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Craig Schlanser | AIGA Philadelphia

AIGA Philadelphia: Sol Sender Lecture
by Craig Schlanser, 1 Dec 2008

A graduate of West Chester University with a B.F.A., Craig Schlanser has been a freelance graphic designer for a variety of Philadelphia-area design studios since 2002. When he's not busy designing, drawing, reading, and writing, he occasionally sleeps. Contact him at craigschlanser@hotmail.com.


A graduate of West Chester University with a B.F.A., Craig Schlanser has been a freelance graphic designer for a variety of Philadelphia-area design studios since 2002. When he''s not busy designing, drawing, reading, and writing, he occasionally sleeps. Contact him at craigschlanser@hotmail.com.


It must be nice being Sol Sender these days. Earlier this month, one of Sender''s clients made history by becoming the first African-American to be elected as president of the United States. This client, of course, is Barack Obama, and Sender will most likely make a bit of history himself by being a part of the team that developed the logo for Obama''s successful presidential campaign.

On Thursday, November 20, Sender, of the Chicago-based design studio Sender LLC, spoke to a large gathering of graphic designers at Moore College of Art about his experience of designing the now famous "O" logo. He began his lecture by answering the question that was on nearly everyone''s mind: How in the world did he manage to land such a gig? As always, knowing the right people helps, and in this case Sender happened to be in the know of a motion graphics studio, mo/de, that had already done work for Obama''s campaign manager, David Axelrod. Through this connection, the Sender team, including designers Amanda Gentry and Andy Keen, would go on to develop the logo that would set a new standard for campaign graphics.

AIGA Philadelphia: Sol Sender Lecture

Before moving into the design phase of the project, Sender and his team were looking for themes that could give them direction for their visual concepts. Fortunately, this process was made a little easier by the fact that Obama had already provided a well of inspiration with his books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. As they read through these books, two words clearly stood out: "Hope" and "Change".

Change, in particular, was a theme Obama continuously spoke about over the course of his campaign. Change not just in policy, but also in the corrosive culture that has come to define the Washington scene.

For Sender and his team, this idea of change needed to be reflected in Obama''s visual identity. It was clear that a candidate with a different vision for America would require a unique symbol to personify this vision. And what better way to symbolize change than to create an identity that looks nothing like what came before it? According to Sender, "We wanted the logo to stand for a new day in American politics."

AIGA Philadelphia: Sol Sender Lecture

Of course, since doing something different always runs the risk of alienating certain voters, Sender also wanted to make sure the Obama logo would still embody the traditional American values—like patriotism—that characterize all political campaigns. After experimenting with countless incarnations, the Sender team was finally able to come up with a logo that effectively straddled these seemingly disjointed attributes. The "O" logo, with its red, white and blue color palette and flag-like stripes fits right in with other campaign identities; but unlike any other candidate in U.S. history, Obama''s identity breaks the logotype-only mold by incorporating a richly thematic graphic symbol.

After the logo was approved then came the real hard part: How to keep the symbol from being disfigured by a well-meaning but not so design-savvy group of political consultants. In one incident, the Obama symbol was spotted with the counter-space of the "O" dropped out, eclipsing the symbolic dawn in the logo. Because of these and other graphic blunders, Sender kept in close contact with the Obama team to maintain some level of consistency in the application of the logo. What Sender had less control over, was how the public adopted the logo and transformed it in ways he could hardly imagine.

AIGA Philadelphia: Sol Sender Lecture

All throughout the presidential campaign, the "O" logo was reported to have made appearances on donuts, cookies and cupcakes. Taking the logo in a more digital direction, countless numbers of fans made use of social-networking sites like Flickr and Facebook to make and share their sometimes unusual adaptations of the "O" symbol. In fact, a whole new site—logobama.com--was set up to allow users to place any image inside of the logo, often with strange or hilarious results.

After November 4th, it''s fair to say that America has taken a liking not only to president-elect Barack Obama, but also to the seemingly ubiquitous "O" logo that helped propel him into office.

Thanks to Sender and his team of designers, it''s hard to imagine that any future presidential candidate could return to the tired and uninspiring graphics of yesterday.

Print Article  Brought to you by: Craig Schlanser | AIGA Philadelphia

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