The increasing power of brands has also seen the rise of the logo lynchmob, pitchforks and flaming torches aloft in pursuit of another artless arrangement of a few Helvetica characters. This now routine negativity reached a new pitch last week when Gap unveiled its new logo to a tsunami of online invective, much of it from designers. Healthy debates are overheating and professional dysfunction threatens to encourage design-by-mob.
The talking-up of graphic design into rocket science always invited public criticism, but once upon a time the industry avoided attacking itself in public. Somewhere late in the 20th century that began to change. When BP (pre-pinwheel identity) italicised it’s old shield-based logo, the Sun and other esteemed UK print media ran ‘NEW LOGO COST £40m’ and/or similarly misleading headlines (the agency will have been well-paid, but the vast majority of that sum will have been ongoing global implementation costs). A bruising PR fail in itself, but there in the news story text was one of the big branding figures of the time quoted as saying how terrible the logo was—helping to fuel a popular view of designers as overpaid charlatans.
Many unloved logos have come and gone since then. London 2012’s has been public for three years but is still universally derided wherever it shows up. With national Olympic hopes at stake perhaps it is unsurprising that everyone would take such a keen interest (I am probably alone in thinking that it is not an entirely bad identity, although I do have a big problem with the weak lowercase execution of ‘london’. If nothing else the logo really lifts those dreary chocolate brown UPS trucks).
Apple recently updated the iTunes site and logo, provoking a riot of comment. Few (myself included) could resist a pop at it. Why? All designers admire Apple’s product design standards and expect a lot of the company, even if it’s graphic design choices are not always peerless (does the Apple symbol really need to be quite that big on products?). Many designers are also music fans, well-disposed toward iTunes which, with iPod, revolutionised our access. But Apple’s ambition has seen the interface become a confusing and unfriendly online megamall of books, films & apps which the oddly music-specific, banal rebrand only highlighted. The website may now be tidier, but iTunes is no longer our old muso buddy. Disappointment with the service and the visual quality lapse ignited a ‘debate’—which Apple of course entirely ignored.
In all these cases many designers, even specialists who know better, succumbed to attacking logos in isolation. Always missing from logo rants is the brand strategy context. London 2012 had an understandable approach of focussing on a younger, traditionally Olympics-averse audience, so at least you can see where they were coming from. Apple? who knows what they were thinking. Gap’s strategic plan would appear to be either a haphazard work-in-progress or a cynical new ploy. Whatever the strategy behind a logo, the lack of context makes even measured comment on new visual identity speculative and incomplete. Logo-centric visual identities are generally a thing of the past. First Direct and Orange were both critically and commercially successful identities, ground-breaking in their time, but the brand impact came from a broad strategy of innovative communications with a consistent spirit rather than a compelling rendering of the name. On their own, the logos are unremarkable:
The Gap hate-storm seemed surprising because until recently the company’s name was a byword for child labour exploitation, hardly a much-loved brand. Perhaps Gap’s past actually explains the level of criticism—which ranged from all-out vitriol, to the usual speculation on the precise age at which children could have produced it (it worked for the clothes), to more thoughtful critique. Thoughtful/amusing commentary cannot be wrong but the extremes of kneejerk logo rage do nothing for the collective reputation of graphic design at a time when many potential clients in cost-cutting mode think they can do it themselves anyway (or get Twitter to do it for them).
It is tempting to view the sudden withdrawal of Gap’s logo as a victory for logo rage, but whole thing is now looks much more like a cynical stunt. Either way it is not great for the brand design professional. Were Gap ever committed to it’s ‘new logo’? Did anyone see an an application of it?. As negativity grew, Gap invited submission of logo ideas: “we only want what’s best for the brand”. The whole thing appears to have been devised to gather free market research and a crowdsourced design for nothing. Don’t be surprised to see an X-Factor style logo vote in the coming weeks. Gap have never been slow to exploit an opportunity.
Now MySpace have just unveiled their new one. It could hardly be worse than it’s predecessor, but at the very least the replacement has a strong concept. I hope they can make it work and I for one will try to restrain myself from slinging mud at it before it has had it’s chance. If professionals can even find something good to say about it, it could help keep us all in work a little longer…