Campaign 2008: The Stumper Stickers

Election season is taking over the front page, the evening news, and—sticker by sticker—the nation's bumpers. Like any ad, the logos of the '08 contenders are designed to sell a brand and subliminally play up a candidate's winning image. PERISCOPE sat with Michael Bierut, a partner at design firm Pentagram, to parse the good, the bad and the sans serifs:

Hillary Clinton
"The deliberate branding decision here is to go by first name only," Bierut says, "to make her approachable and friendly, and to disassociate herself from the Clinton dynasty." The serif typeface (the kind with "tails" on each letter) conveys openness. "All the Democrats have swooshy elements, a curve somewhere designed to signify a suppleness and willingness to listen."

Barack Obama
"Obama is blessed with a name that looks good in type," Bierut says. "Obama's font is quite elegant and almost literary." While Clinton's flag is just a literal flag, this symbolic one "encompasses both the 'O' and a rising sun, signifying the hope of a new day—though a setting sun looks the same. Perhaps we're not supposed to consider that."

John Edwards
"Edwards uses Ventura like Giuliani, but does it the Democrat way—with airiness and asymmetry," Bierut says. "And someone thought long and hard about that decision to insert that green trail off the star. It's a kind of ham-handed gesture of symbolic environmentalism. Just that little touch of green in a campaign logo almost seems insane and daring."

Rudy Giuliani
"Rudy's logo is like a brick wall," Bierut says. "It uses an extra bold sans serif font, Ventura, and the design is squared off perfectly, nailed down from all sides like it can't move a millimeter—telling of a former prosecutor ... The tightness communicates an absolutely solid bulwark against external dangers. Rudy is clearly a product of the sophisticated New York media environment and he received very good design advice. This is the best of them all."

John McCain
"McCain has the worst logo. He's using an Optima font that many designers dislike because it's a hybrid for people who can't decide between a serif or sans serif ... It's wishy-washy, neither contemporary nor traditional." But: "This is the typeface used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and with the center star straight off a military cap, it's overtly militaristic. There's no subtlety."

Mitt Romney
"Mitt is not a first name that you want to stand alone—it's an object," Bierut says. "The framing boxes are careless and half-baked. This looks like the bumper sticker of someone who's not going to win."