Neuroscience Behind Presidential Campaign Logos

Image credentials to: Sammich & Chai Creative

When it comes to politics, logo design might be just as hotly debated as a candidate’s position on health care. But rest assured: Like a pre-written campaign speech, a candidate’s logo is the product of the best and brightest minds from a team of political experts that exploit the way your brain works to cause certain emotions.

So, what’s the difference between a logo that leaves you cold and one that inspires American pride? As it turns out: not much. In fact, your brain may dictate your favorite candidate because of the way it interacts with his or her logo. Understanding the complex neuroscience behind logos can help you see past pretty pictures and get straight to the facts.

Design Theory (and Your Brain)

Pieter Desmet, an associate professor of form theory in the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, is one of the world’s foremost expert in design theory. He has written extensively on “appraisal theory,” or the way our brains influences our emotions and reactions to design. His theories revolve around the four tenets of reaction to design. When applied to presidential candidate logos, the motive behind the design becomes more apparent. Appraisal theory consists of the following four facets:

  1. Relation of product to personal goals. When an individual looks at a log, he or she should understand how the product is used. For presidential logos, the “product” should speak to the main goal of the candidate. In Hillary Clinton’s case, for example, the red arrow represents looking forward. On one hand, supporters see it as a positive: Hillary wants progress. Detractors may see it as a negative, with the arrow pointing away from missteps in the past. Either way, the arrow represents Hillary’s mindset, which may (or may not) align with voters’ personal goals.
  2. Sensorial appeal. All 21 of current candidacy logos are made up of some combination of red, white, and blue. These three colors create the sensorial appeal for voters looking at each logo. The colors represent the country, freedom, and nostalgia, creating a positive reaction in viewers. A lack of sensorial appeal might have an adverse effect on a candidate, no matter how positive his or her campaign.
  3. Legitimacy of action. It’s hard to fool the brain: If a candidate ran on a platform of “Unicorns for All!” the brain immediately discards the information as unnecessary. A candidates promises must align with the brain’s sense of legitimacy. If a logo uses graphics or text that is unlikely at best, it immediately disengages the brain. At the same time, brains take things very literally, which may be why the Ted Cruz logo depicting a flame can also be translated by the brain as an oil drop, and therefore associate the Ted Cruz campaign with greedy oil corporations.
  4. New. While the brain craves legitimacy, it also loves the new. If each presidential candidate’s logo was the exact same, it does little to inspire neurons to pay attention. Of all of the candidates, one of the most widely-hailed logo has been that of previously unknown Martin O’Malley, whose logo is a refreshing mix of trendy typeface and traditional colors. While it probably won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not he nabs the nomination, it has been enough to garner notice.

The way you react to a candidate has a lot to do with your own values, but it’s not just about hot button issues or which side of the aisle you prefer, but your brain’s initial experience with someone hoping to get your vote. And though they may seem like an inconsequential factor, logos engage the brain in a way that speeches and articles can’t. Typical brain: Always looking for the shortcut to information. Whether it’s watching a how-to video or making snap judgements on presidential candidates, you can’t fault your neurons for their rapid fire reactions.