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Political logos define campaigns

By Ashley Killough, CNN

(CNN) -- Candidates can only be in one place at one time, but their logos can be anywhere.

The carefully-crafted designs represent a candidate's brand, attempting to capture a multi-million dollar campaign in a symbol simple enough to fit on a button.

"Logos are that first handshake with a voter," said Ty Fujimura, a graphic designer who blogs about design, including political art. "They provide an initial touch point, so they should express exactly what the candidate wants to be seen as, whether that's reliable, loyal, honest or perhaps 'maverick.'"

But how do campaigns come up with these designs?

Through collaboration and research, designers and campaign staff can spend days shaping their ideal logo, which often gets tweaked along the way to fit a candidate's evolving campaign strategy.

And with the standard color scheme including red, white and blue mixed with stars and stripes, designers say the hardest part is creating something unique.

"In our business, there's nothing truly original," said Michael Williams, designer of the 2012 logo for former Republican Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who formed a presidential exploratory committee in March. "Everything has been recycled."

Williams and other designers point to a few exceptions, most notably the "O"-shaped symbol from President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

They say the image was able to embody Obama's message of "hope" by using sunrays on a horizon made of white and red stripes. The logo, now being re-used for Obama's 2012 campaign, is framed by the president's last initial.

But using a symbol instead of spelling out the candidate's name can be a risky move, designers say. It allows more room for subjectivity.

"It can mean a million things to a million people," Williams said. "A lot of people wouldn't have taken that chance. It worked for him, but it was a rare case."

In the past, some candidates have tried standing out by using colors other than the patriotic pattern so often seen on the campaign trail. President Jimmy Carter sometimes used a street sign green and white color scheme. Sen. Barry Goldwater chose a McDonald's-esque red and yellow theme for some of his paraphernalia.

For the most part, however, political consultants find that Americans respond best to traditional Uncle Sam colors.

Fonts can also make or break a logo. Designers face many decisions when shaping the words on an image, such as whether to use a sans serif or serif font. Bold or regular? Full name or last name only? Tagline or no tagline?

"There are two guidelines that designers try to follow: Less is more, and go simple and bold," said Williams. "You can't let it get too busy."

That's because the logo needs a one-size-fits-all design that can be reprinted on a number of items, from yard signs to bumper stickers to t-shirts.

"Logos are the visual interpretation of a campaign personality," said Vincent Harris of Harris Media, a communications firm. "Everything from the font size of a candidate's name, to the colors on their website, they all define the campaign."