I commented to some friends recently, “Remember when Starbucks changed their logo a few years ago.” They changed their logo? No one noticed, but yes, it no longer says Starbucks Coffee. It no longer has to. The iconic logo is so ubiquitous and recognizable that the company name is superfluous. Similar moves have also been made at Target, Nike, and Shell, all of whom have dropped their company names from their logos.
Several other companies have also tweaked their logos to varying degrees of notice or fanfare, notably, eBay and Microsoft. I think both solutions lost some of the memorable qualities that made each logo distinctive. They are both now more generic and less unique.
None of these changes qualify as what I would call a full-fledged redesign as I’m using the term for the purposes of this article. What I’m talking about is a radical design departure from the original identity. You might ask why companies would spend millions of dollars and risk damaging their brand identity by embarking on a logo redesign. Many factors can contribute to this decision.
1. Company mergers. When two companies merge, it’s often a debate which logo to use for the new conglomerate. In the case of the Delta and Northwest Airlines merger, big boy Delta simply ‘refreshed’ their logo and dropped any pretense to a combo solution, its thinking being that the Delta brand had a more powerful consumer recognition. In the case of the United and Continental Airlines merger, the new logo is a corporate-inspired mashup — I use the term derisively — of the two. This new logo looks like it was designed in a boardroom. Gone are the days of engaging the services of such graphic design legends as Saul Bass, who designed both the original United and Continental logos, or Paul Rand, who designed the ABC, UPS, and IMB logos.
2. The company grows beyond its original identity. In the case of UPS, the original logo, designed by Paul Rand, gestured to the company’s roots of package delivery. The new logo emphasizes its expanded worldwide business operations but deftly nods to UPS’s heritage by preserving the shield, keeping its lighthearted lowercase letters, and leveraging the color brown. Referencing elements of the old design is often the most successful approach to logo redesign.
3. Company revitalization. Sometimes a brand, like JCPenney, needs a desperate rebranding overhaul, which includes a logo redesign. Penney’s new CEO says they are “fundamentally re-imagining every aspect of the Company’s business,” which includes their new logo. Whether they will be successful is a question to be answered in the future. A too radical departure from well-known imagery often ends up confusing consumers, and losing the brand familiarity they’re trying to preserve.
Which brings me to the focus of this article, which is why some logo redesigns fail. A significant blunder was the 2010 GAP logo redesign debacle. Going against received wisdom that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the GAP inexplicably decided to change their logo to a generic and insipid who-knows-what. After an avalanche of public outcry, not only from consumers, but also from the design community — who also objected to the company’s use of crowdsourcing the logo, a term that means work that is completed without any promise of compensation — the new logo was scrapped in less than a week. Probably its most withering criticism being that it “looked like someone did it in Microsoft Word in 5 minutes.” Apart from being a bad design, the new logo served no corporate purpose as outlined above. There was no merger, identity problem, new company direction or outdated look. Without any clear purpose, it failed.
Perhaps less well know but more timely was the announcement that the University of California had changed its 144-year-old logo in an effort to remake its image to reflect the “innovation and character of California, and to portray a more modern, user-friendly look.” Here we go again. However, the university did have a greater purpose in mind: the original logo, with its intricate detail, did not reproduce well when used in small scale or on websites, smartphones, or tablets. This is an example where technological changes drive design considerations.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the university received over 50,000 signatures from an online petition to scrap the new logo design, saying that the monogram looked cheap, corporate and unworthy of a prestigious institution of higher learning. The story even earned a spot on NPR’s All Things Considered on Dec. 13, 2012. As of this writing, the logo was scrapped for a new version. This is another example of too radical a departure from the original and not referencing elements of the old design.
So what DOES and DOES NOT make for a good logo design? There are 5 Principles of Effective Logo Design. Compare all the above redesigned logos and see if they meet these criteria.
1. Simple. Keeping in mind the idea that less is more, or K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid), simplicity makes a logo easily recognizable, versatile and memorable. Remember, a logo needs to be recognized on a freeway at 70 MPH, on a package on a crowded store shelf, on a vehicle or on a business card. Simple carries the day. Example: Nike.
2. Memorable. Related to Simple, Memorable means unique and distinctive, something that looks like nothing else. Resist the urge to copy an existing idea. Example: McDonald’s.
3. Timeless. Trends come and go. Leave fashion to the runway. There is no faster way for a logo to look outdated than to follow a hip new trend. Think how the design will look in 10-20 years. Timeless: London Underground. Already dated: AAA and Capital One.
4. Versatile. An effective logo works across a variety of mediums and applications, both large and small, in color and black and white. Billboards to business cards to boxes, websites to newspapers to advertising. Example: Apple.
5. Appropriate. A logo has to be appropriate for its intended audience. A law firm logo would look very different from a toy company logo. But keep in mind that the subject matter of the logo need not bear any logical association to the product, and in many ways should not. Starbucks logo is not a coffee cup, McDonald’s logo is not a burger, Nike’s logo is not a shoe. Example: Toys R Us.
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