Presidential Design: Learn from the guy behind Hillary Clinton’s logo

It’s not every day, during a casual conversation, you find out a friend’s brother is the guy responsible for the imagery created to represent one of the most well-known women on the planet.

When Hillary Clinton — former First Lady, Senator of New York, Secretary of State, and now 2016 presumptive Democratic Nominee for President of the United States — announced her second bid for the White House last year, she debuted a fresh new logo.

Photo Credit: jessereedfromohio.com
Photo Credit: jessereedfromohio.com

The symbol is everywhere. T-shirts. Hats. Bumper stickers. TV ads. On and on. I particularly like how it can change to represent various causes the campaign chooses, while still maintaining its original structure. (I could see something like that working for a library system. Changing to represent what we’re promoting at the time. Books, movies, music, databases, outreach, programming, etc. While always staying true to the logo’s initial core.)

Photo Courtesy: jessereedfromohio.com
Photo Credit: jessereedfromohio.com

No matter your view on politics, I think we can agree Sec. Clinton’s campaign is historic. She’s the first woman to earn a major party’s nomination for president. One glass ceiling. One big crack away from being completely broken. You don’t have to necessarily be a supporter to learn from the design strategy behind the campaign’s now iconic branding.

After learning that I knew the logo’s designer in a “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” kind of way, I reached out, knowing library marketers everywhere could probably benefit from his knowledge. Library logos vary across the country. Most of the time there’s a book (or some kind of abstract rendering of a book) involved. Some library logos have been the same for decades. Others have been debuting fun, new logos. But most of us could use some help, right?

Enter expert graphic designer Jesse Reed.

Photo Credit: Clement Pascal
Photo Credit: Clement Pascal

Jesse is an associate partner at Pentagram Design, the world’s largest independent design consultancy. Jesse teamed up with his boss at the company, Michael Bierut, to tackle Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign project. Michael acted as the creative director and Jesse served as the lead designer. Both volunteered their own time outside of their responsibilities at Pentagram.

The project came with some simple instructions. They were asked by the campaign to envision a comprehensive visual identity for the “Hillary for America” brand. The finished product could include anything from iconography, typography, color, and other graphic components.

The two took a shot at creating something memorable. And the rest is — quite literally — history.

Here’s my Q&A with Jesse.

What inspired your ideas and design for the Hillary for America logo and overall branding? How did you settle on colors, typeface, look and feel, etc.?

Photo Courtesy: jessereedfromohio.com
Photo Credit: jessereedfromohio.com

The visual language developed out of a few basic principles. The first was creating a symbol that could communicate Hillary’s endorsement of any given group, policy, or location. This resulted in her H with an arrow, visually representing the phrase “Hillary for ___.”

Once this was established, you could simply put any word after the symbol and it instantly becomes a graphic rebus, i.e. Hillary for Iowa, Hillary for Latinos, Hillary for Pride, etc.

The second principle evolved out of the core mark, and was the idea of an inclusive and constantly evolving system. As many people have now seen, the logo isn’t static, it can become an image of a state, a menorah, a local business, among many other possibilities. People often criticized that her logo was so simple their “two-year old could do it.” That was the point — creating a visual vocabulary that anyone in this country could participate in, regardless of talent or graphic skill level. Naturally, this led to a very simple color palette and typographic decision — three (core) colors + one typeface + a dynamic symbol — this was the foundation of our work for the campaign.

How does it feel to be involved in the brand behind quite possibly the first woman president?

It feels incredible. Michael and I are still in disbelief when we see images of the logo on podiums and bumper stickers. We can’t believe they’re real and not Photoshop renderings! We’re for her.

Logos that are instantly recognizable are pretty rare, right? I think the Hillary for America logo is one of them. What’s your advice for a library that may be interested in creating a new or updated logo?

I feel like a broken record sometimes explaining my design philosophy, but the notion of reductive design is something I strongly believe in. Consider what you really need to include, and how does it relate directly to the core principle of your mission? This could apply to anything — libraries, coffee shops, pet supplies — simplicity works best. Take the Apple apple, or the Nike swoosh — most people could draw those by memory and get pretty close. There’s a reason for that. And a good logo doesn’t need to consist of a “symbol” or visual representation. Typography goes a long way when applied with conviction. And remember, the logo isn’t everything. If anything, I consider logos to be little reminders of who’s speaking. But there needs to be speaking in order for the logo to have any meaning down the road.

In general, what kind of role do you think graphic design plays for businesses and organizations?

Design is business. Again, I’m not the first person to say this, but the more I practice, the more I realize it’s true. Design can’t stand alone without a business behind it (and I use “business” broadly, it can be anything with purpose) otherwise, it’s art. Pentagram is a unique studio model where the designers are in direct communication with who’s running the show. This improves the quality of our work because we hear first-hand the organization’s goals, mission, and what they really want to accomplish. We’re not simply icing a cake, we’re providing a portion of the ingredients to make it edible.

What is your advice for a library system, most likely one with a small budget, as they approach graphic design and branding? 

Photo Credit: robinhood.org
Photo Credit: robinhood.org

Be clear, concise, and to the point. Intelligent visual thinking can go a long way without massive budgets, particularly in the case of a library. Your audience is smart and they’ll appreciate a good visual pun or some literary “inside baseball.” My boss, Michael, participated in an effort called The L!brary Initiatve where they asked visual artists (of many mediums) to outfit the interior environments of public libraries in New York City. The budget was low and you had to be creative. Michael commissioned his wife, Dorothy, to shoot photographs of kids and blow them up really huge like a frieze around the entire perimeter of the space. It was simple, had impact, and in my opinion, a timeless quality. Other people did illustration, typography, and physical installations

Any tips for a novice designer at a library on how to get started and improve his or her design skills? 

Look to history. Rarely is anything completely new, and that’s OK, but you should know the precedent. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs is a good place to start. Once you’ve done your homework, simply practice. No one is good overnight, and if you’re determined, skills will manifest.

Do you have any advice on designing graphics specifically for social media? 

Same principles apply — be simple. You have literally one second to demand attention and retain curiosity. What is the exact message you’re trying to convey? How can you do that instantly? This doesn’t mean everything needs to be squares and circles and one word expressions, but it’s a layered experience. Get their attention, pique their interest, and clarify the action — big, medium, small.

And, lastly, for all the librarians out there — what are you currently reading?

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder and The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman.


Another big thanks to Jesse Reed for all the great advice. Check out his portfolio to learn more about the Hillary for American designs, and see some of his other fantastic work.

Do you have a great library logo? Post a link to your website in the comments below. And please take this new poll!


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Learn more about the author.

Opinions are my own. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of my past or present employers.

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