At an event in March put on by the New York chapter of the professional design association AIGA and the design team for the Hillary Clinton Campaign, graphic designer Ida Woldemichael opened her speech with a bang. “So you’ve all heard the phrase, ‘I’m With Her,’ yes?” she asked, and then paused. The crowd’s strong applause seemed to suggest the answer was yes. “I wrote that,” she responded simply.
It wasn’t a humble brag—the story that proceeded that statement, about how Woldemichael came up with “I’m With Her,” illustrated the way that setting up a branding system for the campaign allowed for deliberate design decisions to be made even in the most harried of scenarios. “I’m With Her” went from Woldemichael’s sketchbook to a bumper sticker in a matter of days.
Yes, the phrase “I’m With Her” was invented by a designer one random morning in the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters. It has since come out of so many mouths, been used in so many articles and hashtags, and been scrawled on so many signs–and is generally so entrenched in our rhetoric about Hillary Clinton now–it was almost a surprise that it had any origin story at all.
Of course it does—all things do. And while the team of designers on the campaign couldn’t have predicted it would take off to quite the degree it did, that lack of clear origin, or campaign ownership, was in some ways deliberate. Woldemichael described the team’s strategy for “un-designing” certain campaign graphics so that supporters could fill them with their own meaning, in turn making them more likely to go viral. “Our goal was not to be cool,” she said at the event. “It was to be accessible and even own-able.”
After that night, I called up Woldemichael and a few other designers on her team, led by the campaign’s design director Jennifer Kinon, to ask for the stories behind some of the most recognizable designs, and why they were the ones people embraced the most.
“I’m With Her”—Ida Woldemichael, design lead for states, finance, and team manager
The phrase “I’m With Her” originated with a bumper sticker contest that the campaign’s email team was running. They needed three options for Hillary supporters to vote on, and they needed them quickly so that they could blast out the contest to their email list. As soon as Woldemichael sketched the “I’m With Her” option, she was fairly confident it would win the contest, but had no idea how long of a life it would have.
“The email team comes to us with this ask,” says Woldemichael. “They have no copy, no design brief, just the need for three different sticker directions they could run for this [bumper sticker] contest. We started all our projects with fast sketching, we’d review it with Jennifer, and then we’d get our ideas on the computer. I started with some obvious stuff, ‘Honk for Hillary,’ some fun uses of the ‘H’ [Michael Bierut’s Hillary logo], but then when Jennifer and I looked at the sketches, ‘I’m With Her’ really stood out from the set. It was so simple, yet so unmistakable, since there was only one ‘her’ in the race.
“As far as design choices, it definitely originated with the mark that has the H logo in it. You want to work within parameters that make the whole thing work together. This was one of the only usages of all caps in our campaign. [When we applied it to other aspects of the campaign] we kept it that way because of the original H logo.
“‘I’m With Her’ won the sticker contest, then fast forward a month or two and supporters are chanting ‘I’m With Her’ at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner [in Iowa]. There was no signage, no merchandise, no anything at the event that had that phrase. Then we learned that it had turned into a hashtag.
“When it started trending online we saw that supporters really took on that message. We continue to see it being used as a hashtag today. It originated with the campaign, but just as we keep pushing forward in our lives [after the campaign], there are still things we need to be fighting for. We see it in different ways, like with ‘I’m Still With Her’ and the sign at the Women’s March with all of the arrows. It’s about pushing forward positive messaging for women and inclusion, and that’s just how it will continue to live on and evolve.”
“Love Trumps Hate”—Meg Vazquez, design lead for social and rapid response, and John Buysse, social media strategist
Like “I’m With Her,” the slogan “Love Trumps Hate” can be seen on protest signs and bumper stickers even today. The slogan was written by the campaign’s social team in response to Trump’s Muslim ban, and then given to the design team to make into a social graphic to be deployed on their social media channels immediately. The simplicity and universality of the statement, and the pared-down design, made it one of the strongest pieces of design to come out of the campaign and then be carried on at a grassroots level, taking on a life of its own.
“It was December 2015 and a typical day getting into the office,” says Vazquez. “I was the design lead for social and rapid response, so I would have a design team check-in and then go to check in with the social team.
“Trump had just announced that part of his policy would be to deploy the Muslim ban, which went against what our campaign believed in and democracy at large stands for. You could feel the energy in the whole headquarters—everyone was just outraged. I was brainstorming with John Buysse [from the social team], who is one of the most clever people I have ever met. The phrase ‘Love Trumps Hate’ just popped out of his mouth. I took that back to my desk and ran with it.
“It’s never just one design—we were always iterating and doing lightening rounds of design to see what felt best . . . When I first heard it, my initial thought was to incorporate a heart, but we decided a heart was too cute a response to something this serious.
“Meetings wouldn’t start until 10 a.m., and the graphic was live on Twitter and then Facebook by about 11 a.m. It went viral pretty quickly. We intentionally made it square so that everyone had the same version to use it in their profile picture if they wanted to. We were hoping that it would resonate with people quickly.
“The messaging was so broad and not campaign-specific. It arose from a policy [promise], but the root value of it was reaching people and saying, ‘This is not about politics anymore, it’s about being a human being.'”
“Nope” Bumper Sticker—Hanah Ho, design lead for merchandise and email design
In contrast to the positive messaging and patriotic colors of the overall campaign branding, the “Nope” bumper sticker is bright yellow, with a photo of Trump’s face behind it—the eyes peering out from the “o” and the “p.” It’s a little less earnest and a little bolder than the others, too. It was part of the “opposition branding”—or branding that responds directly to the other campaign—and it was the second best-selling piece of opposition-specific merchandise sold through the campaign store (the first best-selling Oppo merchandise was “Trump Loves Hate”).
“The sticker was deliberately oppositional because [it was timed with] the [Democratic National] convention,” says Ho. “This was one of the first things that came out of our oppositional brainstorms, where we talked about how to address the crazy things coming from the other side. Every week, the tone of the way that we talked about opposition was changing; the statements coming from the other side were just so extreme. Early on, it was still kind of unbelievable [what Trump was saying], and the sticker carries this absurdity. This was for people who pretty much had their ballot in the box for HRC.
“We were using his image in a way that would get under his skin, because it was so easy to do that. . . . The bright yellow was a very cautionary color and direct color—a lot of people associate it with an alert. It was also different from our [normal] color palette, which was celebratory and optimistic.
“There’s a photo of a supporter wearing the sticker across her chest [at a rally]. It’s wrinkled and worn, she had clearly been there for a while. That kind of reiterates the feeling we were trying to bring to our supporters. We wanted to provide an outlet [with the opposition design].”
“Stronger Together”—Jennifer Kinon, design director
“Stronger Together” was the Hillary campaign’s official slogan. Unlike the others, which were bolstered mainly by supporters who used the designs and slogans as their own, “Stronger Together” was a more concentrated, top-down message that came to the design team from Clinton and her top advisors after careful consideration and whittling down.
“‘Stronger Together’ launched at the Democratic National Convention,” says Kinon. “It was really the message of unity for the country. It was built out of [Clinton’s] policies, and the candidate herself was quite involved in choosing what [the campaign] message would be. She’s the primary vehicle for the message; the candidate is the brand. ‘Stronger Together’ was the message that resonated with her and was already very much alive in all of her speeches she was delivering.
“We knew that it would rise up as the core message of the campaign. Our challenge was making sure that it had all the signifiers of a core message. That’s why ‘Stronger Together’ is the only message to use that slab typeface. It really differentiates itself in all of the messaging and all of the signifiers that we developed graphically.
“From there you saw it roll out into her 280-page policy book, it was on the sides of all the buses, it was on the signs at the convention, and it just sort of blew up from there. It ended up being the glue that stuck everything together. You’d see out in the states there were ‘Women Together’ or ‘Wisconsin Together,’ and then we would have something like ‘Stronger Healthcare.’ So we were really able to use that paradigm to button up a lot of the messaging from the campaign.
“The signs at the Democratic convention were just color and type. All they are meant to do is to highlight the people holding them. We’re there to support the people in the room; we’re there to support the speaker on the stage, and the graphic design should almost be the last thing that you see. Message first, and humanity first.”