DNC rolls out worst logo redesign of the year?

On Wednesday the Democratic National Committee rolled out a new website and new logo in a clear attempt to incorporate design elements from the 2008 Obama campaign and re-invigorate Democratic voters.   If the goal of the DNC was to introduce an award-winning logo design, they succeeded.  Unfortunately, the award they are most likely to bring home is that of the worst logo redesign of 2010. 

I would have expected that any website and/or logo redesign by a political party would draw heavy criticism by political opponents and adoration by die-hard DNC supporters.  However, by midday on Wednesday, it was brutally clear that even the most devoted Democrats were less than impressed with the new image of the DNC.   

Behind The Logo

It is clear that the DNC was attempting to create a logo that accomplished certain design elements.

  1. A minimalist design that compliments a well-received Obama campaign logo by drawing on the Obama campaign logo elements.
  2. Easily Recognizable
  3. Designed to be easily utilized on social networking sites.

During a rollout speech at George Washington University, DNC Chairman, Tim Kaine, told crowds that ”The new look demonstrates that we’re about the people.  The [old] DNC logo focused on the committee, but we want to focus on the Democrats, the 75 million strong.” 

With those objectives in mind, it is clear that the DNC used President Obama’s campaign logo as a basis for their redesign.  So where did things go wrong?

The Obama Campaign Logo

President Obama’s 2008 Campaign Logo has become one of the most recognizable logo designs in history.   The logo’s use of color, shape and layout served to create a distinguishable logo that clearly defined who the logo represented and his purpose.  The designer was able to blend traditional and modern elements together in a seamless fashion, making it aesthetically pleasing, distinguishable and able to carry a clear message.  Yet, the DNC completely missed the mark in their attempt to emulate the icon.

Imagery

At the heart of the Obama campaign design was the integration of elements from the U.S. flag.  Nearly every President in the past 200 years has campaigned using imagery of the U.S. flag within their logo; and by doing so, a candidate is taking advantage of the public association between the flag and campaigns.   In addition, designers have a responsibility to not only understand color theory, but to also understand the psychological associations within iconic imagery.  By integrating the elements of the flag into the Obama logo design, the campaign was able to tap into the feelings of patriotism, opportunity and pride that a vast majority of people associate with their nation’s flag.  

The DNC abandoned any integration of the flag within their new logo.  As a result, there is no association between the logo and the organization’s political activity; and no attempt to create a sense of patriotism among those who see the logo.  By abandoning the flag, the DNC logo fails to define or convey the organizations most basic ”political” mission. 

Color

The application of color theory is by far the most important element within logo and web design.  Certain colors convey different meanings and are associated with different feelings.  We’ve discussed the failure to incorporate the iconic imagery of the US flag into the DNC logo, but the logo also suffers from a lack of consideration of color theory.  The Obama logo design consisted of three basic colors most closely associated with political campaigns: Red, White and Blue.  The red and white stripes were the result of a careful integration of iconic imagery, laid out in a rolling fashion to create a landscaped feel.  However, the blue served a different function.  The campaign abandoned the traditional navy blue of the US flag, opting instead for a brighter, gradient overlaid, blue within the logo design.  

Basic color theory teaches us that light blues are most commonly seen as refreshing and friendly, while dark blues are associated with strength and reliability.  Bright blues are considered energizing.  By incorporating a strong, bright blue the campaign was able to create a logo that was visually modern, refreshing and energizing.  Such use of appropriate color was consistent with the message of hope and change that the campaign was selling to the public.

The DNC logo, on the other hand, chose to use a monochromatic color scheme.  Opting for a 2-color blue based logo.  The outer containment ring of the logo is a stronger, darker, more saturated blue; while the inner “D” is a lighter, brighter, more energetic blue.  Although the DNC uses an entirely blue palette, the logo appears to visually struggle with itself (not clash, but struggle).   The logo uses the opposing blues equally, whereas one would typically act as an accent.  The result is that a majority of individuals will internally struggle to identify the feelings toward the logo and subsequently the organization.   If a logo cannot convey a specific feeling or emotion to a person, it simply become unremarkable, which no organization wants to occur. 

Logo Shape & Containment

Round shapes are rarely used as the defining element of a logo, and it is even harder to find a logo that is contained within a round shape.  Designers shy away from round logos for a variety of reasons:

  1. Round logos are most commonly associated with government agencies using heavy, traditional artwork.  
  2. It is difficult to position text and non-round iconic imagery within a circular container.
  3. Contained logos create a separation of elements that make it more difficult to associate a name or tagline with the logo. 
  4. Round logos are a letter of the alphabet.

There are organizations that successfully utilize a round logo.   Colleges are more commonly adopting round logos, utilizing white lettering or icons on a solid background.  Target utilizes a bull’s eye as its logo.  Pepsi and Tide both have round logos that have used color and layered elements to create a visually appealing design.  However, for most organizations, the constraints of a round logo make it nearly impossible to create an aesthetically appealing design.

The Obama campaign was able to successfully utilize a round logo, in large part because of the President’s name.  The use of a round container and rounded elements allowed the campaign to create a visual logo, without having to worry about incorporating the President’s name into the logo.  The Obama designers were allowed to use visual creativity without worrying about the constraining issues of using a round logo. 

The problem with the DNC use of a round logo is that it just doesn’t fit.  There is no use of imagery, no attempt to visually reduce the impact of the solid blue border, and no attempt to create a distinguishable design.  The end result is an unremarkable and indistinguishable logo that suffers from what I call the “Scarlet Letter” effect.

Imagine if a company, with red logo colors, was to create a round logo with a thick solid border and the letter “A” on a white background.  You would automatically be taken back to sixth grade when you were required to read The Scarlet Letter.  Now, imagine if the Obama campaign had rolled out a square logo (if it were round it would be a target) with a single letter “O” in the middle.  Would you know that the logo represented the President’s campaign?  Probably not!  Just as 90% of the population would automatically think it was Oprah’s logo. The DNC has created the same problem.

When I first saw the logo design, I immediately had an image of “Captain D’s” seafood restaurant.  Likewise, when Chris Good, a staff editor at The Atlantic, saw the logo, he immediately thought of Dewey’s Pizza (a pizza chain operating in the Ohio Valley).  In fact, the DNC logo so closely resembles that of Dewey’s Pizza that the company would have a legitimate trademark infringement claim in court.

Dewey's Pizza playful response to the DNC logo.

 

The bottom line is that the organization attempting to send a message of change, renewal and refreshment, fails to convey any of this message within their logo design. 

Social Media

Based upon the logo design, you are given an impression that the DNC was attempting to create a logo that could easily be used as a profile picture, button or social media icon on a website.  In 2008, the Obama campaign logo virally infected social media websites through the hundreds of thousands of users who used the logo as a profile picture.  However, the Obama campaign was not trying to create a logo specifically for Social Media, but rather to convey and reflect their campaign message.  That resulted in a visually stunning logo that supporters were proud to use as a profile picture.  The DNC logo was not designed to convey a message and is certainly not ”stunning”. It is unlikely that millions of supporters would willingly change out their profile picture when the end result would be their friends asking them if they have a new job as a pizza delivery driver. 

The mark of good logo is one that clearly identifies your organization; is recognizable and distinguishable; is remarkable; and conveys a visual message consistent with your organization’s mission.  In the case of the big, blue, circle D, the DNC has really missed the mark.

5 comments to DNC rolls out worst logo redesign of the year?

  • Jason D

    I should also be mentioned that the use of a thicker border minimizes the letter D, making it appear as though the logo is a target. I would have expected a little more originality within the design.

  • Linda

    I’m still trying to figure out how this logo design makes the DNC look as though they are “about the people”. There’s just nothing there, its a circle and a D. The average person would never associate this design with the Democrat Party. What were they thinking?

  • Really love all the posts you offer! I am so looking forward to seeing more like them..

  • Clarence

    It was the only way the Democrats could squeeze their report card score into their logo. Drake College did the same thing, choosing “D+” as the logo for all their college recruiting materials recently.

  • It is dependent on the way you look at it and where you are coming from on the topic really. In the long run beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Now i’m with you on this one.