Which way now?

Creating a symbol for a presidential campaign is no easy task but Pentagram’s arrow for Hillary Clinton points to new ideas

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As predictable as the announcement of her candidacy for president, Hillary Clinton’s logo to spearhead her campaign was welcomed with a wave of excitably negative analysis on social media when it was unveiled in mid-April.

The emblem, a bold, blue ‘H’ with a red, inlaid, left-to-right arrow was designed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram’s New York office, the man behind identities for Saks Fifth Avenue, MIT Media Lab, Mohawk Paper Mills and Brooklyn Academy of Music. Flat, unfussy, unequivocal, it ditches the glossy allusions to windblown stars and stripes that have historically been a feature of campaign logos (including Clinton’s own in 2008), and goes instead, self-assuredly, with just her own first initial.

Unpatriotic? Cocky? The Clinton camp might have expected the flak to fly in that direction. But the online design bearpit that awaits the launch of every big brand identity had other things to discuss. There were those who said the logo was too simple; it must have been designed in MS Paint or Powerpoint or by a 3rd grader. Others saw a likeness to the flags of Iceland and Cuba. A deranged handful chose to see the Twin Towers and a left-to-right flying airliner. Etc.

Then there was the arrow, which prompted accusations of plagiarism. Hillary had ripped off FedEx and a hospital sign with a right-pointing arrow. WikiLeaks bizarrely claimed the campaign had ‘stolen’ its Twitter logo – a red arrow, yes, but attached to an egg-timer.

The most interesting claims related to the direction of the arrow. To many observers it signified a wish not to move the country forwards or into a new era, but to move to the right politically.

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Michael Bierut of Pentagram’s logo design for Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign sees a red arrow set inside a blue ‘H’ (lead story image); The arrow is also used on content designed to be shared on Facebook
Michael Bierut of Pentagram’s logo design for Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign sees a red arrow set inside a blue ‘H’ (lead story image); The arrow is also used on content designed to be shared on Facebook
More content designed to be shared on Facebook

The colours seemed to confirm these suspicions: the blue and red weren’t seen as ‘American’, as they have been in every other presidential logo since, I don’t know, George Washington. Here, they signified Democrat blue and Republican red. Which may be true, of course; Clinton may be reaching out to a wider audience than simply her own party, and seeking a mandate to speak for everyone.

But we come back to the arrow. What do you see: a pointer to the right, or forwards, into the future?

According to an article in Scientific American published in 2013, the arrow has a special meaning to the human cognitive system that means it demands attention, in logos and other symbols. Arrows represent what scientists call ‘implied motion’: even though they’re not moving, they engage motion-sensitive neurons, especially arrows in cardinal directions, too, rather than oblique.

For those who read and write in English and other “left-to-right languages”, the arrow in the FedEx logo – and, presumably Hillary Clinton’s – signifies motion toward the future. (In Arabic versions of the FedEx logotype, the arrow is reversed.) On graphs and timelines, too, we read time as running from left to right.

It may be a while before we hear the precise intentions behind the Clinton colours and arrow. Bierut has wisely remained above the fray and kept schtum. Campaign spokesperson Josh Schwerin told Politico, “We’ll leave it to others to read too far into our logo.”

For Clinton, who faces the charge that she represents a past era, an arrow toward the future could prove powerful. And, as variants on the basic blue-and-red monogram start to appear, directed at specific audiences – a rainbow version for an announcement on same-sex marriage, infilled landscape versions for different states – it’s clear there’s a lot more this logo has to offer.

Michael Evamy is the author of Logo and Logotype. See evamy.co.uk, @michaelevamy

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