Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Real Republican Debate - Students Rate The Candidates' Logos To Learn Visual Civics

Source: Official Campaign Websites

The first official debate of the 2016 presidential primary season kicks off today. The Fox News Channel has invited 10 of the 17 declared Republicans candidates to a highly anticipated primetime wrangle (relegating the other seven prospects to a second-tier warm-up act). The 9:00 p.m. (EST) showcase is sure to draw an outsized number of eyeballs, due to the impressive roster of accomplished candidates and the say-anything bullhorn of a certain golden-haired tycoon.

As teachers, to introduce students to the primary process, we like to begin with each candidate's logo. These symbols are the forward-facing emblems that emblazon every t-shirt and bumper sticker and that encapsulate the character of the next leader of the free world.

Many media outlets have submitted their verdicts on various designs, but students (and everyday Americans) often have different reactions from professional graphic artists. For example, kids often accurately pick the winners based solely on the appeal of their candidate crests:
Fortunately, many presidential hopefuls did announce their campaigns before the end of the school year. With each new entrant, therefore, we first showed his or her official logo to the students, with no context or explanation, to gauge their reaction to the icon's visual appeal and brand message. The results were unexpected.

In order of Fox News ranking (based on a selective use of national polls), but not in order of winning insignia, here are the best and worst of tonight's field:

Source: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump's poster is certainly plain. In fact, there is little logo or design to speak of. Instead, his banner features clearly spaced, sans serif white lettering across a royal blue backdrop, with a thin border of lines and stars. Even without any graphic appeal, the placard is still ideal for Trump's mission. Arguably the best known candidate in the GOP, Trump and his moniker are already plastered across an array of airplanes, hotels, buses, and TV shows. To mess with a well-established brand would be foolish. Even the overly simplistic, exclamatory subtitle, "Make America Great Again!", is perfect Trumpian bombast and vaguery.

Source: Jeb 2016, Inc.

As the establishment favorite, former Florida Governor John Ellis "Jeb" Bush has charted a safe middle course toward the nomination. His unadorned, uninspiring logo is a testament to this risk-adverse strategy. The cherry red "Jeb!" does ring clearly across a range of posters and t-shirts. The use of only his first name also speaks to his national identity and his desire to separate himself from the potential negativity of his last name, just like Hillary, Newt, and others before him. The cartoonish, ridiculously emphatic exclamation point, however, detracts from any serious branding opportunity. With no genuine icon or subtitle, the only element that draws the viewer's attention is the election year, which might seem unnecessary, save for the fact that Bush is recycling the exact design from his prior gubernatorial runs.

Source: Scott Walker Inc

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is well known in the Midwest for his conservative stance against labor unions. He is just beginning, though, to introduce himself to a national audience. Walker often trumpets his everyman appeal, such as in shopping at Kohl's and not graduating from college. His campaign logo echoes this simplicity (even though his typeface is a dark Yale blue). The nicely registered kerning and leading give clarity to the banner (which is often paired with a "For America" subtitle). The attempt at symbolism, however, with the American flag "E" fails on multiple levels. The oversized blue corner and the randomly chosen three red bars warp the iconic Stars and Stripes to a distracting degree. Also, as the media immediately noticed, his device seems plagiarized directly from the trademark of America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses

Source: Huckabee for President

Former Arkansas Governor Mick Huckabee's current logo is an improvement on his 2008 design. Huckabee's team obviously spent time crafting this upgraded image. The soft Tufts blue background allows his snow white last name to stand out above a red and white vector of lines that invoke Amtrak or the Bank of America. The viewer's eye, however, is drawn to the minor eruption of gold stars in the middle. This is an unnecessary distraction for such an insignificant embellishment. Also, the surtitle refers smartly to Huckabee's hometown of Hope, Arkansas, but it generates confusion about the precise meaning of the quasi-religious "higher ground" reference.

Source: Carson America, Inc.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson began his campaign with the logo above, but it's no wonder he's recently drifted toward a newer banner (which does have its own unique problems). The "Carson America" slogan is clumsy and perplexing in its smooshing together of two unrelated nouns. Unless his team was aiming for a Captain America reference, or trying to remind viewers about where they live, this jarring phrasing is off-putting in its agrammatical asynchrony. Additionally, the gold color has only successfully been employed by John McCain in 2008 with his military background. Finally, the action of the capital "A," with its miniature eagle head, its diagonal of tiny stars, and its curlycue of flag ribbons, offers too much business within too compact a space.

Source: Cruz For President

Texas Senator Ted Cruz opts for a muted tone in stenciling his name and year (and sometimes the prolix tagline, “Courageous Conservatives - Reigniting the Promise of America”). This unconventional yet dull choice of gray puts all of the lopsided emphasis on the red, white, and blue flame on the left. Cruz walks a road previously trod by Herman Cain, who similarly relied on an ill-chosen torch icon. Instead of invoking the light of liberty, fire imagery tends to kindle medieval or destructive, rather than uplifting, feelings.

Source: Marco Rubio For President

Florida Senator Marco Rubio aims to create a contrast between his youthful, next-generational appeal and his more senior Republican (and possibly Democratic) opponents. To this end, Rubio's logo is superb. The casual, novel lowercase of his first and last name partners nicely with the contemporary ITC Avant Garde DemiBold typeface. The all-caps etching of his slogan, "A New American Century," is crisp in its reminder of his age (44) and outlook. The only misstep (albeit nice attempt) is the diminutive map of the United States perched daintily over the "i" in his last name. It seems like his team felt obliged to include some sort of Americana in the design. But the wee nature of this teeny nation comes across as reductive rather than celebratory.

Source: Rand Paul For President

Much like Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul includes only on his first name in his mock up, presumably to distinguish himself from his father, Ron, who ran for president in 1988, 2008, and 2012. The problem is that the younger Paul does not enjoy the name recognition of Jeb or Hillary, so this graphic might as well be linked to the Rand Corporation. Also, the nearly-black, bold italics and the alarming red blaze on the top are more alarming than patriotic, more disconcerting than inspiring.

Source: Chris Christie for President, Inc.

In his logo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie mimics Huckabee's pairing of a bold last name with a thin electoral year. Without the other uniting elements, however, such as a background shade or a fluid shape, this rendition feels off-kilter. Christie's banner puts all of its emphasis on the stretched subtitle, "Telling It Like It Is." While this slogan effectively evokes Christie's predilection for direct talk (or rudeness), it also reinforces Christie's reputation for self-centeredness. A better design would have crafted a message about America or its people, along with an inventive icon to adorn buttons.

Source: Kasich For America

Ohio Governor John Kasich is one of the most recent entrants into the Republican race, so perhaps we can charitably excuse the rushed misfortune of his logo. The absence of any message or slogan or election year puts all of the attention on the rose red kite flying over his last name. Surely the redundant "K" (much like Clinton's "H") could have been incorporated creatively into the flow of his name, without the overlong wavy lines that imitate Zener cards. Instead, Kasich's initial comes across like Jon Huntsman's "H," a floating letter in search of meaning.

Stay tuned for a logo analysis of the other seven Republican campaigns, as well as the Democratic challengers not named Hillary.

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