Brand Trump and the presidential campaigns of the last 8 years

As Donald Trump makes history with an unexpected and controversial presidential win, we look at the part graphics has played in elections from 2008 to present.

Screenshot of the Third Presidential Debate on 19 October 2016. Courtesy of Flickr user Bill B
Screenshot of the Third Presidential Debate on 19 October 2016. Courtesy of Flickr user Bill B

This article was originally published on 8 October. It has been updated to reflect the result of the election.

The US Election 2016 came to a dramatic close today 9 November, as Republican Donald Trump won by an outstanding majority, beating the polls’ favourite Democrat Hillary Clinton by 58 electoral college votes.

Both candidates spent roughly 18 months campaigning, after Clinton announced she was running for president in April 2015 and Trump in June 2015.

The polls in the run-up to election day showed it was a close call – the BBC’s poll of polls compared the latest stats from American news sources such as Bloomberg and CBS News, and calculated the final average as 48% for Clinton and 44% for Trump.

But this all changed on the morning of 9 November at 5am GMT (12am EST), after Trump won the states of Ohio and Florida, setting him firmly in the lead and showing that the polls are not always to be trusted.

At 7.34am, Trump was elected the 45th president of the USA, causing the biggest global ripple of shock since the Brexit vote in June.

Mud was slung in both directions throughout the turbulent and lengthy campaign period, with Clinton receiving bad press for her use of a private email server for official emails, and Trump generating his own controversy through his refusal to release his tax returns – which were later leaked – alongside his derogatory comments made towards immigrants and women.

But aside from controversy and verbal campaigning, what part did graphics and branding played in the election? Visual assets have proved powerful in presidential races before, with Barack Obama’s 2008 win coinciding with the creation of a unique logo which was reinterpreted by supporters and which went viral. Here’s a look at Trump and Clinton’s campaigns, and a further look at the campaigns of the previous two elections.

Democrats 2016: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine


The red arrow embedded within a blue “H” became synonymous with Clinton’s presidential campaign. The symbol was designed by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and associate partner Jesse Reed. Used alongside a white, sans-serif, custom typeface – Unity, created by Lucas Sharp – the logo mirrors the colours of the American flag, and also incorporates a lighter blue in some applications.

Courtesy of Flickr account Hillary for America
Courtesy of Flickr account Hillary for America

Described by Reed as “a mark so simple, a two-year old could make it”, the combined “H” and arrow shape followed by the word “America” aims to depict “Hillary for America” – the candidate’s slogan. The simple icon was created based on a nine-square grid with the middle squares of the top and bottom rows removed to form the “H” letterform, and a diamond inserted into the square, which creates the arrowhead.


If she had been elected, Clinton would have been the USA’s first female president; her merchandise and advertising materials worked with this, showing her calls for gender equality with use of the words “she”, “her” and “daughter” and classic, feminist imagery. Outright humour was also injected into some of her campaigning, with bumper sticks embellished with Trump’s face with the word “Nope” plastered across it, and phrases such as “Love trumps hate.”

Republicans 2016: Donald Trump and Mike Pence


Trump’s presidential campaign logo, created by unknown designers, has had its fair share of controversy, to match the candidate himself. When Trump announced Mike Pence as his vice-presidential candidate in July, the original logo depicted a “T” letterform penetrating a “P” – causing it to become the subject of ridicule by disparagers of the candidate as they saw an *ahem* obvious, alternative meaning behind the symbol…


The indecent, interlocking symbol was later scrapped and no icon took its place – instead, the Republicans kept the bold, sans-serif logotype for “Trump” and Pence”, along with the slogan “Make America Great Again!”, and added a blue box border and five red stars.


Slightly less nuanced and tongue-in-cheek than the Clinton Kaine campaign, merchandise and advertising materials for Trump Pence featured the same red, white and blue American flag colours as his logo, along with the slogan “Make America Great Again”. Iterations see “America” replaced with other words such as “Education” and “Military”.

Democrats 2012: Barack Obama and Joe Biden


The Obama Biden 2012 logo was an iteration of the branding originally created by designer Sol Sender for the 2008 Obama Biden campaign. Redesigned by designer Josh Higgins, the logo features a thicker, bolder typeface, with more defined block colours in the symbol, and a thicker border. The horizon and sun-rising emblem was retained, after its success in the 2008 election, but the old slogan, “Change we can believe in” was scrapped in favour of the simpler “Forward.”

Republicans 2012: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan


Romney opted for the more patriotic, less abstract approach with a logotype that was allegedly created by an in-house design team. Like Obama’s, the logo retained the American flag colours of red, white and blue, but there’s no obvious icon, except for the “R” of “Romney” used to encapsulate these colours. “Believe in America” was used as the slogan, drawing on the same nationalism and aspiration of Trump’s “Make America Great Again”.

Democrats 2008: Barack Obama and Joe Biden


Created by Chicago-based designer Sol Sender, then taken over and iterated by Obama’s own design team, this logo was meant to symbolise change, according to Sender himself. Speaking in an interview, he says the logo had to retain an element of patriotism and tradition by keeping the flag’s colours, but also do something new.

The icon symbolises a sun rising from a horizon contained within an “O” letterform, and was one of three finalist logos, which also included an adaptable, changeable “O” symbol and one incorporating speech marks, which Sender decided “was a little too far out of the box”.

“Having a little more tradition in the mark was the smart way to go,” he says. “It could stand alone as a symbol of support for the candidate.” The stripes were originally symmetrically expressed across the horizon, he says, but were refined at an angle to give the symbol “more dimension and motion”. Sender adds that he wanted to move away from purely typographic logos, which had been typical of US political campaigns up until then.

Republicans 2008: John McCain and Sarah Palin

Courtesy of Flickr user Marc Nozell
Courtesy of Flickr user Marc Nozell

The Republicans took on that more traditional, typographic approach – with just the naval star in navy, accompanied by a navy sans-serif typeface and a gold separating line, the logo does not invoke much of a deeper meaning, and is also one of the few political logos over the last 12 years not incorporating the three colours of the American flag. But it could also be argued it was less abstract and required less deciphering than Obama’s.

The logo was scrapped in 2010 following the Republicans’ loss in the 2008 election, and replaced with a symbol which did use the three flag colours. It was made up of a blue logotype that was no longer capitalised, a red banner, and three white stars created from negative space.

Today, the curtain fell on two vitriolic, incredibly different campaigns – while graphics and visual assets play a big part of branding and communication, it was Brand Trump’s rhetoric for change that engaged the disenfranchised public, rather than his lack of attention to logo design detail. While his outlandish, and for many, enraging, policies remain controversial even for right-wing Republicans, his simple, logotype-focused branding played it significantly safe within the parameters of political branding. That is, once he had scrapped the questionable “T”-penetrating-a-“P” icon.

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Tomas November 14, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Make Leading Great Again!

  • John Frieda November 15, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Hillary’s branding is a perfect example of how expensive and over considered design mobilised the wrong audience. Trump’s slogan and branding was classic 80s Americana; stars, stripes and deep republican blue, all that was lacking were boater hats of old. This resonated with voters longing for a return to the Reagan era. I’ll be intrigued to know whether the Democrats adopt any of this in four years.

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