Ready for rish? How ! can get you the job. or not.
Three Prime Ministers within three months (two months, really). The UK is burning through politicians like a chainsmoker through free cigarettes. Candidates just keep coming like lemmings, voluntarily throwing themselves off the cliff into and out of the revolving doors at Number 10. It’s a question of time until Larry the Cat stages a peaceful coup, and we’d be the better for it, perhaps.
After having been put through the wringer by Cameron, May, Johnson, and Truss, the country may now be “Ready for Rish!” in a way it was not before when the young and sleek ideologically undefinable Sunak stood as leader of the Tory party a few weeks ago. After the years of economic and political bungling that’s all but sped up this autumn, everyone says they want “a safe pair of hands”. Whether Sunak is that or not remains to be seen, but let’s look at his slogan, a slogan that did not muster enough enthusiasm the first time round, but boomeranged back with a vengeance:
Notice the chummy shortening of Rishi’s Indian name into the cool “Rish” that’s also more amenable for British tongues (I’ve got plenty of non-British friends who had their names shortened like that, shrinking from Pavel to Pav, Abdallah to Ab, and Mohammad to Mo). But the final letter ‘i’ has not disappeared: it returns transformed as ! at the end of the name. The body of the exclamation mark does double-duty as letter “i”, its full stop foot trailing after the bottom underlining. It all looks a bit too slick and square. A bit trying too hard. What are we supposed to be ready for? Who is Sunak actually? What is his vision? What his personality? And what does “ready” mean at all? Ready to hitch-hike into yet further economic liberalism after over a decade of Conservative mismanagement? Of which Sunak was a part as Chancellor under Johnson. The slogan admits past screw-ups.
The non-descript font contributes to this…blankness. Fonts Matter (as I wrote about here). They convey things: histories, emotions, allusions. They make you feel stuff, and even inspire action. Usually, a politician of any credit has a design agency develop a new font (I prefer the term typeface, but that’s another story). The font expresses something of what the candidate stands for, their values, aspirations, ideas. Other than glibly positive Brexiteering stock-exchanging, I can’t see a lot of ethics in Sunak’s font.
The ! can’t save it either. It’s an ill-placed one, coming across as trying too hard. Because the words are weak, the exclamation mark is asked to generate motivation and zeal. But that fervour falls flat. And I don’t think it’s because ! can’t. It’s because it won’t. The exclamation mark refuses to deliver. And so, Sunak’s first attempt at the premiership failed.
If Sunak had consulted me, I would have told him that slapping a ! into your logo or slogan hardly ever bodes well for your campaign. In my book, I devote a whole chapter to ! in politics from wartime propaganda to Twitter. I wrote for example how Jeb, George Bush senior’s side-kick son, has used ! in his logo for over twenty years (!), trying to get himself a sought-after position in the machinery of US-governing.
A version of this logo has been around since 1994 when Jeb! stood for governor of Florida: so much for cutting edge… But then, the Republican party is always looking backwards rather than forwards.
Jeb! committed a similar faux-pas as Rish! would years later: his logo is not a custom-made typeface, but something looking a bit like Baskerville – has Jeb perhaps fiddled around with a Windows Word programme, and printed out his own logo? In any case, the typeface looks a bit worn-out and boring (in that case, it may suit Jeb rather well).
Then the unequal scaling of the three elements, the name, the year, and the exclamation mark: those are three different sizes and they don’t exactly match one another. The date is too small, the ! too big in relation to the name. There’s little pleasing harmony here for the eye. The logo confuses us. And then, of course, that gratuitous exclamation mark.
Shorn of meaningful words as it is, ! comes across as over-bearing, fake-excited, and bossy: graphic designer Sagi Haviv comments ‘I’ll decide if I get excited.’ Thank you very much. Milton Glaser – the designer who created the iconic ‘I♥NY’ – believes the candidate’s team opted for the ! in order to ‘generate a sense of enthusiasm and excitement’, because ‘Jeb doesn’t seem to be a personality who achieves that goal, so you kind of have to invent it for him.’ Comedian Stephen Colbert pokes fun at the lacklustre candidate and the glamorous !. Design critic Steven Heller says it like it is: ‘it’s a piece of shit, and you can quote me on that’.
If you think it’s hard to come up with an expressive beautiful logo, think again. Compare Obama’s first and second presidential campaign slogan:
The 2008 logo contains the Obama “O”, filled with fertile red-and-white striped American fields prospering under the rising sun of a new era. The typeface (not pictured here) is custom-made, straight, square, and thick, but well proportioned. Compare this to the subsequent campaign slogan and logo: we find the recognisable “O” again, corresponding to the connotations of the word “FORWARD” as it carries policies and goals from the previous four years into the next four. This is a distinctly future-oriented image and candidacy. Some commentators have argued about the potentially counter-productive full stop after the word: forward, and then stop? Legend has it, senior campaign advisers argued over the inclusion or exclusion of the full stop, and it was only when the man himself intervened that the disagreement was put to rest. I can understand why one may worry about the full stop’s contradictory implications here, but I think it actually works quite well: it gives the eye a place of rest and plays off the elegant stable typeface. Even as we go forward, we also need a hold, something that stays. Typeface, slogan, logo re-use, punctuation, colours — it all works together rather effectively.
Lately, there’s been an epidemic of punctuation-based logos and slogans (pun intended): during this year’s French presidential campaign, so many candidates put !-laced slogans forward that it prompted French media to comment the exclamation mark was ‘as contagious as the Omicron variant’. If everyone uses a !, it loses its value.
None of those French ! were very successful. Thou shalt think through thy exclamation game.
It seems that after a month of catastrophic Trussonomics, the UK was indeed ready for Rish. Or the imploding Tory party, rather. From bossy to sincere? From the candidate shouting to the party begging. Whether the country is ready for Rish(i) is another question…