Graphic Design and Presidential Politics

Although the general election of the next President of the United States is more than one year away, candidates are already blazing trails across the country on tour buses with an army of staff and legions of supporters. Also in tow are terribly designed graphics, banners and signs, all meant to appeal to and resonate with the American public. The question is, do these graphics have to be so bad? Why don’t political candidates learn the lesson that most businesses have, which is that “good design sells”? It seems that most politicians, and the designers who create their campaign logos and graphics, are stuck in a rut.

 

 

A comparison of most political graphic design will result in the following conclusions: that in order to look more “patriotic,” one must use red, white and blue; incorporate stars and stripes; and even throw in a donkey or elephant to make sure that people associate the candidate with the appropriate political party. Color is particularly important in politics as well: People tend to identify themselves with either “blue states,” for the Democratic Party, or with “red states” if they are Republican. This has not always been the case.

 

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Political party color-coding has been directly influenced by the media, and even reversed from its original meaning—before the 1996 Presidential Election, blue states were used to denote states in which the incumbent presidential candidate had won all of that state’s electoral votes; the red state designation was for those states won by the challenger. Ever since Bill Clinton, an incumbent, won re-election in 1996, blue states have been associated with the Democratic Party by the media and now the general public.
graphic_2004_campaignsThe campaign graphics for the 2008 Presidential campaign have improved dramatically since the last election, in which John Kerry and John Edwards faced off against the incumbent George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Each of those two campaigns used white text on a dark blue background, combined with a waving American flag to communicate how “patriotic” each candidate was. The only differentiation one could make between the two, if you had no idea what their political party affiliation was (or you lived in a vacuum), is that Kerry used a serif typeface (more personable, friendly) combined with the tagline “A Stronger America,” while Bush used bold, sans serif type that is suggestive of strength and solidarity.

 

ObamaOf the Democratic front-runners, the only campaign graphics that stands out is that of Barack Obama, whose “O” logo incorporates a striped valley in front of what resembles a rising sun, suggesting a new dawn in politics. Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo looks like it was created by the same designer as John Kerry’s, complete with the same typface and a compressed flag underneath. She has even attempted to “brand” herself as simply “Hillary” so that she is not as closely related to her husband, Bill Clinton. And while John Edwards has attempted to break the mold with a modern typeface, the rest of the graphics are cliché, with a star and green swoosh trailing behind it (is this his attempt at appealing to all aspects of society; the blue states, the red states, and even the green environmentalists?)

 

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The Republican presidential candidates have not done much better in creating unique and memorable graphics for their candidates. The one that stands out the most is that of John McCain, as he has veered away from the use of traditional blue and red colors and drawn upon graphic references to his military record—the black and yellow color scheme resembles a Naval officer’s uniform. Rudy Guliani’s graphics are simple and effective, as most of American refers to him as “Rudy,” while the simplicity of Mitt Romney’s elegant typeface stand out on a navy blue field.

 

McCain

 

Only time will tell if the much improved, yet still lagging, political graphic design of the current presidential campaign will help propel one of the candidates through the primary, and then finally to the general election in November 2008. One thing for certain is that the new visual standards set by these campaigns is slowly helping to raise the bar of what John-Q-Public expects of graphic design.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

The Bright Side of LaQuinta’s New Brand

La Quinta Brand Update

 

Every so often there comes an updated brand identity that demands attention and immediately engages the viewer—for me, that occurred recently while viewing a commercial for LaQuinta Inns & Suites. The new identity, created by Mullen (a creative agency with four offices nationwide) is such an improvement from the old one that I had to take a second look in order to truly appreciate its subtle nuances—and write this review. LaQuinta is a chain of hotels with approximately 600 locations nationwide. Based in Dallas, Texas, it is not surprising that the majority of their locations are in the southwest United States, a theme that is prominently featured throughout both their brand and the architectural detail of many of their hotels.

 

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The old brand for LaQuinta had been in use since the early 1990’s, and was in desperate need of an update. It had become stale and dated due to its teal, purple and sunshine yellow color scheme (popular in the early 90’s), and its condensed serif typeface, which was a cross between Bodoni (thick character strokes and thin serifs) and Garamond. The arched “window” of the old mark (complete with a purple sky!) was disconcerting in that it had three-dimensional special qualities that the rest of the mark did not possess. While the new mark maintains the same shape as the old, the similarities stop there.

 

 

In the opinion of this critic, Mullen did an outstanding job updating the identity for LaQuinta Inns & Suites. The new brand not only retains some of the brand equity that had been established by the old mark, but is also surprisingly refreshing for an industry in which most hotel brands look alike, and in which competition is increasing.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

A Better Way to Define “Identity”

In the past few years there has been a lot of debate in the creative world regarding the term “identity.” Depending on whom you ask, you are bound to get different definitions: marketing and public relations firms are quick to use the term “branding” to explain the activity of identifying a product or service, while advertising agencies and design consultancies might use the term “corporate identity.” Both terms, branding and corporate identity, seem to be used interchangeably, but do they really mean the same thing?

 

According to Walter Landor, founder of Landor Associates, “Products are made in the factory, brands are made in the mind.” Based on this rationale, branding can be defined as the creation of a positive image or perception about a product, service, or company through the use of graphic design. Creating a perception, or in most cases, an emotional connection, in order to persuade a consumer to buy something, is more about psychology. Corporate identity, on the other hand, stresses immediate identification: through good design, it serves to establish a consistent image of a company, product, or service. Much of the emotion of branding is left out.

 

Both branding and corporate identity serve the purpose of promoting a company, a product or a service through increased awareness and in turn, increased sales, although they achieve these goals through different means and usually for different audiences. Branding is considered more of a business-to-consumer (B2C) activity, in which a company appeals directly to the end consumer. Corporate identity, on the other hand, focuses on building business-to-business (B2B) relationships.

 

But what happens when a company operates in both the business-to-business and the business-to-consumer marketplaces? Although they might have marketing components that are purely dedicated to building their brand, these companies must also have graphic elements that establish its identity within a more corporate, or B2B, environment. It is in this area of overlap between “branding” and “corporate identity” in which a more accurate and truly universal definition can be found to describe the role of graphic design in enhancing a company or product’s image: visual identity design.

 

“Visual Identity” incorporates graphic elements from both branding and corporate identity, and includes those that must appeal to all audiences, regardless of whether they are B2B or B2C customers, and regardless of whether or not increased sales or stronger brand awareness is desired. At the core of any visual identity is the logo, a graphic mark that must simply, quickly, and effectively communicate the essence of the company or product. This logo must be applied to everything from a company’s letterhead and stationery system to vehicle graphics and web site. Consistency is most important, and a graphic standards guide or manual ensures that all subsequent applications of the visual identity remain effective.

 

The term “visual identity” encompasses the graphic elements that are common within both a corporate identity program and an extensive branding campaign, but doesn’t necessarily exclude other marketing needs. After all, an identity must above all be consistent. What this does mean is that companies, before selecting a creative firm or agency, should evaluate who their audience is and what their graphic design needs truly are.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, Principal | Creative Director

Baskin Robbins serves up a scoop of something awful

Baskin Robbins logo

 

In 2005, as part of its 60th anniversary celebration, Baskin Robbins launched a new brand identity for its stores throughout the country. According to the official Baskin Robbins web site, the new look is “an innovative concept that offers a fun, contemporary experience and a new logo that captures the fun and energy of Baskin-Robbins.” In the opinion of this critic, the new Baskin Robbins identity is a glaring example of the mob mentality that is pervasive in business culture today, which is that in order for brands to compete, they must continue to differentiate themselves through “re”-design. After viewing this new identity, which looks more like something that is “design for design’s sake,” the question must be asked: was the old identity that horrible?

 

The old Baskin Robbins identity, although somewhat dated through the use of the Garamond Condensed typeface (popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s), still effectively communicated the idea of its trademark “31 flavors” of ice cream: the number “31” appeared within a simple arc, suggestive of a scoop of ice cream, and next to the logotype. In an attempt to be overly clever, the new Baskin Robbins logo tries to integrate both the company’s initials and the number “31” into one mark, which is then wedged in between an overly stylized typeface that seems more appropriate for the Sunday morning comics. Unfortunately, this “fun and energetic” logo, while maybe appropriate for young kids, ultimately sacrifices legibility, readability, and meaning.

 

There are several ways in which the new Baskin Robbins logo could have been more effective in its execution: for example, on the company’s website, the “iconic” pink tasting spoon is touted as one of the brand’s unique aspects…so why wasn’t this idea incorporated into the mark, especially given how recognizable it is and the affinity customers have toward it? And the “31” mark from the old brand mark wasn’t that bad either. Perhaps all that was needed was an updated typeface to bring the brand into the twenty-first century.

 

By: Ryan Hembree. principal and creative director

Airline Identities Take Flight

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Some of the most highly visible identities in the world today crisscross the globe at 35,000 feet. Not only are the visual identities of airlines vitally important to identifying passenger jets while in the air, they are also a source of national pride for most countries, particularly those in which airlines are governmentally controlled and operated. Utilizing color schemes and graphics that appeal to the sensibilities of their countries of origin, these airlines’ often use their countries’ flags to promote their brand. This is not the case in the  United States, where the airline industry is an unregulated, private enterprise.

 

Airline_wing_symbolsWith so many different choices in carriers, airlines in the U.S. must compete for passengers on a daily basis by using a unique and memorable identity—not only to differentiate each company’s aircraft, but also to project an image of quality, experience, and reliability. Surprisingly, most airlines do not take the opportunity to stand out in the crowd; many utilize similar color schemes, such as the color blue, which is suggestive of the sky. Additionally, similar themes are used in most airline marks, such as wings (think American, Midwest or United Airlines, globes, or the idea of a horizon (Continental and Delta).

 

airline_feat_swa-nwaThere are, however, two identities within the U.S. airline industry that soar higher than the rest in terms of uniqueness and memorability: Southwest Airlines and NWA. Southwest Airlines uses only blue, red and yellow painted Boeing 737s in its fleet, and prominently features an illustration of one as its logo—the consumer not only knows exactly who the company is, but what its planes look like as well. Southwest’s brand is fun and approachable, and doesn’t try to pretend and be a business-oriented carrier—instead, it resembles that of a discount vacation carrier. NWA (Northwest Airlines) started as a regional airline (hence its name) but is expanding into international markets. Even though the name was abbreviated to give it wider market appeal, the airline was able to keep the essence of its old mark, that of a compass pointing to the northwest. Not only does the logo capitalize on the equity of its old mark, it is highly suggestive of travel without the use of traditional clichés.

 

With the turmoil in recent years within the airline industry such as mergers, bankruptcies, and financial chaos, it will be interesting to see how carriers’ brands will continue to evolve. Gone are the days of giant corporations such as Pan American (PanAm) and Trans World Airlines (TWA)—today, smaller and more nimble startup services are taking the skies, along with a new perspective on the creation of successful airline identities.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

No relief from Political Correctness

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Today, in our multi-cultural and wonderfully diverse world, there is a heightened sensitivity to political correctness, particularly in branding and corporate identity design. No one, particularly a business or international organization, wants to appear to be offensive to any other culture, religion, or ethnicity.

 

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This is particularly true when it comes to religion, and in light of the tension that exists between those of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith. Any part of a design that can be perceived as having religious connotation is removed, or avoided altogether. For example, a traditional star shape with five points might be perceived as either a pentagram (symbolic of Satanic cults) or a Christian star, while a six-pointed star references the Jewish Star of David. Because of this hypersensitivity to religion, one of the most internationally recognizable symbols is on the verge of losing its effectiveness and intended meaning—the symbol for the International Red Cross Movement.

 

red_cross_feature_swiss_flaAlthough originally adopted as a symbol of neutrality, the Red Cross is considered offensive to many in the Middle East and Muslim countries since it bears striking similarities to the symbols that adorned the tunics and shields of Christian knights during the Holy Crusades. In response to this misperception, Turkey adopted the Red Crescent, which has religious connotations rooted in Islamic faith, and it was accepted as an additional symbol of the Movement at the Geneva Convention of 1929.

 

The religious connotations of the symbols of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, although falsely applied, have hindered Israel’s Magen David Adom relief society from joining the movement. In consideration of being sensitive to the beliefs of Judaism, a new symbol was adopted during the Geneva Convention of 2005—the Red Crystal. According to Conference resolutions, the third accepted symbols is “devoid of any political, religious or other connotation.” What is essentially a rotated red frame, it may be used on its own, or frame either the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, or the Red Shield of David.

 

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By: Ryan Hembree

The sun sets on Merriam’s new logo

crit_merriam_logo

 

Within the past year or so, the city of Merriam, Kansas, unveiled a new “brand identity” for the small southwestern suburb of Kansas City. Branding a municipality is not necessarily a new idea or trend; everyone and everything, it seems, has a brand image, from a company’s products or services to athletes and celebrities (think Michael Jordan or Paris Hilton). A brand should be unique, memorable, and immediately convey the core attributes of a product, service, organization or individual. In this manner a brand is much like a calling card, and giving an appropriate first impression is paramount.

 

The first impression that this critic gets from the Merriam identity is not a good one. While brands should be simply executed for maximum effectiveness, this mark is very childish looking, as if a high school student with a computer and Microsoft® Paint® put it together: a sun (that resembles more of a paint splat) rises above a blocky sans serif typeface. Further reinforcing the juvenile qualities of the brand is a squiggle mark used for rollover links on the city web site, as well as the overly bright colors of each different section.

 

Crit_OP_logoIf a municipality is to undertake so bold a design challenge as develop a new brand, then something more unique than a rising sun and the tagline “just right” is necessary. The Merriam mark falls far short of communicating the uniqueness of the city—is it sunnier there than anywhere else in the greater Kansas City area? And how, exactly, is Merriam “just right?” Even the logo for Overland Park (another suburb of the KC metro area), although slightly dated, communicates one of the core qualities of the city—that of shady treed neighborhoods.For truly inspirational city brands, one need only look to the work of Milton Glaser, and his identity for the city of New York. His “I Love New York” mark has achieved iconic status—adorning everything from apparel to posters to souvenirs. Berlin, Germany, has a mark that is clearly distinguished by its use of a highly stylized Altes Museum building, a monumental landmark within the city.

 

Crit_NY_logoMerriam doesn’t have any highly recognizable landmarks to use as part of its identity, but even having one wouldn’t necessarily make it more successful. A case in point is the new Kansas City logo in use by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (see Re:marks Critique, August 2005 issue).

 

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Creating a brand for a city is a very difficult challenge. Granted, there were probably many people involved in the decision making process during the Merriam branding campaign. Chances are that the mark was the result of design by committee. One thing for certain is that if a city is going to undertake such an initiative, it should really try to get more for its money.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

Battle of the Broadcast Brands

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Television broadcasting has become an increasingly crowded marketplace. During the mid twentieth century, only a handful of networks dominated the airwaves and established strong, immediately recognizable identities. The CBS “eye”, the NBC “peacock” and the four circles of ABC are all extremely effective because of their simplicity, consistent application and memorability—so much so, in fact, that they have changed very little, if at all, over the past fifty years.

 

Today, digital cable and satellite have created hundreds of different channels for viewers to choose from. In order to stand out from their competition and entice viewers to tune in, cable networks subscribe to the idea that developing a clearly defined “brand position” will help them achieve the same success as broadcast stations mentioned above. Taglines such as “We Know Drama,” “Very Funny” or “Characters Welcome” have become common ways in which these new networks try to attract and retain viewers.

 

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The idea of creating a “brand position” is not a bad one; after all, effective branding encompasses every aspect of a company, its products, or services—its visual identity as well as the emotional connotations its customers may have. It takes several years build a successful brand. Unfortunately, cable networks are too busy mimicking each other’s attributes or reinventing themselves every couple of years that they do not give the time necessary for a brand to become ingrained in the consumers’ psyche.

 

TBS_logo_evolution_PLACETBS, or Turner Broadcast Station, has gone through several revisions of their brand since the late 1990s. Most recently it has matured into a simplified mark that clearly identifies their name and resembles a smile or open mouth laugh. “The Superstation” was dropped from its name, most likely to reduce confusion between it and Chicago’s WGN Superstation. While an improvement over the old identity, the true effectiveness of this re-brand will be whether or not it resonates with viewers and remains in use for more than a few years.

 

USA Network, not to be outdone, recently introduced a new identity that looks somewhat similar to the new TBS. It too is rendered in lowercase letters, with the “s” formed by the negative space between the “u” and “a”. Bearing a slight resemblance to two puzzle pieces coming together, the mark says nothing about the network or the type of programming it provides. How it relates to the idea of “characters welcome” gets lost in the overall execution. Unfortunately, their previous brand was much more unique and effective.

 

USA-logo-PLACEThe battle of the network brands has only just begun. Within the past year, other networks have followed suit by introducing new looks, with brand positioning that they think will help them be identified in a saturated marketplace. What these networks fail to realize is that changing a logo or image does not a good company make; it is only through the consistent application of that image, and positive associations from customers. The ABC, CBS and NBC brands were not created overnight, but through consistent application became dependable to their viewers. Consistently changing or re-branding a company, on the other hand, only communicates a false sense of identity, and that it is not sure who or what it really is.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

The intelligence(?) behind the new Intel identity

Intel identity

 

In early January, Intel introduced a new brand mark and tagline to coincide with the announcement of Intel-based Apple Macintosh computers. According to the press release, the new brand was described as an evolution that “will allow Intel to be better recognized for [its] contributions, establish a stronger emotional connection with [its] audiences, and strengthen [its] overall position in the marketplace.”

 

Changing a brand mark that is one of the most recognizable in the world seems like faulty logic to this critic. The reason for the update probably seemed like a good idea at the time; after all, Intel has had not just one, but two highly successful brands. The original Intel logo, introduced in 1969, featured a dropped “e,” resembling an electronic circuit. In 1991, the “Intel Inside” identity made its debut, appearing as stickers on the outside of millions of computers. Additionally, an unmistakable three-note tone identified the brand audibly in television and radio commercials.

 

Intel_side-by-sideThe new Intel identity attempts to solve the problem of having two highly effective brands, which in the case of a monolithic brand is when both become diluted or even over shadowed by the other’s success. Intel’s solution is to merge the two identities together by combining a futuristic-looking, sans serif typeface with a swoosh encircling it. The end result is an identity that could easily represent any technology-oriented company. And the new tagline, “Leap Ahead,” sounds like it is more applicable to the educational toy maker Leap Frog®.

 

Has Intel achieved its goal of bringing their identity to is next logical evolution? Does the new mark truly say anything about the company and what they do? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no.” It appears as though upper management didn’t have the courage to make a decision between two unique and memorable brands, and in trying to combine the most successful qualities of each, further diluted and weakened their brand image in the mind of consumers.

 

By: Ryan Hembree