Campaign symbols in the 2020 election

According to Anjelica Triola, co-founder of The Creative Caucus, “[Campaign logos] should be reflective of the cultural moment, distinct from competitors, and emotionally compelling to [their] core audience.” With the third debate Democratic debate behind us, the 2020 presidential campaign is now well and truly underway, and lots of candidates are already using logos to promote themselves. What are these logos trying to do? Fundamentally, they’re a way of communicating with voters – something politicians typically aren’t very good at. An effective logo will visually represent a candidate and their message; it’ll be appropriate, memorable, and above all, simple.

Some of the best examples of effective logos are that of FedEx, which creates an arrow in the empty space between the ‘E’ and the ‘x’ – fitting for a courier company; Amazon’s ubiquitous orange arrow smartly indicates their range of products, ‘from A to Z’; and I needn’t name the owners of the $26 billion-valued ‘swoosh’. For decades, presidential logos looked more or less identical, iconography just wasn’t a major feature of the campaign, but the meteoric success of Obama’s 2008 logo and the rise of visual media have changed things – now everyone wants a brand. Given my general interest in visual design, and utilising my A* Graphic Design GCSE, here’s my analysis of the 2020 frontrunners’ campaign logos.

Pete Buttigieg

Firstly, it’s important to remember that not only is Mayor Pete an openly-gay Democrat from a solid-Republican state, but the competition from within his own party is almost exclusively progressives, so the retro styling is smart. Should Buttigieg win the nomination, however, he’ll be up against Donald Trump, whose “Make America Great Again” tagline strongly resonated with rural voters. The modernity of Buttigieg’s logo could come back to bite him – it doesn’t read ‘America’ as strongly as some of his fellow candidates and could indicate walking away from the flag to patriotic voters.

Kamala Harris

Although not entirely dissimilar to a demonstration placard, this logo actually pays homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run for a major party’s nomination – a laudable choice given Harris’ position as the most prominent minority candidate. Unfortunately, something tells me this didn’t come out quite as envisioned: the choice of deep purple and golden-gate orange rather than the traditional blue and red is baffling, the mismatched font size of “THE” is ugly, and its insistence on being read diagonally is irrationally irritating. The message behind this logo is great, so it’s a shame it doesn’t stack up.

Joe Biden

My personal feelings about Joe aside, this is potentially the smartest-designed campaign logo of the bunch. The red stripes of the E not only evoke the flag, but also propel the first three letters of Biden – his “BID” for the presidency. They’re are also reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 logo – a candidate who brought out rural voters in large enough numbers to win the traditionally Republican-leaning states of Indiana and North Carolina, as well as Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district. Although Biden seeks to appeal to the bell curve at the centre of the political spectrum, he can’t afford to alienate the progressive left. As a result, his branding style appeals to everyone, while taking bold stands when he can to avoid appearing pandering.

Elizabeth Warren

An immediately clear departure from the typical red, white and blue, this may be risky when appealing to traditionalists, but that’s probably the point. True to Warren’s brand, it demands independent thinking. In keeping with her message, the logo embraces modernism. The democrats who made headlines in 2018 were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke, both of whom used condensed, quirky typefaces. And although O’Rourke failed to win his Texas senate seat, he closed the gap against his rival Ted Cruz’ to only 2 points, while AOC won a New York congressional primary against long-term incumbent Joe Crowley. The only robust criticism I have is that it’s kind of boring to look at.

Andrew Yang

There is so much wrong here; designer and podcast host Debbie Millman went as far as to call this logo “an abomination,” and I’m not too far behind. The general trend post-2016 seems to have been for candidates to try differentiate themselves from the pack, resulting in the unconventional logos of Amy Klobuchar and Jay Inslee. Unfortunately, Yang’s logo plays it so unwaveringly safe. The traditional colour scheme aside, perhaps the biggest problem with this logo is the stripes on the Y. This facet is sound in principle but… not great in execution. It’s small, a little creased, and completely out of proportion from the Y it obscures – which, let’s be honest, looks more like a funny “1.” The “2020” also exists in some sort of ‘middle-case’ purgatory, and the wordmark is offputting as a result.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders’ visual brand doesn’t take many risks. Perhaps it’s intended to appeal to moderates by softening his progressivism, a strategy that seems to have been successful – the ‘radical’ candidate, unelectable in 2016, has since risen through the ranks to tie for second place going into the third debate, close on Biden’s heels. According to Susan Merriam, co-founder of the Center for American Politics and Design, “The slab serif and first-name emphasis give a homegrown vibe very consistent with Sanders’ populist messaging.”

But all of them fail to hold a candle to the power of the MAGA hat. Whether you see it as the last bulwark of freedom in politically correct age, or “this generation’s Ku Klux hood,” Trump’s red cap, emblazoned with the words “Make America Great Again” has come to be the defining political symbol of the decade. It’s now more than just a symbol for Trump, it’s a symbol for a movement, for those who have felt left behind for too long. The 2020 election will be a battle of symbols. Whether the fervour of the eventual Democratic nominee will be enough to pacify the fire of this American icon may end up deciding the election.