WHY DONALD TRUMP’S BRANDING SUCKS
According to Steven Heller, the incoming US President can add bad design to his list of gaffes...
In an extract from his new book, Steven Heller critiques Donald Trump’s typographical gaffes
Alas, it seems the President-elect Donald Trump is contemptuous of typographic acuity and design literacy. In his book Trump University Branding 101, the tycoon offers the briefest discussion of managing logos and writes, “You do not need a graphic design house to develop your logo.” He goes on to say, “Ideally, your logo should be unique.”
Yes, one’s logo should be unique. But unique is not a substitute for smart. Something can be uniquely brilliant or uniquely awful. Trump’s typography is uniquely arrogant. His campaign branding is simultaneously bold and bland, and completely uninspired. This comes as no surprise, because Trump has never shown the slightest inclination toward tasteful iconography.
His history of terrible typography started with his first major development, Trump Tower. He plastered his name over the entryway in a heavy slab serif typeface called Stymie Bold. The original Stymie, designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1931, exemplifies a popular genre of updated nineteenth-century slabs called Egyptian, known for their bold, blocky serifs. The typeface family was initially conceived in homage to Napoleon’s 1798 Egyptian campaign, which prompted a craze for all things Egyptian.
It’s unclear whether Trump chose Stymie out of an affinity for Napoleon or because a similar typeface called Rockwell, designed in 1934, was not angular enough to represent the flagship saw-toothed bronze skyscraper bearing his name. Whatever the reason, the dramatic 34-inch-high brass Trump Tower logo marked a preference for “look at me” Stymie, which Trump would use on everything from hotels and casinos to his private jet. His choice of business typography is not fly-by-night or shady, but stereotypical and clichéd – the kind of font a Cadillac salesman may have on his business card or a financial advisor might use on a letterhead.
Eventually, though, slab serifs may have been perceived as too plebeian for his luxury brands. So the Trump name received various typographic makeovers to express wealth and exclusivity, most vividly illustrated by the Trump Network Shield, a faux-heraldic crest, replete with regal arm and hand holding the Trump family spear.
Certain typefaces have come to express status. And although Trump’s choices may not win any art school design competitions, his current serif typeface, Trajan, exudes all the attributes of imperial Roman letterforms and is named after the Trajan column, implying classical elegance and heritage. So when juxtaposed with the faux-heraldic Trump Network Shield, the idea of empire is implicit. As the Donald proclaimed in Trump University Branding 101: “The Trump brand includes many diverse products and services. However, the typeface and presentation of the Trump name remain constant.” The Trump name further satisfies another Branding 101 precept: “As a practical matter, your name must be pronounceable, not only in your country but in any others in which you might do business.”
But when it comes to politics, Trump has decided to go for a far less Napoleonic aesthetic. For his presidential campaign, his typography was as quiet as he is loud. Actually a slew of Trump logo parodies circulating on the web, including those in which the American flag is wittily designed to resemble his famous comb-over, are far cleverer than the surprisingly subdued setting of the Donald’s last name against a solid navy blue background.
The type was bold, but serifs were eliminated in favour of a sans serif similar to Franklin Gothic, while his slogan ‘Make America Great Again,’ possibly in Gill Sans, was garnished with five discreet stars. In short, it was no frills and no thrills, which has certain advantages.
With so much attention paid to logos from early on in the campaign, criticism of his logo was not on the list of things that the Donald had to grapple with. Of course, he has a talent for stirring up plenty of controversy without making another typographical gaff.
Trump’s presidential campaign typography was as quiet as he is loud... no frills and no thrills