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Mayoral Candidates' Logos are 'Abysmal,' Design Experts Say

By Jill Colvin | February 11, 2013 2:27pm

NEW YORK CITY — New Yorkers can expect fireworks between the 2013 mayoral rivals. But when it comes to their campaign logos, the candidates have already fallen flat.

The majority of the logos for both the Democrats and Republicans rely on clichéd symbols, tired fonts and sloppy execution that do little to help their candidates' cases, according to a panel of design and branding experts consulted by DNAinfo.com New York.

“I think they’re abysmal," said Debbie Millman, president of the design division at the School of Visual Arts.

"There doesn’t appear to be much thought put into what is actually displayed here," said Ben Ostrower, the principal and creative director of Brooklyn-based Wide Eye Creative, which specializes in political design and has worked on campaigns across the nation.

Ostrower added that many of the designs are "way too simple and conventional to make any sort of impression."

“It's not up to the standards of what you’d expect in a mayoral race that has national attention," he said.

Campaign logos — which appear on everything from buttons, to posters to campaign mailings — may look simple, but they have the power to subtly influence the way voters perceive a candidate. The size of a candidate's name, the typeface, color and spacing are all important, the experts said.

That's especially true in the social media age, said Ty Fujimura, a graphics and web designer, who often writes about political art.

"Forty years ago, your most significant interaction with a campaign was going to be reading a candidate's speech in a newspaper or maybe hearing them on the radio or seeing them on TV," he said. Today, the conversation is increasingly happening online, where the visual is king.

"That just makes it all the more important," he said.

The gold standard, the designers agreed, was President Barack Obama's 2008 logo, which featured the iconic image of a sun rising hopefully through the "O" of Obama's name, summing up the campaign's message in a single glance.

“He changed the game," Millman said.

But while many of the logos are still in their early stages, and could be tweaked over time, New York's 2013 candidates seem to have missed the message.

Take City Comptroller John Liu's blue and orange logo, which features his name in bold, navy block letters, underlined by a blue brush stoke. The design also features an orange star dotting the "i" in "Liu" and orange letters spelling "NYC 2013" underneath.

“This is probably the saddest one of all, with both of the most popular clichés in campaign graphics: a star and a swoosh," said Scott Stowell, the proprietor of the design studio Open on Varick Street.

Millman, who has worked with brands such as Pepsi, Campbell’s and Colgate, was equally unimpressed.

“It’s just boring. It’s nondescript. It has nothing that is engaging about it," she said.

Republican George McDonald's red, white and blue logo also received mixed reviews for its design, which features his name in blue above the slogan "COMMON SENSE FOR MAYOR" in red, next to a clip art-looking shooting star.

"You could basically cut up other political logos and put this together," said Fujimura, who said the star reminded him of a "toothpaste stripe."

Democrat Sal Albanese's early logo was also panned for using a smiling photo of the candidate.

“It astounds me that people put all of this money into their campaigns and don't hire a stylist to help them," said Millman. "[He] looks like a very nice guy. But really? He could be Dr. Zizmor in the train stations."

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's design choices, on the other hand, drew better reviews.

"De Blasio is my personal favorite of the bunch," said Fujimura, who complimented the simplicity of the stark, white block letters against a bright-red background and unique typeface. “It feels straightforward and honest. Direct.”

Quinn's simple logo features her name in modern blue letters over the slogan "for New York."

“This is the best of the bunch, without a doubt," said Millman, who described its message as uplifting and full of promise.

“It's not relying on the clichéd iconography of so many of the others,” she said.

But logos can also reveal how a candidate wants to be perceived.

Fujimura pointed to former Comptroller Bill Thompson's logo, which features bold, all-caps white letters on a dark blue background. The sturdy, steady font, he said, projects an air of dependability.

"They want to present him as a safe choice and cement him as legitimate," he said.

In contrast, Quinn's logo comes off as much more feminine, Fujimura said.

While the designer thought the finished product felt "a little weak," he said the effort was likely an attempt by the campaign to emphasize Quinn's status as the race's only female candidate — while perhaps trying to play down her perceived brashness.

"They may be trying to deliberately soften her... trying to make her feel a little bit less pushy," he said.

Members of the panel also cautioned that no logo — no matter how stellar or dreadful — can win or lose a campaign. But they said candidates were nonetheless missing out on an opportunity to connect with voters.

“None of these identifies are going to help the candidates get elected," Millman said.