Obama's branding - what do typophiles think?

eeblet's picture

In a photograph of Obama with campaign signs in the background, I was surprised to have a "brand recognition" moment - I usually tune out advertisements. Obama's campaign signs use the same type and sensibility as his markedly well-done website. The branding of politicians is as old as politics itself, but this level of coherence between a campaign website and other marketing materials seems new. (Oh my goodness, Obama-kahs!)

This article & ensuing debate are all about Obama's site design, with a focus on type, and I want to hear Typophiles' thoughts on all this.

What do you think of Obama's site? Of the use of type? Do you think voters will respond to coherent design negatively as well as positively, feeling too advertised to?

Disclaimer: I am letting my political nerdiness and design nerdiness intersect, but I'm not trying to proselytize for anything but good design.

Si_Daniels's picture

Not sure if it's been discussed elsewhere but the TV ads here use fake/straight quotes. His TV people are not meeting the typographic standards set elsewhere.

writingdesigning's picture

I think some of these issues were part of a couple of earlier threads, including this one.

aluminum's picture

Compared to most graphic design in the world of politics, Obama's is clearly way above and beyond the typical.

eeblet's picture

Thanks for linking to that thread! I had done several site searches ("obama", "politics", "primaries", etc) and hadn't found it.

writingdesigning's picture

"I had done several site searches (“obama”, “politics”, “primaries”, etc) and hadn’t found it"

You need to insert Typophile as one of your keywords while searching.

olho's picture

I must admit I've not read the article now as I read it and a couple of others like it a few weeks ago. The whole branding debate is definitely interesting and Obama's is certainly the most well thought through of all of them. Whether people are turned on or off by this is a good question. I looked at all the candidates' sites a while back and Obama's communications are certainly more mature than the rest of them.

As an Englishman, looking over the pond – and hoping beyond all hope that American's can't do to the rest of the world what they did the last two times – it's interesting to note the use of two Gill typefaces, Perpetua and Gill Sans. I'm an ardent fan of Gill, who, born in my own home town, I find sums up a certain 'Englishness' despite his, erm, 'scandalous' family life. (Read on). Gill was a very political man, espousing a set of values based on a Catholic 'third way' called Distributism. I doubt any of the candidates, even Barack Obama, who I believe is dubbed an arch liberal in the States, will be ditching the markets and the trappings of capitalism too soon though.

Perpetua is seen and spoken of less than Gill's Joanna, but it stands tall and elegant. A stonecutter's script. Gill Sans on the other hand is so ubiquitous I usually start yawning when I see it these days. Together they go quite well, despite not having been designed to do so. It works politically too: traditional Obama and modern Obama.

I suppose one might take these literal comparisons too far. It depends whether the designer thought a bunch of type obsessives would retrospectively overanalyse things. Gill though is such a strong character, and so political that it's hard not to ask the questions. Amongst other things he was deeply religious (he converted to Catholicism), part of a movement that ran contrary to that of the times (arts & crafts rather than Modernism) and was sex obsessed, in practice (he bedded mostly every woman he came across including his daughters) and in his output work (you should see his naughty sculptures).

Does Obama or the rest of America care about this? Probably not. Interesting though, what a modern politician pins to himself isn't it?

eeblet's picture

Olho, thanks for the analysis! Much more interesting & in-depth than the Boston Globe article linked in these other forum posts I missed due to failed searches:



writingdesigning's picture

''Does Obama or the rest of America care about this? Probably not. Interesting though, what a modern politician pins to himself isn’t it?''

Interesting, for that matter, what a modern Government pins to itself ;)

olho's picture

Even Her Majesty's government is at it! And you all thought us Brits are an up-tight bunch who were reluctant to show a bit of knee.

writingdesigning's picture

"Even Her Majesty’s government is at it!"

... Along with apparently every other British institution and business, judging by their typefaces. It's beginning to look a bit like the last days of Rome, isn't it?

The Don Killuminati's picture

The interesting thing about that other thread on this subject is that it was just over a year ago. We would have to say that the formal aspects of Obama's logo now carry more meaning with our experience of the campaign as well as our increased familiarity with the politician. I may still take issue with some aspects of the logo's construction (that babyish shade of blue still totally bugs) but over the last year the Obama marketing machine has been highly organized, deliberate and creative. Certainly more so than the other candidates. And now he is in a very good position. Nothing succeeds like success, and it's hard to not see that when appraising the logo today.

eeblet's picture

Good point, The Don. One thing I've found about logo design, is that the logo almost always changes somewhat, or at least the context around it changes, as the brand evolves. Obama's brand has certainly evolved, and his logo is only a small part of his branding - those "change" campaign posters don't say "Obama" or have his logo on them, but they're set in Gotham and maintain the look of the website.

eeblet's picture

No, I'm pretty sure he didn't. Scott of simplescott did the website - I don't know about the logo.

Si_Daniels's picture

>Does Obama or the rest of America care about this?

No, no one cares here, and in the UK, apart from the odd complaint to the editor of the Times, no one cares either.

Not to downplay Gills crimes, but people don't have a problem with using italic type even though its inventor was a convicted murderer. I believe VW cars, Chinese goods and American movies are popular the world-over despite the various negative connotations around the regimes associated with them.

BlueStreak's picture

"Shep Farley did the Obama poster, did he do the logo also?"

Farley did his own version of an Obama poster, not the official poster. I don't think Farley has had any work commissioned by the campaign.

Here's a link to the campaign's posters. All are back ordered though http://store.barackobama.com/Office_s/600.htm.

logosam's picture

I actually like it. Which may be a little strange since I designed Hillary's when she ran for Senate and she's still using it.

BlueStreak's picture

Welcome to Typophile Michael Samuel.

And isn't the artist known almost exclusively for Obey "Shepard Fairey"? I tried to Google this up and have found it both Farley and Fairey.

John Hudson's picture

Farley (sic) did his own version of an Obama poster, not the official poster.

As blogged by Hoefler & Frere-Jones: http://www.typography.com/ask/showBlog.php?blogID=74

Yes, it's Fairey not Farley.

logosam's picture

Obama's logo seems universally liked. From this standpoint it may be judged to be successful. The older I get the more I tend to judge things according to wether they work for their purpose and less for what i personally think. It certainly is a new direction which mirrors his message. It is however difficult to separate a candidate's logo from their message. If you don't like them you probably won't like their logo. No-one it seems – will admit to not liking Obama.
I'm not sure but I think Hillary's logo wins for longevity – it has survived 3 campaigns virtually unchanged. Does this mean it works since she's won twice with it or that she's too lazy to change it? I don't get consulted on such things.

eeblet's picture

Sam, I think Hillary's logo has a senatorial look to it, and that she ought to have changed her logo the minute Obama's was unveiled last year. She should have known then that she needed to compete with him and not dismiss him. ;) Er... am I getting too political?

logosam's picture

As I said, nobody asks me :)
I did meet Hillary once but these things are decided miles away from the big candidates. Sometimes they're the last to see them.

aluminum's picture

"Scott of simplescott did the website "

Nice...I was wondering who was behind it.

ericz's picture

I worked as the Creative/Web Director of a (winning) congressional campaign in the last US election cycle. Even at that level it was an interesting experience. Campaigns have a strong 'just get it done' mentality that leads to a lot of instances where consistency is not maintained.

Mostly, it was me chasing down 24 y/o interns, lecturing them about branding and how "Broadway" will never be an appropriate substitution for "Interstate."

It's common for all campaigns to outsource work to 'go to' guys for particular projects like bulk mailings, union printers or tv commercials and that's where things fall apart.

Nothing like seeing your established logo, horizontally tracked 50%, flash at the end of a TV commercial every 20 minutes leading up to election day!

Great thread!

Eric Z Graphic Design (Print/Web/Interactive)

i cant delete my username's picture

I vote for anyone who uses Gotham.

claes's picture

I love the fact that they simply use the O logo in their "The Race So Far" section rather than writing out the name.

eeblet's picture

For better and for worse, I think future political races will be far more aware of their branding.

Gotham: I'm now seeing it everywhere! It's probably that Obama's campaign has made me much more aware of it, not that it's popularized Gotham. (When I was 13 or so, I first learned the word "nostalgia" and I saw it everywhere! It weirded me out. In retrospect, it's because I spent way too much time reading the New Yorker.)

Alaskan's picture

I think Obama's logo is gorgeous, so much so, I'm wearing this necklace right now:

It's the first logo I've ever worn as jewelry, so that's saying something. It's also the first thing I've ever ordered from ebay.

eeblet's picture

Hee! Can I post R-rated photos on typophile? If so, I have a photoshop to go do RIGHT NOW.

Si_Daniels's picture

>It’s the first logo I’ve ever worn as jewelry

Welcome to the club...

But I'll be happy to take the Obama religion over that of the last seven years.

>Can I post R-rated photos on typophile?

No, but if you post to another site please mark the link as NSFW.

Cheers, Si

Jeremy Dooley's picture

I've recently become very interested in political branding. I think that most every designer would agree that Obama has far and away the best "brand" and to my knowledge it is a fairly new look for political campaigns. It would seem that Obama is the first to create a sophisticated brand to push with. (The Change ad, his logotype, website.) Of course, politicians are the kings and queens of sound bites, which I suppose could be verbal brands.

To those that work on political campaigns, what considerations are important? Political branding seems mostly marked by blandness. (and of course the obligatory red white and blue.) Is mostly caused by an attempt to reach the most people possible? Do candidates shy away from pressing the envelope, or is there a tried and true Poly Sci formula for this?

William Berkson's picture

As I wrote on the other thread, I like version of the logo with the gradient as a unified symbol, though I have reservations about the somewhat cartoonish aura about it.

It is interesting that the new sign they are passing out it, which is in effect a new logo--CHANGE you can believe in--is in Gotham. In my opinion, it conveys more strength than the logo.

eeblet's picture

William, I entirely agree with you about the sign. It's that sign, not the logo, that prompted me to write the post: it's a strong brand.

Live in the Bay Area? Coming soon: screamsorbet.com

swiss dots's picture

I just posted something about Obama and Gotham on the Helvetica blog.


Hoefler and Frere-Jones talked about the creation of Gotham during our interview for Helvetica, but it didn't end up in the final film. Looking back at their description of what GQ Magazine originally wanted when they commissioned the font, it sounds surprisingly Obama-esque. "GQ had a dual agenda of wanting something that would look very fresh, yet very established, to have a credible voice to it," says Hoefler. It also needed to look "very masculine and of-the-moment."

You can watch part of the outtake interview here.

eeblet's picture

Thanks, Gary! I enjoyed the video, and wanted more. Guess I'll need to buy the DVD. :)

tyfrancis's picture

Just found out from another blog post, that apparently www.simplescott.com handled most of the site work, but the aesthetics seemed to come from this guy ... www.celsiusdesign.net/humanot. Seems that they comprise the creative team for the campaign.

Awesome stuff on both their parts ... seriously fantastic work.

Si_Daniels's picture

Yesterday's Newsweek on the "Obama brand"...


Only eight more months of this and we're home free!

eeblet's picture

Sii, that kid has one helluva short cultural memory: "I like Ike" video. ;)

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