Donald Trump beside man in black suit

The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo



logo for Hillary campaign

Yesterday Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the US, and before 24 hours went by I had a media request to talk about why people were reacting so strongly (in a negative way) to her logo.

I’m in the middle of writing my next book (100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People) and I’ve just sent in the chapter on Visual Design which contains some new research on neuro-aesthetics — how our brain reacts to certain visual design elements.

Based on the research, here’s the brain science behind the vitriol:

People prefer objects with curves and you can even “see” the preference in brain scans. This field of study is called neuroaesthetics.

Moshe Bar (Director of the Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital) and his team used images of everyday and abstract objects to see if people have a preference for objects with curves. In one of their early studies Moshe Bar and Maital Neta (2006) showed 140 pairs of objects. Some were concrete objects such as watches or couches (the A objects in the picture below), some were abstract objects (the B objects) and some of the objects had both curves and edges. These last objects acted as baseline controls (the C objects).

pictures of curved and angular objects

People gave higher “liking” ratings for the objects that had curves. Bar and Neta’s theory was that the sharp and angled images would convey a sense of threat.

Ed Connor and Neeraja Balachander took this idea into a neuro imaging lab. They took an abstract shape similar to the shape on the left in the picture below and then made a series of similar but elongated shapes as shown in the rest of the picture below.

picture of rounded and elongated shapes

Not only did people prefer the softly rounded shape like the one on the left — there was more brain activity in the visual cortex with shapes that were more curved and more rounded.

We could talk about the problems with red and blue on top of each other, which produces chromostereopsis too. I’ve got another blog post about that.

But from a brain science point of view, the main reason Hillary’s logo is getting a lot of negative comments?: NO CURVES!

If you’re interested in the research I’ve got some references below, and check out 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People  the new book which will be out in October of 2015 and is available for pre-order!

What do you think? No curves? Chromostereopsis? Something else?


Bar, M., & Neta, M. (2006). Humans prefer curved visual objects. Psychological Science, 17(8), 645-648.

H. Leder, P.P.L. Tinio, and M. Bar (2011) Emotional valence modulates the preference for curved objects. Perception, 40, 649-655.

Paul J. Silvia and Christopher M. Barona, “Do People Prefer Curved Objects? Angularity, Expertise, and Aesthetic Preference”, Empirical Studies of the Arts 01/2009; 27(1):25-42.



9 responses to “The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo”

  1. Gary Avatar

    As most males would tell you, this is so obviously an association with the maternal breast – Enzo Ferrari was employing a similar strategy in car design over 50 years ago – although that was more to do with female hips and a predominantly male market demographic.

  2. Katherine Clevenger-Burdell Avatar
    Katherine Clevenger-Burdell

    For me, the color combination is too bright and too “in your face”. For me,the Chromostereopsis is the issue. The logo seems to jar my senses.

  3. Brian Avatar

    Actually (speaking as both a male and a psych professor), it’s not the maternal breast at all. There are no straight lines in nature. Well, okay, very very very occasionally in extremely limited circumstances that are rare in the visual experience of most humans of our genetic past: fault lines on crystal formations, for example. But for all intents and purposes, we evolved to process visual stimuli that is curved. It usually takes human intent to create perfectly straight lines. Even a predator’s sharp teeth or talons are curved.

    Hilary Clinton’s logo would look completely different if the arrow was a curved swoosh upwards with an arrowhead on the end of it. Plus, of course, that would imply progress instead of bulling forward through walls…

  4. David Selley Avatar

    I think the design is great for two reasons.
    1) it creates either an intended or subliminal contradiction.
    2) it embraces both an integrative and transformational message.

  5. Richard Maitri Avatar

    What are the contradiction and integrative and transformational messages, David. Please explain, ’cause apparently I’m not as astute as I thought I was.

  6. Jeff Williams Avatar
    Jeff Williams

    Could it’s shape be so close to the common US “symbol” for hospital that it is initially bound with some connection of emergency/pain/trauma? That was my immediate thought when i first saw the article image. I had no idea it was about her logo.

  7. Stephen G Richardson Avatar
    Stephen G Richardson

    While HC is not my preferred candidate, I very much like her logo.

    In the illustrations from Bar et al., I strongly prefer
    the more angular images, and live in a contemporary house devoid of curved shapes. Curious to know why my personal preferences are at odds with most others’.

    Be intriguing to find some correlation to other characteristics. E.g., whether other physical scientists prefer angular shapes to curved ones.

  8. Gary Avatar

    Well, (thankfully speaking NOT as a psych professor) if you see something you want (ie using LIGHT waves/particles that travel rather quickly in straight lines), the quickest way to get there would normally be a straight line. However, if you happened to walk off a cliff on your way, GRAVITY would soon impose its own linear exigencies on you. On the way down, you may note how straight and tall the PINE TREES in the distance seem to want to grow (and possibly how their shape reminds you of some aspiring politician’s logo).
    And what is it I read here somewhere about how we like STORIES so much? Is because they operate in LINEAR fashion that is so easy to follow?
    There are those who argue about whether even the straight lines we create are actually straight (ie we being part of NATURE), but this would be getting overly reductionist and academic I think.
    Douglas Adams said it best: “For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across – which happened to be the Earth – where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.”
    And here’s a logo that might get more votes for Hillary:

  9. ehcc Avatar

    It was very nice every thing was perfect the color combination was also awesome what i can say for this is that it is perfect. I don’t think that i can do better than this.

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