Creating A Visual Brand For Every U.S. President

Meg Jannott, a design student at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, is giving each U.S. president his own visual identity.

Scott Thomas thinks Mitt Romney’s typography could use some work. In a conversation with The Atlantic earlier this fall, the Chicago-based graphic designer explained how the “lack of polish and uneven canter” of the design work across Romney’s campaign is “parallel to his lack of rapport and makes him appear untrustworthy.” To be fair, Thomas might be a bit biased; he was the man responsible for the Obama campaign’s visual identity in 2008. Still, his critique serves as a reminder that modern elections are, in many ways, high-stakes battles of the brand, visual showdowns complete with logos, websites, TV spots, and all the other trappings of a good ad blitz. But while our current president might be typographically synonymous with Gotham, his predecessors typically didn’t leave behind visual identities that were anywhere near as distinct. So Meg Jannott made some up.

Jannott, a senior at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, started the project two months ago as a diversion that didn’t involve clients or classroom assignments. She knew she wanted to tackle some sort of series–something where she could work on one item a day–

and the around-the-clock news coverage of the upcoming presidential election gave her an obvious option: commanders-in-chief.

The designer has since completed images for our first 40 presidents. Some include little logos, others feature nicknames or famous quotations from the great men. But they’re not intended to be fully realized brands as much as quick and dirty exercises. “When I started to work on a president,” Jannott tells Co.Design, “I did do some research to find out traits and characteristics about them–what they were known for, nicknames, etc. Then, I tried to use photography and typography to emulate those things. Some are more successful than others, but that’s all part of the process of the set, I think.” All in all, she says, she tries not to spend more than an hour or two on each.

But even with that scant spare time, some of the results are powerful enough to make you want to grab a history book and dive in. A few of my favorites include James Madison, his initials rendered in stretched-out letterforms, and LBJ’s, whose image manages to convey a bit of his infamously intimidating stature by cropping off the top part of his head. As for the designer’s faves? She’s fond of George Washington’s treatment. “I feel like I had to start out right,” she says, “and I’ve been partial to that one since. It’s also one of the more popular ones of the set.”

Still, she’s definitely right about some being more gripping than others–the images for the Whig presidents in particular don’t do much to elevate them out of their hazy place in history. Though I’m not sure how much of that is Jannott’s fault. Millard Fillmore would be a tough sell for anyone.

“When I started to work on a president,” she says, “I did do some research to find out traits and characteristics about them–what they were known for, nicknames, etc. Then, I tried to use photography and typography to emulate those things.”

Some are more convincing than others–Millard Fillmore isn’t the most exciting historical figure.

And who knew William McKinley’s nickname was the “Idol of Ohio”?

But if Teddy Roosevelt could pick any photo to represent his brand, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was this one of him fording a river on a moose.

Calvin Coolidge, understated as usual.

Jannott says she tries to limit herself to an hour or two on each image.

LBJ’s cropped top imparts some sense of his famously intimidating stature.

I’m not sure “fox” is the first word I’d use to describe Martin Van Buren.

Nixon surveilling something, as was his wont.

Jannott’s currently stuck on Ronald Reagan–though she says she hopes to complete the set when her school schedule permits.

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