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The Biden-Harris Logo Is Meh

August 18, 2020
The Biden-Harris Logo Is Meh

1. Red, White, and Blue. Again.

Fine. Let’s do this.

What is there to say about this piece of typography?

Maybe the best thing to say is that it does no harm.

The day the logo was released, one of my colleagues joked that the message it conveys to voters is pretty clear:

Dear America,

We’ve been trying, as a country, to write with WingDings for four years. Would you like to try some Arial?



That’s about right.

This new logo is mostly just an evolution of the original Biden logo from April 2019.

At the time it was released, I did not like this logo. I said that it was “derivative and unhelpful.” Well, all in all, that original is better than what the designers came up with for Biden-Harris. By a lot.

The first time you look at the new logo, your eye says it’s the same as the original. But for some reason, your eye doesn’t like it as much. Why is that? The fonts are vaguely similar, in that they’re sans serif. But the new logo smushes everything down. And not in a good way.

Look at the B in the original. The lower bubble comes out just a tiny bit further to the right, making the negative space on the bottom of the letter slightly bigger and adding a smidgen of pleasing asymmetry.

Now scroll up to the new B.

It looks angry. Like someone hurt it.

I know what you’re thinking: This man is insane. I’m not. Look at the B’s.

One of those letters is happy and one of them is angry. It’s just science.

You could say the same about the D’s. And the D’s then determine how the one real visual element—that cockamamie triple-red-line abstract flag E works. In the original logo, the D was nice and curvy, giving a rounded feel to the middle of the logo.

Compare that with the new D: It’s practically a square. It’s like the letter is gritting its teeth and forcing the shallowest arc possible, because it was told by some guy in skinny jeans and trendy eyewear that it absolutely has to conform to the old design.

And by the by, those triple-red-lines? E. At least the original really did suggest the letter E. The new version just looks like an homage to Basquiat (he wrote his E’s as three parallel lines).

Then there’s the spacing. The one thing that works in the original logo is how much room the word “president” has to breathe below Biden’s name.

The new logo just kind of jams Harris in there, like it’s packing sleeping bag into a stuff sack. Jonathan Hoefler, whose team designed Biden-Harris, says that they mocked up designs for all of the potential VP pairings:

Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an Eisenhower will hardly work for a Taft. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.

While the press debated the merits of the candidates’ backgrounds, my discussions concerned the shapes of their names. Short names versus long ones; names that began with awkwardly-shaped letters; names with ornery kerning pairs. Names whose letters aligned strangely with Biden, disqualifying entire categories of visual arrangement; names that run long, thanks to a W or M, or short because of an I, or all three at once. “Heterogrammatical” names, which contain no repeating letters; names that are schnapps-words.

All of this is true. And I don’t mean to denigrate the work Hoefler & Co. did. I’m sure they were laboring under a great deal of pressure and tight constraints.

And in a way, they may have come up with a design that speaks to the heart of the candidate’s pitch to America: It’s time to settle for Biden.

2. From Russia, with Love

Last week Russia announced that they had approved a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.


Well, sort of. But not really.

Here’s the basic FAQ on the vaccine itself:

The vaccine has been dubbed “Sputnik V”, in reference to the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, which was launched by the USSR in 1957 – a sign that the Russian government plans to trumpet it as a matter of national pride. It has been developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, part of Russia’s Ministry of Health.The vaccine would be administered in two shots, 21 days apart. Both shots contain modified adenoviruses, which would ordinarily cause a common cold. Both have been given the gene for the spike protein from the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This protein allows the virus to enter human cells. In theory, this should prime the immune system for an encounter with the actual coronavirus.

Known as a viral vector, this is a fairly standard approach to a vaccine, and other groups are pursuing similar methods.

The Russians claim that the vaccine confers two years of immunity and that, under current production capabilities, they can manufacture 1.5 million doses per yer.

But there’s a lot of fine print.

For starters, the Russian Ministry of Health “certified” the vaccine, even though it’s only been tested on 76 people.

That’s not a large enough sample to gauge either efficaciousness or safety.

But then it’s important to note that the “certified” vaccine isn’t going into wide usage right away. Here’s Science magazine:

The certificate allows the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, to be given to “a small number of citizens from vulnerable groups,” including medical staff and the elderly, a Ministry of Health spokesperson tells ScienceInsider. But the certificate stipulates that the vaccine cannot be used widely until 1 January 2021, presumably after larger clinical trials have been completed.

And then there’s this little tidbit: The vaccine has gone through two small trials, and the researchers claim that it was safe and effective. But they haven’t released any data from those trials. So you’ll just have to take their word on it.

So what is this all about? Short version: Putin.

This is what happens when autocrats use science for political ends.

Russia is putting out press releases and skipping over the gold-standard trial protocols because Putin wants to flex on the world stage and present Russia as the world leader in the most important scientific race since the moonshot.

If Sputnik V is the real deal, then that would be great for everyone. But you shouldn’t bet the milk money on it.

3. Logo Diversity

There’s a great piece over at the Pudding about the 2020 campaign logos and how the diversity of candidates correlated with the most diverse graphic design choices of any presidential campaign, ever. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s laid out in such a way as to really make use of the web and show you what’s going on with the color palette choices:

“I believe we’re finally beginning to enter an era where candidates aren’t feeling as compelled to amplify their sense of credibility and suitability for such a high office by matching their look to their understanding of the office’s historical look,” said Ashleigh Axios, former Obama White House Creative Director in an April 2019 interview. “Instead, they’re making space in their visual identities for themselves, owning and signifying that the White House is only as good as the people who occupy it.”

Read the whole thing. And I want to say a quick word about this site, the Pudding:

It’s amazing. You should sign up for their emails, which is free, here.

And I hope you’ll consider donating to them on Patreon. This is the kind of small enterprise that fulfills all of the promise of digital journalism.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.