Vote for change?

With each of the three main UK political parties facing transformative change, would they gain by following the lead of the US Democratic Party, which has just rebranded? Tom Banks talks to the designers who worked on their current logos

Political branding is splashed across the pages of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, with President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party heading for the US mid-term elections in November with a new brand identity, and the three main UK parties currently hosting their own heavily branded party conferences.

The new Democratic Party logo, which was unveiled earlier this month, has been redrawn by New York-based consultancy SS&K. The consultancy has moved it away from the previous incarnation, which featured the stars and stripes and a donkey, to a more simple ’D’ within a circle.

Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says, ’Some may think, “It’s just a logo, it’s just a brand”. Well, I don’t believe the Democratic Party is a logo or a brand – we are much more than that. We are Democrats. We create change that matters. Ours is a party of ideas and ideals, of policies and people, history and purpose.

’So call it what you will – this new identity for our party captures the spirit that unites us all. Democrats – all of us – are working for change that matters.’

Rodney Fitch, who branded the Liberal Democrats in the UK in 1988 while at Rodney Fitch and Company, and reworked the identity in 1999, describes the new US Democrats identity as ’inappropriate’.

He says, ’Is a “D” in a circle representative of the Democratic Party’s politics, or does it show a corporateness creeping in? It’s inappropriate and isn’t representative of what the new Democratic Party needs to be seen as.’

Fitch says that there are three main criteria that affect political party branding: timing, appropriateness and kineticism.

Timing, or what Fitch calls the ’sell-by date’, refers to the finite period of time during a party’s administration that the branding can be appropriate for. Changes in policy, membership and party appeal should trigger a rebrand, Fitch feels. Using UK examples, he says, ’New Labour has sold out, so it needs a new brand, and, similarly, the Tories are struggling with theirtree symbolism.’

Appropriateness is an area in which the Democrats in the US have fallen short, says Fitch. He says it is vital that the identity reflects a party’s beliefs, and even considers the hammer and sickle and the swastika to have been ’potent symbols’ for communism and Nazi politics.

Kineticism is a quality Fitch believes to be lacking in the Labour rose and the Tory tree, although he sees it in the Liberal Democrats’ bird identity he designed, saying, ’It can fly, it can collapse, it can wrap, it can move – and that was always the intention.’

With the Lib Dems and the Conservatives now partners in the coalition Government, Fitch says that the timing and appropriateness of their identities could be brought into question.

However, he says that he thinks ’no symbol would work’ to unite the coalition, adding that the parties are ’too compromised, without enough commitment to a single approach’, and that the identity ’would never show a joint and connected feeling about how their politics are represented’.

Like Fitch, Michael Wolff, who worked on the Labour identity in 1986 (it was redesigned in-house by the party in 1997), assesses party branding using three criteria.

He says, ’The first is simplicity – that means being clear and direct. The second is emotional warmth – you’re either celebrating or initiating a new or refreshed relationship. The third is difference or distinctiveness – that means nothing as banal or “empty” as initials.’

Wolff also suggests practicality is key and that any new identity has to ’strike a new chord’. He says any hypothetical brief to represent the coalition Government visually ’would be a refreshing challenge’, adding, ’The coalition is new, exciting and hopeful to many.’

Alex Aiken, founder and creative director of Perfect Day, which gave the Conservative Party its tree brand in 2006, says it would be a mistake to brand the coalition ’because they remain two distinct parties’, although he jokes about ’a bird nesting in the tree’.

While Aiken believes that all parties should regularly refresh their brands, he says that, ’The Government has the Union Jack to express national unity. That is its brand.’

He sees branding a political party as a special challenge, saying, ’Whatever identity you come up with, it has to appeal to all ages and all walks of life.

’Whether it’s an old lady in Aberystwyth, a 40-year-old farmer from Norfolk, or an 18-year-old first-time voter from London, all of them have to relate to a new party brand and to feel at ease with it. As a designer, you need to imagine all of them wearing and championing the new identity.’

Party branding
SS&K has designed the new US Democrats logo, launched this month

The Conservative Party logo was designed in 2006 by Alex Aiken, founder of consultancy Perfect Day, replacing the ’freedom torch’ identity designed by Michael Peters Group in 1989, which was later redrawn by M&C Saatchi in 2005

Labour’s red rose was designed by Michael Wolff at Wolff Olins in 1986, and the New Labour Britain marque created in-house in 1997

The Liberal Democrats’ logo was created for the party’s formation in 1988 by Fitch and updated in 1999 by Rodney Fitch and Company

Latest articles