The Obama “O” vs. the Romney “R”

It is a sad testament to the superficiality of modern society that graphic design plays such a large role today in one of life’s most important arenas, that arena being politics.

Politicians have always used imagery in their campaigns, usually a variation on the Stars and Stripes or red-white-and-blue motifs. But in 2008 we were witness to a drastic change in how presidential campaigns were run in this regard.

Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama print was inescapable. You remember the one: the four-tone image of Obama from the top of his head to the knot of his tie, his shoulders facing stage left, his visionary gaze facing stage right, looking forward and a little upward, presumably towards what liberals would call progress; and beneath it all, serving as the foundation, the word “HOPE.” This image was printed large on the fronts of T-shirts purchased primarily by young adults and blacks. The image was miniaturized and made into bumper stickers. The image was even super-miniaturized and used as the sticker found on apples and bananas. (Okay, I made that last one up.) The point is that it was everywhere.

We were also inundated with what is now probably the most recognizable symbol worldwide after the cross and the swastika: the Obama “O,” its namesake’s official symbol. It may come as a surprise to some, but the “O” does not in fact stand for “Obnoxious.” It was created by a design firm called Sender LLC. I may not like what the symbol stands for, but considering the success of Sender LLC’s work in 2008, if I needed a logo created to represent me, I would seek their number post-haste.

It is an undeniably effective symbol. “We were looking at the ‘O’ of his name and had the idea of a rising sun and a new day,” said Sol Sender, the design company’s creative director.

Beyond that, however, the symbol follows the Golden Rule of political campaigns by including the colors of the American flag. And not just the colors, but the stripes, which curve upward and across the bottom half of the symbol, resembling an American flag draped over a hill in the good ol’ American countryside. “Obama is all about America,” it says. The stripes are enclosed comfortingly in the “O,” evoking a sense that we are under Obama’s protection. Furthermore, the “O” is not Roman, but is in a modern typeface that renders it a perfect circle. Circles are universal symbols of inclusion, oneness, wholeness, completion. To top it all off, the symbol is easily replicated and immediately recognizable.

The excitement from voters in 2008 sometimes made it seem as if they were voting for Obama’s symbol as opposed to what they were really voting for: Obama’s symbolism.

In 2008, there was no Republican symbol to counter Obama’s. Not so in 2012, however. Mitt Romney has his “R” symbol, which, while I do like it better than the Obama symbol, I admit it does not come close to being as effective. Romney’s “R” does have some good elements to it, namely the color scheme (red, white, and blue, naturally) and the fact that it greatly resembles a flag loosely fluttering in the wind atop a flag pole. And of course it is a nice change of scenery for a conservative, but beyond these assets, it is lacking.

Now, as is demonstrated in nearly every conversation with a liberal, liberals are very emotional and romantic and are easily affected by things that make them feel. Conservatives, on the other hand, rely on logic and truth. Conservatives get emotional, sure, but their beliefs are generally based on what their brains, not their hearts, tell them. In this way, the two candidates’ respective symbols serve as a contrast between the two candidates’ constituents: Obama’s are feelers, Romney’s are thinkers.