While it may now be a relic of a lost war, standing alone as a tragic reminder of failed ambitions, we all recognize the image: the colors, invoking Old Glory; the presentation, simple yet bold; and the purpose–that, perhaps, was the grandest of all, heralding the arrival of something familiar and yet so new, so invigorating, so exciting that it would sweep everyone up with the sheer force of its power. Even now, when I think of it, I still get the shivers.
Yes, I’m talking about the Hillary logo.
Believe it or not, it took a team of three creative professionals almost two months to come up with the final design–which, in retrospect, is only slightly less shocking than the surprise Darva Conger got at the end of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire. But now that the election is over (and Hillary Clinton will never be president), the full story of how that logo came to be can now be told, which is what designer Michael Bierut did when he recently took to the pages of the Design Observer:
Almost two years before, I was invited to volunteer my services on a secret project: the design of a logo for the possible presidential bid of the former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. I was excited. I had never met Secretary Clinton, but I liked her when she was my senator and I was impressed with her performance as Secretary of State. I had assumed she’d be the candidate in 2004, until Barack Obama had come along. Eight years later she was even more qualified. This was a historic moment. I said yes immediately.
I put together a three-person team: me, designer Jesse Reed, and project manager Julia Lemle. We would work in secret for the next two months. Our first meeting with the Clinton team began with a simple statement: “Our candidate has 100 percent name recognition.” There is a well-known marketing principle that is often credited to midcentury design legend Raymond Loewy. He felt that people were governed by two competing impulses: an attraction to the excitement of new things and a yearning for the comfort provided by what we already know. In response, Loewy had developed a reliable formula. If something was familiar, make it surprising. If something was surprising, make it familiar.
Our candidate was universally known. How could we make her image seem fresh and compelling?
And so the Hillary logo was born.
Although we explored dozens of symbols, the one everyone gravitated to was the simplest of all: a perfectly square H. But its simplicity was deceptive. What looked like an H was really a window, capable of endless transformations. It could contain pictures and colors, patterns and motifs. Because so much communication for the campaign would happen digitally, the logo could change at a moment’s notice. It could be customized not just by various interest groups, but by individual supporters. It was the ultimate dynamic identity system. Still, we worried that the H alone, even as an ever-changing frame, was too static. We finally found what we thought was the right finishing touch, the simplest thing in the world: an arrow, emerging naturally from the geometry of the letterform, pointing forward, toward the future.
Bierut doesn’t realize it here, but he actually hits on one of the major reasons that Clinton never could close the deal with her campaign, and that was her “dynamic identity.” Like the logo, which could be refashioned into anything you wanted it to be, Clinton herself went through so many makeovers and changes that it was hard to tell if we were on Hillary 2.0 or Hillary 3.0. It’s actually fitting that her logo was so interchangeable–but unlike the Transformer she wanted to be, Clinton herself was actually less than meets the eye.
On the election postmortem, Bierut also makes the observation:
Armies of smart people generated oceans of words in the aftermath of the election trying to figure out what happened. Talented pundits and strategists and pollsters, all masters of their craft, were wracked with self-doubt. I too wondered if the very thing I was so good at had somehow betrayed me. We had spent months developing a logo; Trump had spent years building a brand.
Again, he has hit upon something profound here. Love him or hate him, everybody knew who Trump was. He made no excuses for himself and he never changed a lick during the campaign (even when changing might have benefited him). Clinton, who has been in the national spotlight for the better part of a quarter century, could still never convey to voters who she really is. That’s why we seemingly got a new and improved Hillary every few weeks, as she shifted styles to try and be more likable. You only do that when your brand stinks. And it’s very hard to change that with advertising and logos.
All kidding aside, Bierut actually seems to be a very good designer–and I have to admit, I don’t think that his work on the Hillary logo was all that bad. In fact, he did his job expertly and with obvious passion. The problem, though, wasn’t with his work, but rather with the product he was trying to sell. Clinton was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, and the fault for that lies entirely with her.