Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

Designer Deconstructs Campaign Logos  | e-mail post

I read a lot of magazines. All kinds, newsweeklies, politics of every stripe, new age, design, technology, industry trade rags. I love absorbing information. One of my favorite magazines is Metropolis. It's subhead, "Architecture Culture Design" sums it up pretty well. From a design standpoint, it is one of the best, what Wired may have aspired to be, in my opinion, but they missed the mark.

Another example of why I love the magazine comes with the November issue of Metropolis, which has a fantastic little piece by Michael Bierut comparing the graphic design of the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Bierut is very much an expert in his field, and is currently a Senior Critic at Yale's School of Art and is a partner at Pentagram, a NYC-based design firm. He also was a co-editor of "Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design."

Although the piece does state up front that for all the talk of candidates being packaged and marketed, you wouldn't know it from the logos, in Beirut's words, "they're primitive, careless and amateurish, better suited to promoting a local dogcatcher than the leader of the free world."

Be that as it may, it seems that the Bush Cheney logo is comparatively better designed. Unfortunately, the piece is not available online. So, I've included pics here and highlight some of his comments. But, please understand, I really believe you have a moral obligation to at least consider buying the Novemeber issue of Metropolis (not to mention, I have left out some of Bierut's bon mots). You could also probably discharge your moral obligation to Bierut by retaining Pentagram, if you have the need and the money.

Color: Bierut jokingly wonders if the red border is an attempt to pander to Time magazine editors. More seriously, he remarks that "just as Pepsi goes with a bifurcated color scheme to counter Coke's monochromatism, the number two candidate can't afford not to hedge its bets."

Flag: Bierut suggests the flags in both campaign logos are needed because the top-of-the-ticket name is shorter than the running mates, and "like almost all adult American men, he has an irrational fear of what metrosexual graphic designers extol as 'white space.'" Bierut says Kerry's flag, however, "looks like a piece of clip art that the local hardware store would use to tart up a Fourth of July special on wading pools." Ouch!

Type: Bierut points out that the use of the Georgia typeface is probably not an olive branch to bring Zell Miller back to his side, but more likely just that it is commonly available on any Microsoft PC. He also points out the typographic no-no of the horizontal scaling of Edwards' name. "What Kerry would defend as subtlety, his foes could interpret as subtrefuge, equivocation and insecurity."

Now, we move onto the Bush logo.

Color: Bush-Cheney doesn't go against convention in choosing a very corporate Brooks Brothers dark blue.

Flag: Rather than using some literal flag clip-art, the Bush logo uses "a flaglike object." As Bierut says, "Republicans hate when you burn the flag to make a political point, but...completely revise its composition - go for it!" He continues to note that conspiracy theorists may appreciate that the waving flaglike object has a "sinister" resemblance to the letter W. (No comment by Bierut that Bush actually makes use of a fair amount of white space in his signs and stickers.)

Type: Paraphrasing would simply not do it justice:
The late eminence grise of American graphic design Paul Rand once said, "It is dangerous to attribute magical qualities to typefaces." But why let that stop us? A bold typeface is stronger than a light typeface. Capitals are more authoritative than upper- and lowercase. Italic is more powerful than roman. Sans serif is more no-nonsense than serif. So by choosing Folio Extra Bold Italic for the ten letters in their names, Bush and Cheney immediately let us know that they are strong, authoritative, powerful, no-nonsense leaders. Any questions?

A side note for the connoisseur, pointed out by my friend Jonathan Hoefler: Typographers call the asymmetrical quotation mark (...) a "smart quote." The default version used by Bush, on the other hand, is called a "dumb quote." You may insert your own highly partisan conclusion here.
The net-net, from my standpoint, is that politics aside, and despite the banality of most political graphic design, the Bush-Cheney logo is in fact more of a genuine "design" than the tossed-together Kerry-Edwards logo. Just a few days until we know if branding makes a difference.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Saturday, October 30, 2004
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