If you want to see two notable - and hilarious - candidate identities that didn't make the cut in this post, click here.
What's left to say about Barack Obama's logo that hasn't already been said? Sol Sender's design skyrocketed past every other presidential logo ever and, in my opinion, is in the upper echelon of brand marks overall. Nike territory. Apple territory. Volkswagen territory. I can't think of a single piece of Obama campaign collateral in 2008 that looked bad, let alone strayed an inch from brand standard. As a designer, that's what I'll always remember from my time working for the campaign: It is possible to get it right in such a big way - if you start with smart work and remain true to the brand as you pursue every application imaginable.
And while it remains to be seen in which directions Team Obama plans to steer the brand in 2012, I'll consider it a rather impressive sign that they're seeing 2008's success and raising it Gotham-with-serifs. Wow. Beyond that, why is the man in this picture smiling? Well, once you see the logos the t-shirt model's preferred candidate is up against heading into next year, it's easy to see why. So let's take a look, shall we, at the identities of the 2012 Republican hopefuls? First, three disclaimers:
- With so many candidates in the Republican field (it's still early, after all), I decided to narrow the field down a bit. My reduced universe comes directly from pundit Larry Sabato's three tiers of hopefuls. Since Texas governor Rick Perry hasn't committed yet, we'll skip him this time around. For simplicity's sake, I'll go in alphabetical order.
- While I promise to look at these logos with fresh eyes, just know that in no way and for no amount of money would I ever consider voicing even the tiniest shred of support for these candidates or their policies. So if you want a fair-and-balanced look at them personally, you've come to the wrong place.
- Keeping that in mind, if you're looking for some background music for our tour, why not start here?
Without further ado, let's get to it ...
Michele Bachmann: Why not jump right to conclusions? The H in Bachmann looks like it came directly from the Aquafresh logo. She's considered a very credible candidate for the Republican nomination, so one truly wonders if there wasn't one person throughout the entire logo design process who stepped in and tried to say the same thing. Leaving that minty-fresh smile-whitening coincidence aside, we're stuck with some fairly conservative, fairly typical all-caps serifed type in a fairly typical (and seemingly mandatory) red, white and blue color scheme. My other criticism of the "Aquafresh swash" is that I think it rises too high to the right, obscuring the top of the H itself. Tilt it down a bit and it would work better. But, in this screengrab, Bachmann herself is staring perhaps a bit too high to the right, so why shouldn't her logo? Maybe she's decided to make looking off-camera one of her policy platforms.
Herman Cain: I was going to try to stick to Cain's logo - honestly, I was - until I saw the front page of his website. He's most definitely in the conversation that is the GOP primary, so this is beyond inexcusable. Especially considering what the Republican nominee will be going up against, branding-wise, in Obama. How about the "Let's get REAL" snippet? Or how about those poorly-lit, poorly-clipped average citizen headshots at the bottom? Looking at the logo itself, it's rather nondescript. The kerning leaves a lot to be desired, plus the torch icon vaguely reminds me of something I'd see on the placemat at a Rotary Club pancake breakfast.
Newt Gingrich: For somebody allegedly known as an "idea man," Gingrich has a rather unremarkable logo. Again, serifs, red/white/blue and a star. A conservative layer cake with a gradient and faux-dimensionality on top of it. That said, a big step up from the stroke-heavy, somewhat phallic and stock photo-using predecessor that was his exploratory committee's page. If I had to say something nice about it, I'd praise the kerning.
Jon Huntsman: Let me first say that if Huntsman isn't running for president of the United States, he's most definitely running for president of website intros. I counted three, but it's early in the campaign, so there may be more intros yet on the horizon. We finally have our first candidate angling for an Obama-like icon - in this case, the stylized H. In fact, the H-on-water atop his homepage is the closest any candidate comes to the famous O. And while I do appreciate his choice of a sans-serif typeface for his name, I would much prefer a bolder weight (especially in situations where both his name and secondary descriptive line appear in the same color). I am curious to see where the campaign goes with the H in the future, though I could spend another entire article breaking down the inanity of a shirt with a QR code on the back. Speaking of that shirt and the use of the red H on a black field, it did remind me of something from my childhood:
But don't worry, folks, the visitors are our friends!
Gary Johnson: Just the sort of excitement you'd expect from the campaign of someone named Gary Johnson. I like the blues, but other than that, this wordmark - especially the kerning - gives me the blues. Let's see something more, Gary.
Thaddeus McCotter: Again, I don't mind the mix of typefaces and the color scheme - though I'd bump the 2012 to the same height as McCotter (and fix that kerning). I am somewhat mystified by this menacing photo illustration featured on the guitar-themed (that's right, guitar-themed) campaign site:
However, I'm not nearly as mystified by that as I am McCotter's bizarre foray into the music video world. Trust me when I say "bizarre."
Ron Paul: Perpetual candidate Paul checks in with a remarkably vanilla logo, especially in comparison to some of the "revolution" branding surrounding his 2008 effort. If anything, the three streaking lines are somewhat reminiscent of the bottom part of the Obama icon. Was this done on purpose? The libertarian Paul wants to keep the government off of your back, so maybe he's trying to show that here by keeping compelling design out of his logo. Snark aside, it's not the worst logo of the lot - by any stretch. But I'll tell you whose is ...
Tim Pawlenty: Horrifying. Truly, truly horrifying. Let's leave the flag out of the discussion, even though it kind of reminds me of the New England Patriots logo. But can we talk about the Pawlenty name itself? Not-heavy-enough weight? Check. Faux-distressed type? Check. Inexplicable capital letter at the end? CHECK. What is up with the Y? Pawlenty is on anyone's short list for the nomination, yet his campaign turns in this sort of effort? Unbelievable. I was trying to describe to a friend and fellow designer the other day - without the benefit of her seeing the logo - how bad it was. The closest description that I could think of was how a document looks in InDesign when you open it and it contains typefaces your computer doesn't have. When that happens, once you click through the warnings that this has occurred, you're greeted with the words that were meant to be there, but they often appear rather messed up. In other words, a trainwreck. Not unlike Pawlenty's logo.
Buddy Roemer: While I'm docking Roemer's team for the gradient in his name, I'm giving that credit right back for at least trying something different with the star shape - as the counter to both the O in Roemer and 0 in 2012. I also somewhat admire the smashing together of the first three numerals in 2012, though why not go for all four? But hey, free to lead, free to design as you please, right? Kudos, too, for the light gray as contrast to red, white and blue. Still, nothing iconic.
Mitt Romney: A lot of people have also compared Romney's logo to the Aquafresh swash, but to me, it's reminiscent of a Carnival cruise ship smokestack. To compare this logo to another ship, though, I'd suggest the Titanic. To me, a logo - especially one for a presidential candidate - should never, ever sacrifice name recognition for design's sake. And that's exactly what Romney does here. Or should I say Omney? Also, what's with the awkward interaction between the E and Y? You would think a two-time candidate would learn from the design mistakes of a previous campaign, but perhaps not.
Rick Santorum: Now, Santorum's got bigger fish to fry than his logo. For instance, the fact a search for his name produces a site I'm positive he wouldn't want you to see right at the top. That said, any positive momentum he would have gained by the use of that sharp, little eagle illustration is immediately halted by the fact that its poor placement as the O in Santorum leads the reader to split his last name in two. So tell me, where can I buy a bottle of this Rick Sant Rum of which you speak so highly? But hey, when your last name is already producing the kinds of Google results it is, perhaps a branded rum isn't so bad.
Overall, I would argue that, from a design perspective, nothing in these comes remotely close to the memorability inspired by the Obama icon. To be sure, though, that's a nearly impossible goal to reach. Still, no matter Obama's 2012 opponent, he or she will have to at least get close. If I had to pick a best and worst, my best would go to Huntsman and my worst to Pawlenty. Despite what I said about Huntsman's logo, there is a lot of potential. I'm curious to see where it goes - provided the candidate is in the race long enough to go there. As for Pawlenty, that logo is just embarrassing. Simply unifying the height of his name and choosing a heavier weight would help immensely.
Low marks, too, to the poor name recognition crowd: Romney, Santorum and, to a lesser extent, Bachmann. Granted, people will still likely know who they are in the primary. They are all (at least Romney and Bachmann) higher-tier candidates. You only get one really great shot at running, usually, so why risk hurting your name recognition on something as important as your logo? Incompletes to the Perrys and Sarah Palins of the world, who aren't yet in the race and haven't given us something to look at.
My previous issue with gradients and faux-dimensionality gets me to another point: Versatility. My Two Commandments when it comes to logo design are that if a logo doesn't look good in black and white, it doesn't work; and, you're only handicapping yourself if you don't explore numerous options for the final brand. So anytime I see these logos, I'm asking questions like: How would this look in one color? What if that color were black? How would this reproduce in different circumstances and on different substrates? How would it look tiny? Does the campaign have a more dimensional version where they get to control the use and a simpler, stripped down version where they don't?
The Obama campaign thought of these questions - and many more. In fact, their 2008 logo suite, which was available for download directly from the website, included 24 variations across three main categories: The O-logomark in isolation, as well as horizontal and vertical options that included the Obama wordmark. Some dimensional. Some not. All of that, too, prior to adding Joe Biden to the ticket, which clearly led to more iterations. In other words, the Obama campaign was prepared for everything and was professional in its execution. Can these other campaigns say the same thing about their design?