Ac­cord­ing to Steven Heller, the in­com­ing US Pres­i­dent can add bad de­sign to his list of gaffes...

Computer Arts - - Contents -

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

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