Liberty. It suggests Manifest Destiny and Columbia's light of freedom. Curiously, though, the torch is a rarely used icon in American politics. Maybe that's because a flame held aloft seems oddly Masonic, or Druidic, evoking incantations and fringe ceremonies. Or maybe it conjures images of torch-wielding villagers, coming to take us away. Additionally, many Americans think only of the Olympics when they see a torch symbol. For whatever reason, the unfamiliarity of the logo is as much a liability as a benefit to Cain's candidacy.

Since none of its connotations invokes a "presidential" feel, Cain's logo reinforces his prior fringe space. He may assail frontrunners with his singular ideas (such as his increasingly-publicized 999 plan), yet he can't help but occupy a less-than-mainstream podium among current Republican runners. If he keeps up his momentum over Mitt Romney, however, this popular conception could easily change.

Check out our other posts about design and education in the 2012 election.

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