Change UK: why are political logos always boring and predictable?

Andrew Lawrence, executive creative director at Elmwood, discusses why newly formed, break-away political party Change UK: The Independent Group is struggling to make an impact with its current brand identity.

Courtesy of Change UK: The Independent Group

The Electoral Commission’s rejection of Change UK’s logo on ballot papers for next month’s European elections is undoubtedly a setback. But in brand terms, it also presents a big opportunity.

Earlier this month, The Independent Group (TIG), composed of 11 former Labour and Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs), successfully registered as a political party named Change UK to take part in the European elections happening on 23 May. At these, the public will vote for UK MPs to be elected as Members of European Parliament (MEPs).

Change UK logo banned from ballot slips

But following this, the Electoral Commission ruled Change UK would have to enter the elections without a logo because the one it submitted — a black square with the initials “TIG” and the hashtag “#change” — was not sufficiently recognisable and could mislead voters. Petition website change.org also expressed disapproval of the name.

Since then, the party has adopted a new logo for its online platforms, such as its website and social media — a monochrome square, made up of four, horizontal black lines against a white background. It’s not clear if this is an interim brand or not, but either way, Change UK will have a blank spot where its logo should be on this month’s ballot slips.

Generally, political logos don’t have a great deal of equity. This is because political parties don’t invest enough in creating a meaningful and memorable brand — and this is certainly the case here.

Weak, simplistic and rushed

Aside from the obvious confusion that the party is currently running under two titles of Change UK and The Independent Group, as a piece of design, both iterations of its logo are weak, simplistic and hurriedly patched-together. They’ve come up with no discernible branding.

Furthermore, TIG has orientated itself around the word “change” and the slogan “Politics is broken, let’s change it”. Aligning the brand with a single and (hopefully) temporary issue — in this case, a broken political system — is a mistake.

What happens when the political system improves or we move on from the current Brexit crisis? In years or even months to come, Change UK risks losing relevance and purpose as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) did when the Brexit vote went through — though Nigel Farage never seems to go away for long.

Political parties don’t like to stand out

Political logos tend to be boring and predictable. The Tories replaced their freedom torch with a scribble of an oak tree in 2006, the Liberal Democrats have a dove that looks like it’s made from banana skins and Labour’s rose logo hasn’t changed since the 1980s.

And, all too often, their positioning follows an old, established pattern. British political parties tend to pursue a brand that conforms rather than drives change, and so they opt for predictable ideals — progress, liberty and strength.

But in commercial branding, competition has forced companies towards being distinctive and articulating points of difference through carefully-chosen and clearly-differentiated words.

So why don’t political parties think this way, too? The answer is simple. Because parties don’t want to stand out or do anything too different in case it exposes them to ridicule.

Powerful design can sway a nation

The trouble is, we’ve all seen how easily marketing tactics can swing an election. And the fact remains that you need a strong brand and a distinct tone of voice to make an impact with the electorate.

For proof, look no further than how some of the world’s bravest movements for change have successfully inspired populations — last year’s Hope to Nope exhibition at The Design Museum offers much inspiration.

This featured, among other pieces, Shepard Fairey’s iconic Barack Obama poster for the 2008 US presidential election – a design created in one day, printed first as a street poster, which spawned numerous variations and imitations, some officially-sanctioned.

This is a powerful example of how design can sway a nation, but also of how understanding the electorate and finessing every brand touchpoint have proven to be incredibly important.

A brand is about standing for something

The fact that Change UK has chosen not to enlist one of many big advertising agencies — which will have undoubtedly been beating down their door offering services for free — to help create their image is mystifying.

The party now runs the risk of voters thinking of empty promises when they see the blank spot next to Change UK’s name on their paper slips on European election voting day.

To change the tide of a shaky start, Change UK will need to build a meaningful brand mission that moves it beyond its origins as a loose, motley crew of disenfranchised MPs.

What it must now do, quickly, is tap into the promise of newness, difference and distinctiveness. Be anti-establishment — but do so with a sense of purpose.

A brand is not just a badge, it’s about standing for something — it’s an identity and a point of view on the world. Brand building is crucial if Change UK is to move forward as an effective political entity — and if it gets it right, it could be a force to be reckoned with.

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Comments
  • Neil Littman May 9, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Because they cannot be bothered to pay qualified designers to come up with solutions?

  • Tim May 9, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    In a world where a basic red baseball cap with ‘Make America Great Again’ in Times New Roman puts a failed businessman into the White House then why should anyone in politics care about design?

  • Graham Pugh May 9, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    The elephant and donkey they’ve got going on in The States are OK aren’t they? Maybe it’s just a UK problem. And that German party in the 1930s ended up with quite a famous logo. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t do them…

  • Gary Miller May 10, 2019 at 7:53 am

    This sounds like designers moaning that they didn’t get a job.

  • Spyinthesky May 10, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    Strange that claiming that the party needs quality design input on its logo is accompanied by claims that the existing major parties logos, which did have serious design Input are poor or unrepresentative. A reflection I guess on the fact that half the design business either fawns over or slags off the other half depending upon loyalties or prejudices as much as real design issues which are generally subjective anyway. So perhaps one can understand the reticence of this new party to establish more conflict than it needs right now as it tries to establish itself. Always a tricky line to tread in a very public facing organisation.

  • Michael Wolff May 12, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    I couldn’t disagree more with Gary Miller –

    no offence Gary, but I don’t think any sour grapes were involved. Sadly many so-called “qualified designers” are equally capable of creating ineffective names and hopeless marks like this one.

    I suspect three culprits:
    The first: A lack of thought and insight, sadly quite common in the world of graphic design.

    The second: A lack of courage and discernment among those to whom the job was delegated within the organisation, and who bought this sad rubbish, without realising it.

    The Third: And the most likely – Haste, lack of leadership, lack of experience and consequently poor quality and amateur meetings of well intentioned people who didn’t understand what’s needed and failed to give it the priority, the serious attenttion and the investment that it needed

    “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”

  • David May 14, 2019 at 9:44 am

    I’m astounded by how good the Brexit Party’s logo is in comparison to this. I thought that the egotism of Farage would have lead to something equally poor – but instead they have delivered a logo that works incredibly well on Twitter as well as on the ballot paper. These considerations are extremely important in a winning campaign.

    The whitespace creating an arrow strikes me as very smart for multiple reasons:

    1. It gives a sense of purpose. They represent moving forward which is one of the biggest critiques of the current political parties.
    2. It being whitespace between the E and X suggests this is a party for smart people. Brexiteers have been derided as thick and will warm to something that paints them in a better light.
    3. It draws attention to Tweets
    4. It points to the box that they want people to tick on election day which has a kind of “stick it to the man” rebelliousness.

    As a result I’m noticing that many of their supporters have adopted it as their avatar on Twitter. I haven’t seen any of Change UK’s supporters do the same.

  • Graeme Longstaff May 17, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Change UK. The lack of inspiration is there to see in black and white. It’ll certainly provoke a change…but not the one they’re looking for.

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