Monday, June 29, 2015

Visual Civics: Designing A Candidacy - Hillary Clinton

Source: Hillary For America

More ink has been spilt over Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo than on all of the other candidates' emblems combined. Much of the commentary has come from exasperated Democrats, who are gnashing their teeth and throwing up their hands at the inexplicably chunky symbol that Clinton’s team devised. Twitter went gonzo over the medieval, early-1980s graphic. A "@HillaryLogo" parody account quickly sprung up from the folks at Cold Spark Media to lob satirical grenades about the motif's perceived inelegance. Other outlets were cautiously more complimentary, while still pointing out the stiffness of the overall archetype.

All of this attention and consternation, however, actually proved the genius of Clinton's design. In politics, all press is good press. In branding, recognizability is the raison d’être. The laser-focused media spotlight meant that in an unbelievably short time, a vast viewing public got a good look at the former Secretary of State's presidential campaign. The accusations of over-simplicity were in fact its brilliance. Like the iconic 2008 rising-sun “O” of then-candidate Barack Obama, this instantly recognizable “H” gave Clinton an immediate leg up on any other team’s marketing efforts.

Source: Hillary For America; Mark Kingsley, UnderConsideration

The Clinton logo features a lust red arrow pointing rightward atop a sans-serif, palatinate blue "H." Designed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram, the sharp, block arrow and the single, spartan letter together recall the simplest of auto-shapes in Microsoft Word. The badge has been compared to everything from the FedEx logo to the "Hospital" sign to the Cuban flag.

For several years now, we have used the concepts of logos and branding in our classes to teach visual civics. As avid consumers of visual media, our students become engaged with social studies and political science through the dynamic interactions of advertising, bumper stickers, and presidential insignia. In the last election cycle, we invited kids to rate presidential logos on each banner's ability to communicate candidate values and campaign themes. When our middle schoolers checked out Clinton's 2016 design, they immediately grasped its message of forward progress. They also astutely pointed out that with Clinton's widespread name recognition, she needed little more than an "H" to connect with voters.


The greatest asset of Clinton's icon is its flexibility. It can be easily modified to adorn any type of placard or attire. It can be quickly customized to suit any constituency. The campaign has already incorporated a variety of incarnations in its mailings, tweets, and policy proposals. If fact, a quick search of "Hillary logo" in Google Images reveals the impressive malleability of Clinton's crest (albeit in some not-safe-for-work incarnations).

The surest signs of a symbol's effectiveness are its subsequent imitations and derivations. Graphic designer Rick Wolff, for example, created an entire tongue-in-cheek alphabet in a new #Hillvetica font. Other designers immediately started redrafting the "H" logo into more contemporary styles (here and here). Political cartoonists had a field day incorporating the block arrow into their Clinton commentaries.

Source: Rick Wolff

If the purpose of a logo is to establish a relationship between the product and the consumer, then Clinton's brand succeeds in spades. Its almost instantaneous market saturation proves its potency. Whether this identifiability leads to an electoral college victory, however, is unknown. But for now, the other campaigns are playing catch-up in the logo department.

For further ideas about using visual civics in the classroom, check out:

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