The 2020 Democratic Candidates: A Graphic Design Analysis

It is way too early to endorse a candidate for the Democratic nomination. There are a bunch and everyone should take his and her time to ensure the person we all choose will win in November 2020.

But it is never too early to criticize design choices of campaigns. I took the main campaign graphics: bumper stickers, logos, etc… of each candidate and assigned each a grade based on a rubric consisting of first impressions, design analysis, and how each candidate’s name is used in the design.

I present them here in the order in which they declared their candidacies.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 3.12.23 PMRichard Ojeda

First impressions: “Angels with Dirty Typefaces.”

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

There are a couple of options here. The traditional horizontal, one-color, rectangle and the bigger logo which is designed to be centered. The warm grey is an interesting choice and I’m always glad to see designers moving away from black. The distressed artwork and logo make the whole thing seem a little dated and the patriotic imagery is pretty but impractical. It interferes with reading “O” in “Ojeda” when it is small and takes up too much focus when it is big.

B-

Julian Castro

First Impressions: Viva Castro!

First Name/Last Name: first and last name

The Castro campaign offers two versions of their graphics and I get the impression that one of them is designed for a more ethnic audience than the other. The more stylized “Julian Castro for President” makes excellent use of typography and line art to create a fun graphic that evokes campaigns in Central and South America. The blue “US” is a really nice touch. The “Julian Castro 2020” version is more traditional and deemphasizes the “Castro” part of his name.

A-

Kamala Harris

First Impressions: “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt for President”

First Name/Last Name: Both

We have two graphics for the Harris campaign. “KAMALA” is just her first name in all caps with a san serif font. Each pair of letters is a different color — yellow, blue, and red. I am impressed by how many of the candidates veered away from the traditional red, white, and blue. Harris’s pallet evokes her ethnicity and cultural diversity. It is using the oddness of her name as a plus. I like it.

The stacked “Kamala Harris For the People” rectangle is great for the way it stands out in this crowd. It doesn’t look like a presidential campaign graphic. It’s a strong design. 

A

Marianne Williamson

First Impressions: Pink and black is the new red, white, and blue

First Name/Last Name: First Name

Long horizontal names are a designer’s nightmare because you want to try something, anything that isn’t a long horizontal rectangle. But there really isn’t much else to do with it. So, you make it as legible as possible and add something to it make it pop.

The pink, stacked 2020 is adorable. I want to subscribe to the magazine with that masthead. I’m not seeing a presidential campaign graphic.

I did like the stacked “MW20” graphic that I could only find on a cap in her campaign store. This is fun and a better design. But it only works for a candidate with better name recognition than “Marianne Williamson.”

B-

Tulsi Gabbard

First Impressions: “What you vaping?” “I got some Tusli 2020.”

First Name/Last Name: First Name

The full-color version of the logo features a sunset. This evokes her Hawaiian home, which is nice. It doesn’t look like a presidential candidate graphic. That’s okay. The full-color version has a top-heavy balance issue but since it isn’t bound in a box, it isn’t so bothersome as Gravel 2020 (See last entry). I like the typeface. The curves at the bottom of the “T” and “I” were probably added after, which shows a bit of effort and thought toward design.

The single-color version is white copy on a red rectangle. It is an orange/red rather than a more traditional “American” red. I like it. This also looks more traditionally presidential than the other graphic.

B

Andrew Yang

First Impressions: “I want a ‘Yang Gang’ bumper sticker.”

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

The Yang campaign has a lot of graphics choices. I’ve picked three.

In “Yang” we have upper and lowercase, san serif, oblique logotype. The “Y” is stylized with red and white stripes to evoke the flag. The busyness of the “Y” is balanced with the curlicue “g” at the end. It is legible and simple, if not elegant. Nice.

“Yang2020” This horizontal option adds an oblique “2020” after the Yang graphic. The colors on the stripes change so that the thin middle stripe is a contrasting color to the “Y” which prevents that stipe from interfering with legibility.

“YANGGANG” No space between words but the contrasting colors make the meaning clear. Not easy to pull off a design with two Gs in the center. It’s a fun play on words.

A-

Elizabeth Warren

First impressions: Bow before the Warren

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

The Warren campaign offers a classic take: Last name underscored by a horizontal rule. There is no “2020” or mention of the office for which she is running. You get a super serious san serif slab of a graphic: WARREN. Alternately, the campaign offers a Warren graphic with an unofficial tag line: “Warren Has A Plan For That.” This evokes some humor and light-heartedness which the campaign needs to balance the policy wonkishness. The graphics seem to be the bare minimum. It is clean and clear and I love the color of green line. 

B+

Amy Klobuchar

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.50.38 PM

First Impressions: Coming soon to Hulu Plus

First Name/Last Name: First Name

Keeping “Klobuchar” off the signs was probably a good idea. I like the prominent serifed “Amy” which contrasts nicely with the san serif “America.” I just wish the “for” wasn’t a completely different typeface. Two shades of blue and the absence of red make it all kind of fun. I think it works though you might have some legibility issues from a distance.

B

John Delaney

First Impression: Zzzzzzzzzz

First Name/Last Name: Both and last name

In the John Delaney campaign, we have two horizontal full-color options. Both feature a big stylized “D” with red and blue stripes forming a kind of “road to the future.” Using a big graphic like this is fine. It can even be useful in building the brand. But the version where he uses both his first and last name suffers from having a graphic with a curved side. Plus, if you’re not using it as the “D” in “Delaney” then you’ve just got this big D floating out there.

C

Bernie Sanders

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.43.19 PM

First Impressions: Coming soon to CBS: Bernie!

The Sanders campaign is sticking with their logo from last time and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. It is a serifed typeface with a star over the “i” and two curved horizontal rules underneath in a wave pattern. I might have made the top stripe red so the lettering doesn’t wash out too much. But again, this is a style choice. The ligature formed by the “r” and “n” in the center could read “m” if you’re not careful.

B+

Jay Inslee

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.29.54 PM

First impressions: “Ask your doctor if Inslee is right for you.”

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

He’s invoking the earth and his environmental message. The use of all caps works against him here. “Our moment.” isn’t a sentence so the period is misplaced. But it has to be there from a design standpoint because without it, the straight line on the right side of the final “E” in “Inslee” would curve as it met the slanted line of the oblique “T” in “Moment.”

I appreciate his eschewing of the traditional saturated reds and blues.

This doesn’t look like a candidate for president.

B-

John Hickenlooper

First Impressions: How many medals did Hickenlooper win at Nagano?

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

In terms of design, the Hickenlooper camp has given us something to work with. The designer has taken a long horizontal name and managed to give the graphic height and depth. The three mountains made of stripes are fun, the star in the center focuses the eye above the name, allowing you to take it all in. All-caps for the name gives the mountains a sturdy base and the whole thing rests on a horizontal rule split by “2020.” Just a really cool design.

A

Kirsten Gillibrand

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 3.08.18 PM

First Impressions: Black and pink? Noyce

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

“Kirsten Gillibrand” is not an easy name to impress on the public. You have to decide if you want to use the first, last, or both names and “Gillibrand” is probably the lesser of all the evils. But it means you’re going to be stuck with a very wide design. Very horizontal. Though I’d bet a dollar someone pitched a stacked square that read:

GILLI
BRAND

I bet it looked awful. Honestly, a simple “Gillibrand” in a sophisticated typeface would be very powerful. Instead, the added the “2020” in pink centered above (and slightly behind) the candidate’s name. I am a big fan of stacking type like this. It adds depth to the design. I don’t like the centering.

B-

Wayne Messam

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.58.41 PM

First Impression: WAYNE! Wait, who’s Wayne?

First Name/Last Name: First name

This is a pretty traditional presidential design — big name with a little message below. It isn’t centered. It makes good use of the negative space. It uses two typefaces and the tiny “America” is legible. If only we knew who “Wayne” was. There’s a gradient on the big blue “WAYNE” which is nice. 

B+

Beto O’Rourke

First impressions: Viva O’Rourke

First Name/Last Name: First Name

There are two main campaign graphics. Both are played out in a monochrome rectangle. One makes use of the lucky fact that “Beto” has four characters of the same width as does the number “2020.” It works, though some color would be nice. “Beto for America” has a nicer feel. The letters aren’t as heavy and he avoids the Gravel 2020 problem with the horizontal rule around “for America.”

B+

Tim Ryan

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.37.31 PMFirst Impressions: Check it out, Microsoft Word has a graphics function.

First Name/Last Name: First and last names

Tim Ryan’s campaign graphic is somehow less exciting than Cory Bookers. The saving grace is that the border between the red and blue isn’t centered.

C

Cory Booker

First Impressions: Red, white, black, and blue

First Name/Last Name: First name

Team Booker is taking advantage of the senator’s first name having four letters to give us horizontal and square versions of a very simple design. There isn’t much to say about it other than the choice of black for the “2020” isn’t helping legibility much.

C

Pete Buttigieg

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.45.55 PM.pngFirst Impressions: Which gym do you belong to?

First Name/Last Name: First name (of course)

Mayor Pete gives us a lot to consider in his two-color horizontal “20 Pete 20” graphic. The yellow and black color scheme, as well as the typography, evoke varsity sports. It’s a strong design that probably looks good on t-shirts. It does not look like a presidential campaign. That may be on purpose.

B+

Eric Swalwell

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 2.47.27 PM

First Impressions: I had a kid in my office throw something together.

First Name/Last Name: First name and last name

Gimme something that says “I’m a guy running for office” — all caps san-serif stacked in red, white, and blue. It is the “Basic” Snapchat filter of graphic design. Red stripes to fill the negative space and block capitals to evoke strength. *sniff* *sniff* Smells like someone is running to increase name recognition. Not putting a “2020” on it means you can reuse it in four years.

C-

Seth Moulton

First Impressions: As squares go, this isn’t bad.

First Name/Last Name: First and last name

The Moulton campaign offers their graphic in a three-color or one-color option. It is a stacked square with a star between 20 and 20. This is a nice touch and it is immediately recognizable without distracting from the meaning of 2020. But it is too big. It is larger and wider than either 20 so the line has to be dropped to accommodate it. this leaves a lot of negative space in the middle of the graphic. It isn’t quite as noticeable in the single-color version but on the color one it stands out like a beacon.

That may be because the blue used in “Moulton” is so light. I’d like to see a version with a red “Moulton” to see if that mitigated the effect. Still, an overall fun design.

B+

Joe Biden

First Impressions: Who’s “Jo Bidn?”

First Name/Last Name: Both

There are two options at the Biden camp — “JOE 2020” is a rectangle in which the “J” in Joe is flying out there in front and the red stripes that form the “E” show movement. Joe is out front! Or at least “Jo” is out front. That E isn’t doing what they think it’s doing. “BIDEN PRESIDENT” is an interesting choice because they use the stripy E again (why bring the weakest element across all the graphics?). But it’s also weird in that there’s no preposition. Biden FOR President. Nope. Just Biden. President. I guarantee you someone pitched this design with the word “president” above Biden’s name.

B+

Honorable Mention: Mike Gravel

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 3.10.41 PM

First Impressions: “What’s going on with that a?”

First Name/Last Name: Last Name

What’s going on in that “a” is a tiny waving single-star flag. I’m all for iconography. I’m all for invoking the flag, even a stylized version with one color and one star. This is too tiny to read. Also, brighten your red or increase the size of “2020” so that you haven’t got a top-heavy shape balancing on a tiny red one. The whole thing looks like it’s about to topple over. 

C

 

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Why Mitt Romney’s Taxes Matter

If Mitt Romney released 50 years of tax returns today, I wouldn’t read any of them. Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to make hide nor hair of them because I don’t understand the tax code like he does. Nonetheless, I believe he should release more than two years of his taxes and here is why:

1. Tax returns are factual documents. They are not partisan or propaganda or full of spin. They relate facts about Mitt Romney’s finances. He is legally responsible for ensuring they are complete and accurate. Romney has based his campaign on his reputation as a business leader and successful financier. One of the reasons Romney stated that he doesn’t want to release his tax returns is because he said it would give his opponents more ammunition. But despite what politicians want you to think, facts are not partisan. Releasing the returns offers the public a true glance into Mitt Romney’s financial life.

2. He required candidates on his vice presidential short list to provide him with “a bunch of tax returns.” Evidently, Romney sees the value in having access to his ally’s tax returns. Tim Pawlenty had to turn over “a bunch of tax returns.” Paul Ryan gave the Romney camp “several years” of tax returns. When Romney himself was being vetted by the McCain campaign for the veep spot, he turned over 20 years of returns.

3. Romney has a history of lying about what is in his tax returns. When Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, his opponents challenged his eligibility because Massachusetts law says you have to be a resident for the previous seven consecutive years. Romney had been living in Utah when he was running the Olympics there. But Romney argued that he was paying taxes as a Massachusetts resident, so he was a resident of Massachusetts. When asked to release his returns he refused, saying “trust me” and “you’ll have to take my word for it.” When asked if he’d release his returns with everything redacted except the state of residence, he refused. Turns out he was lying. He went back and amended his tax returns retroactively to declare his Massachusetts home his primary residence.

4. Romney has a history of demanding others release their tax returns. When he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he called for Kennedy to release his tax returns. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts against Shannon O’Brien, she released her returns and Romney demanded that her husband  release his returns too, while asking “What is he hiding?”

5. This speaks directly to his business experience. Mitt Romney sat on the board of Marriott in in 1994 and in fact was head of the corporation’s audit committee. That year, Marriott was one of the corporations caught up in the “Son of Boss” scandal and was fined millions of dollars for hiding $70 million in income from taxes. Did Romney take personal advantage of this tax avoidance scheme while approving it for Marriott? We don’t know, but it shows that he’s willing to play fast and loose with the tax code for businesses he has responsibility over, so what about his personal finances?

6. It is tradition for presidential candidates to be more forthcoming. President Obama released 12 years. President Bush released eight years. President Clinton released eight years. President Bush released three years. President Reagan released six. When George Romney ran for president, he released 12 years of returns saying “just one year could be a fluke, done for show.”

7. His current financial disclosures aren’t transparent. What little we do know about his finances shows he has money stashed in the Cayman Islands, in Swiss bank accounts and in other tax havens around the world. He has been sketchy about reporting them. For example, Vanity Fair reported that Romney set up a company called Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd. in Bermuda in 1997. The day before he was sworn in as governor in 2003, he transferred the company to his wife. The company doesn’t appear on financial disclosures of the time and didn’t appear on his tax returns until 2010.

8. Did Romney take the Swiss amnesty deal? In 2009, the IRS announced an amnesty for wealthy Americans with Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss government had announced that they would be turning over the names of account holders to the U.S. and the IRS gave these wealthy Americans a chance to avoid prosecution by voluntarily disclosing the account and paying the tax. We know Romney has a Swiss bank account. What we don’t know is if he took the amnesty in 2009. That leaves us two options: 1) he was completely above board and disclosed the account in which case it will show up on returns previous to 2009 or 2) he took the amnesty, which demonstrates that he was willing to commit tax evasion and fraud. While the amnesty clears up any criminal wrongdoing, it would be a disaster for his political career.

I could go on, but I think I made my point. So what are the arguments against releasing the returns?

1. Tax returns are private. Of course they are. If they were public, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But if you want the top job in this country, you have to earn the trust of the American people. Telling me “trust me, there is nothing there” doesn’t cut it, especially when you’ve been caught lying about it before.

2. It is his money, why should I care what he did with it? Well, for one thing, it bothers me that I pay a higher percentage of what little income I make in taxes than Mitt Romney. The reason for that is the tax code has been gamed to value Romney’s investment income more than my wages. Why is that? Why should Mitt get that advantage? Because Bain Capital hired lobbyists to push through a tax law cutting the rate for investment income. Releasing more returns will most likely illustrate just how stark this contrast is. It should also be noted that Paul Ryan’s budget plan calls for the elimination of all taxes on investment income.

3. It’s just a ploy by Democrats to attack Mitt’s success. Ah, the old “class warfare” canard. I came across this argument recently on Facebook. My response was to point out that it isn’t just Democrats calling for Romney to release his tax returns. This first became an issue during the Republican primary. Newt Gingrich said “Romney owes it to voters” to release his tax returns. Republican strategist Ed Rollins called on Romney to release his returns. Rick Perry did it. Rick Santorum did too. The Republican governor of Alabama has called on him to do it. George Will, Bill KristolRon Paul, Rep. Pete Sessions (head of the GOP campaign committee), Gov. Haley BarbourBrit HumeDavid Frum, and the National Review have all said release the returns if for no other reason than you’ve got nothing to hide. This isn’t the loony left trying to dig dirt, it is everyone wanting to know what’s so terrible that Romney just can’t come clean.

4. It will never be enough. Romney says if he releases another five, ten or 15 years of tax returns, it will just embolden the Democrats to call for more. This is all just a distraction from his campaign of issues and the economy. In response, the Obama campaign made an offer: release five years of returns and they won’t call for any more. Romney refused.

Here’s the thing: if Romney had released five years of returns during the primary, there would have been a big hullaballoo for a few days and it would be old news by now (unless that Swiss bank account amnesty thing drove him out of the race). His recalcitrance on this issue defies logic, so we’re left to conclude there must be something really nasty in there. It isn’t unreasonable to assume the Romney camp has focus grouped the issue and come to the conclusion that whatever is in the returns is bad enough that it is preferable to take the hit for non-disclosure.

Until he does come clean, there will be a dark cloud hanging over his head and unscrupulous Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid will have a free hand to speculate as to what Romney is hiding. As the clock ticks down to election day, you better believe that Romney will be asked about his taxes over and over despite his assurances that everything is above board. He wants us to trust him, but he hasn’t earned our trust. His history of lying about his taxes means we’re not obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore.

My advice to Mitt:

Release five years of returns. Make a big splash. Show the reams of documents. Let this be a teaching moment for the American people. Demonstrate for us how unnecessarily complicated the tax code is and how it is legally possible for some people to manipulate it for personal gain. Let this be the thing that opens a discussion on tax reform. “Yes, I took advantage of every legal tax loophole I could find. The tax code is ridiculous and it doesn’t have to be. Here are my ideas to fix it.” That would at least show that you are engaged on the issue and not trying to hide anything.