Designing woman: Sam Fox senior Sherry Xiao and that great logo

Xiao, a senior in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, is startingto see her work appear all over campus. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Xiao, a senior in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, is starting to see her work designing the debate logo appear all over the Washington University campus. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

A year ago, when Public Affairs intern Sherry Xiao was asked to design a logo for the 2016 Presidential Debate at Washington University in St. Louis, she was more than a little surprised.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” said Xiao, a senior in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “Everyone in the Office of Public Affairs had made an effort to involve me as an intern, and I was so thankful for the opportunity. So then it was like, ‘what do I make?’”

Xiao approached the design challenge by first reviewing past designs from debates on campus. “Some common themes were red, white and blue or to incorporate some aspect of the flag, so I took that as my starting point. I also researched contemporary approaches to election and political design,” Xiao said.

“I was aiming for a modular design that could be adapted across a wide variety of platforms.” Xiao’s design solution — three swooshes and a star referencing the U.S. flag — was quickly approved by the Commission on Presidential Debates. She also figured on the logo elements being broken down into distinct visual components, opening the way for easy use across formats from websites, PowerPoint presentations and email to event signage, street banners, water bottles, hats, tote bags and even special Hershey’s Nuggets with debate logo wrapping.

After studying abroad in Spring 2016 and interning in San Francisco this past summer, she received another surprise when she returned to the university this fall. All over campus, debate street banners, posters, and building signs were going up ahead of the Oct. 9 event.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting it since I’d been away for a while. It was pretty crazy to see the logo I made last fall everywhere on campus,” Xiao said. “And I’m really impressed by the work of others in creatively adapting the logo from the fundamental starting block I made. I appreciate seeing it in action; it’s a really empowering thing.”

As for the debate itself, Xiao is looking forward to watching. “I feel like the election’s been such a huge topic over the summer, especially in light of so many tragedies,” Xiao said. “How the next president of the United States is equipped to handle these things and how he or she present themselves and react in the world we’re going into is important.

“So being at WashU at this time is kind of a historic moment. It’s like a collision in time and space that we’re all here for this, and I was the student who got to design the logo … it’s amazing that happened.”