The design director behind “Love Trumps Hate” on designing for Hillary Clinton

Filed Under: INitiative

Jennifer Kinon was called to work for a candidate, not a country—but in the run-up to the most important election in recent history, supporting one inevitably affects the other. A year and a half ago, Kinon was working at Original Champions of Design, the branding and design firm she’d founded with Bobby C. Martin Jr. The company had completed work for the WNBA, Friends of the High Line, and the Girl Scouts of America, among others, and was winning accolades from the Type Directors Club, the Art Directors Club, and AIGA. Despite her firm’s trajectory, when Kinon received an invitation to serve as design director at Hillary for America, she was prepared to put everything else on hold.

“It was a hard decision, but for me the call to help elect our first female president was just so strong and the opportunity here was so great that I couldn’t resist,” Kinon says. When she joined up at the campaign, she went on hiatus from OCD, stepping away from her own company “almost completely” to immerse herself in the political cycle. “I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like being on a presidential campaign,” Kinon says. “It’s so demanding, the hours are so unpredictable, and it’ll take all that you can give it. And to me, it’s worth giving everything.”

Not that there weren’t some initial misgivings. After working with different clients for several years, Kinon worried about committing to a single campaign for an uninterrupted stretch, though two factors made that unlikely. First, Kinon has had plenty of experience working in-house, particularly for the 2010 New York City Olympic bid (her partner at OCD, Martin, did similar work for Nokia and Jazz at Lincoln Center). “Our time in-house taught us a lot about how to craft identity systems that would survive once the consultancy hands them off, and it really informs our process of getting to know how design fits into an organization,” Kinon says. “I recommend to anyone who wants a career as a consultant to do their time in-house first, because they will be better consultants for it.”

clinton-woman-card-aiga-1800An example of the campaign’s tongue-in-cheek humor.

That experience primed Kinon to deliver the best possible product for Hillary for America. Then there’s the cadence of the campaign itself: a breakneck timeline with constantly shifting needs, accelerated by a 24/7 social media climate that demands instantaneous response. 

On the one hand, this means there’s never a dull moment. On the other, it requires Kinon and her team to be prepared for any eventuality. “I came to this job from a systems perspective, and I’ve structured my team here with that 1,000-foot view,” she says. “What are our assets, what is the tool kit that composes our graphic vocabulary? And that makes it very easy for us to deploy quickly.”

clinton-web-redesign-640The redesign of the Clinton campaign website.

The work of refining that tool kit continues daily. Kinon meets with her team for an hour each morning to consider case studies and competitive reviews, then every month for a design critique. “We close the door for four, five hours, pin up everything we’ve made, and find out what’s not holding up, find what’s missing, find inspiration to make it even better next month. Those two moments of preparation and reflection help us have really great craft in the moment,” she says.

While all the players in the campaign work together closely, Kinon and her team still refer to Hillary for America as the client. “It helps us to keep in mind that not everybody has worked with designers before they came here,” Kinon says. “So we focus a lot on client management, and how to make it really fun to work with the design team. We also really embed our designers, so we’ll go to morning check-ins with other teams and have our check-in afterwards,” she says. “It’s only a 16-month job for me, and for other designers it’s even shorter. So it really has that sense of a new relationship, and we really cherish those partnerships, because it gives us an opportunity to do our best work.”

Kinon cites the “Love Trumps Hate” slogan as one of her favorite projects.

Kinon’s not one to play favorites with her projects, though she cites several campaigns, including “Love Trumps Hate,” “Deal Me In,” and the de facto campaign slogan, “Stronger Together” as particularly proud moments. Perhaps most moving was the work she did for July’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The design team had come off a grueling few weeks—launching a website redesign and campaign app, introducing the vice presidential candidate, and responding to the RNC—and the DNC was the last hurdle to leap. 

“The volume of the work was incredibly high, the turnaround times were incredibly short, but the ability to see the work out there at the Democratic National Convention, it’s like experiencing what you see in your head every day,” she remembers. “Standing in that arena, you’re living in the brand with all of that signage, with your candidate delivering the most powerful, impassioned speech, and everywhere you can see the work we do every day to bring her warmth, her care, and her attention to detail to the forefront. That was really gratifying.”

Is it gratifying enough to keep Kinon on board past election day? At this, she demurs, and says her heart is still with OCD. “I don’t think anyone here has eyes past November 8,” she says. “I’m completely focused on the next 48 days. Once we get there, we can have more conversations.”