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Obama Campaign Logo Designer Weighs in on Hillary Clinton's "H" Logo

04/21/2015 04:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

In late 2008, I published a post entitled Politics Meets Brand Design: The Story of Obama's Campaign Logo. In that post I interviewed Sol Sender, designer of the Obama campaign logo.

With all of the recent criticism (and some praise) surrounding Hillary Clinton's newly revealed campaign logo, I decided it was time to have another chat with Mr. Sender in order to gain his perspective on Hillary's new bold "H" logo. Additionally, I was eager to learn what role Mr. Sender believes design actually plays in a political campaign.

Sender explained that:

Crafting a brand strategy and identity is a key component to the success of any brand. It's really no different for a political campaign.

What is different, however, are the extremely tight deadlines, often times little direction or non-descript creative brief and the pressure and criticism that comes with taking on a political project. When working with a consumer brand, you have about 8-12 weeks to work on iterations of a brand identity. When you're working with a campaign team, you typically don't have that leisure. With the Obama work, we were on a 1-2 week turn around with very sparse direction of what was expected.

Given certain constraints, Sender believes design can make or break a campaign.

A political campaign is a brand. It behaves like a brand, so the logo needs to function as such. If you look at the Obama "O," it can stand alone. People didn't have to write 'Obama' after the logo because the design told the story and campaign mission.

Icons are very powerful things and that [Obama] symbol got used independent of the candidate's name. We didn't even need to put 'Barack Obama' next to it. When you look at the world and semantic reality and how people experience visual communications, those are very powerful things. I think it can be a very galvanizing force.

I asked Mr. Sender if he thought the arrow symbol and the red and blue colors had been used incorrectly in the Clinton "H" logo.

Sender replied:

If you boil it down it's really a symbol of forward motion. On the Obama work we were really conscious from the start about where he was vulnerable -- we knew Obama critics said things like 'he's not American.' So we thought going strong with a patriotic theme was quite important. Hence the red, white and blue colors in the Obama logo.

In terms of vulnerabilities, Hillary always seems to get dragged into the past by her critics. Therefore, you might argue that a symbol like this which is so aggressively pushing forward could help counter-balance any negative energy that is directed at her past.a

I was eager to gain varied perspectives and opinions regarding the role of design in political campaigns. Therefore, I contacted Michael Bierut of Pentagram, the man who designed Hillary Clinton's new campaign logo. To his credit, Mr. Bierut responded very quickly but unfortunately had to refer me to the press department for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

However, there is some other excellent analysis of the new Hillary "H" logo circulating across the web. Armin Vit is a graphic designer who runs Brand New. Vit spoke with NPR the other day about not only Hillary Clinton's logo but also the new crop of Republican candidates' logos.

Vit remarked that Clinton's logo "definitely stands out as something we haven't seen in presidential campaign logos."

Milton Glaser is among the most well-respected graphic designers in the world. Among his most famous pieces of work is the I Love NY logo he designed in 1977. Glaser recently added his voice to the conversation via an op-ed on the AIGA web site entitled "Hey Internet, Shut Up About Hillary Clinton's Campaign Logo: Milton Glaser is Here with the Final Word."

In the op-ed, Glaser astutely comments:

As we all have witnessed, politics in America is divisive and mean-spirited. The mark itself seems strong, simple and memorable. Whether it embodies the spirit of Hillary's objectives is another story.

The difficulty of such a mark is the requirement to be ambiguous in order to avoid alienating any part of your audience. In any case, as usual in communication, the relationship of the familiar to the novel is significant.

In this case, we have an 'H' for Hillary and an arrow for movement. Whether it also contains the twin towers or the suggestion that the arrow faces right seems irrelevant. The mark doesn't seem to be a breakthrough in the history of trademark design, but it's professional and competent compared to the previously revealed identities of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

I will admit that after a week Hillary Clinton's "H" logo is already growing on me quite a bit. This makes me wonder if my brother may actually be correct when he told me last week that "Logos don't win elections, speeches and money do." Is he right? Does the logo actually matter? Just because a logo is criticized initially, does that mean it will not grow on voters over time?

Sol Sender remarks:

Sometimes logos come out and there is a lot of immediate reaction but you don't always know how it will work in the long-term.

Logos in the corporate brand world certainly grow on consumers sometimes. When AirBnB launched it's newly designed logo in mid-2014, it was panned and mocked as "looking naughty." I would argue that at this point most people don't think twice when they see the AirBnB logo.

With that said, I personally believe that design does matter -- both aesthetic design and in the case of technological products, user experience design. Along with flawless execution, design is one of the most critical ingredients determining the success of many consumer app tech startups. One can point to Instagram, Uber, Pinterest, Facebook and a ton of other companies. They all had massive competition but won in their respective categories largely because they are extremely well-designed.

Great design connects with people on an emotional level. Great design elicits visceral responses from people.

Most political campaigns play it safe and simply use a pure typographical mark that highlights the candidate's name. This is what all of the 2016 Republican candidates have done. This type of logo is boring and elicits very little emotional response from people. Consequently, it does not spark much conversation.

Obama's 2008 campaign logo was the first-ever political campaign logo to use a bold mark that could stand on its own -- independently -- without having to include the candidate's name. Hillary Clinton has followed suit and, in the long run, I think she'll be rewarded for taking the risk. The key for her campaign is to embrace the conversation sparked by her choice of logo and to have fun creatively playing with the flexibility and versatility it affords. This was a good start by the campaign:

Putting Hillary Bold to good use. http://t.co/NVtjlsoH5u pic.twitter.com/M3Q3nsWqyV

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 14, 2015

What do you think about Hillary Clinton's new "H" logo? Also, do you have any opinions regarding any of the Republican candidates' logos?