Designing in the Social Media Age, An Update on the Hillary Clinton Logo

In the week since the controversial Hillary Clinton 2016 logo was revealed, I have spent a great deal of time studying it. Just about every media outlet has written about the logo and the fierce reaction it generated.

High profile designers have spoken out against it.

According to Scott Thomas, the design director for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign said, “I think the Hillary logo is really saying nothing. It’s just a red arrow moving to the right.”

But there are also designers who spoke out in favor of the logo.

Dean Crutchfield, a consultant with Sterling Brands, argues that the logo fits with Clinton’s campaign approach: “She’s talking about the nuts and bolts of getting America off its rear end and helping Americans live a better life. The logo is a literal interpretation of moving the needle north.”

Armin Vit, a graphic designer who runs Brand New, a blog about logos, said Clinton’s mark “definitely stands out as something we haven’t seen in presidential campaign logos.”

And another critical point must be made. A logo can no longer be thought of as a one-dimensional, static item in print. In a digital and social media age, a logo must be flexible enough to apply to multiple contexts. And that’s certainly a daunting challenge.

Adding to the challenge was the high-profile nature of this project. This was a highly anticipated campaign announcement, which translates to a lot of pressure on Hillary Clinton and the campaign team.

Many eyes will be watching all aspects of the campaign, ready to attack any perceived campaign mistakes or weaknesses. This is especially true regarding design, which many claim has become a “bloodsport,” especially on social media. In a social media environment, nothing is going to be overlooked. And things spread rapidly.

The logo’s designer has also been revealed. Michael Bierut, a high-profile designer at Pentagram, created the Clinton logo as a volunteer contribution to the campaign.

So, how do I feel about the logo after a week of reflection?

I’ll admit this: it has grown on me. I especially appreciate it used in context on social media. It fits the size and shape of social media profile images. When it pops up on my Twitter news feed, I notice it. And it directs the audience to content. It works when the arrow actually points to something. A few examples:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.38.48 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.37.21 AM

I also appreciate the logo more when it is used in shades of gray or as somewhat transparent on a colored background. In gray, the color blur problem ceases to exist, and therefore, the shapes do not appear as blocky:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.41.30 AM

But, where it still fails for me, is when it is used in full color as a stand-alone item. It is visually off balance and the colors blur, as I discuss in my original post. And it becomes meaningless out of context. The arrow directs to nothing, as in the case of this email from the Clinton campaign:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.35.00 AM

But I have also come to appreciate the progressive nature of the design. Initially, it was shocking, unexpected. But Clinton’s campaign is expected to be radically different from her previous campaign, and she needed a logo representative of that progress. In addition, I appreciate that the logo is not visually soft or stereotypically feminine. And while it does use a patriotic color scheme, it doesn’t espouse overly patriotic forms that are common in most political candidate logos.

Good design should challenge us. And the Clinton logo does just that. But logos—as a tool of branding, visual identity and public relations—should work to forge a meaningful connection with audiences. And when it comes to a presidential election with stakes as high as it gets, the question still remains if the voting public is ready for such a challenge—visually, symbolically and politically.

Images courtesy of the Hillary Clinton Campaign https://www.hillaryclinton.com

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