29 DAYS OF DISAPPOINTMENT
It has been a long month leading up to September 5 when Yahoo launched its new logo. Thirty days ago they announced today would be the date of the big reveal. To build up anticipation for this huge event, Yahoo showed a new logo each day. It was an unusual and unique strategy for announcing a new identity, audacious even. And it did create significant media buzz; people I know who don’t usually pay any attention to design or corporate identity knew about it and were sending around the appropriate links. People who don’t care about logos were looking and commenting, at least for the first few days. I gave up after 3 days, recognizing early there wasn’t going to be anything interesting here. Twenty nine days of rejected logos.
And now we get to see the winner.
There’s no question Yahoo had lost relevance in recent years. In July 2012, Marissa Meyer was brought in as President and CEO to turn the company around. Among her initiatives were redesigning the home page, an overhaul Flikr, the acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1 billion, another acquisition of Summly for $30 million and 20 other recent acquisitions. And now a new logo.
It was time,the previous logo had been around for 18 years, and if there ever was a time to change it, now, when the company is undergoing massive change, the right logo would be a powerful signifier of change and renewal. This is a strategic decision. Often companies will refresh their logo just to keep up with the times, a sometimes minor, subtle change. If the mission of the company isn’t drastically changing you don’t want to drastically change your logo either. But if the change is significant, you want to signify that in a visually powerful way. Think of the radical departure British Petroleum demonstrated when they changed their logo from the shield to the hellion with a lowercase bp. You knew there was a serious transformation of the company in the works.
Or consider the new AOL logo introduced in 2009, designed by Wolff-Olins. Instead of showing a series of rejects leading up to the launch, Wolff-Olins designed a flexible logo system in which variations are encouraged and could conceivably change every day. Anchored in a contemporary, consistent typeface, it is a platform for change itself, as any technology company is these days.
And it seems that Yahoo is after a radical transformation to become relevant again, but this is what makes the 30 days of new logos initially disappointing. After a few days you noticed there wasn’t much of a transformation going on at all. They were simply pursuing another purple wordmark. The brief and subsequent logo exploration was very limited and tame. We weren’t seeing anything that conceptually challenged what a logo could be, or anything that fundamentally altered our perception about Yahoo either.
Mayer’s Tumblr blog today revealed the backstory. She was very hands on.
“On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made. I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)”
Yes, she does. The logo was produced in-house over a weekend by Mayer, three designers and an intern. Again, I think the huge missed opportunity here was the presumption that a simple refresh would do the trick. Where is the design research? Where is the strategic brief? Where is the full-blown exploration of all the possible things a logo can be or represent? Where are the far out ones that challenge our idea of what a logo might be, that tread on new ground, the ones that may make us uncomfortable (in a good way) because we’ve never seen anything like that before? We know Yahoo wants to turn its business around and we know they are making every effort to do that, but what is it they want to become? To say profitable isn’t enough of an answer. What is Yahoo going to mean to the world once this transformation is over. Once this vision is in place, then you have a basis for a design brief to execute against.
So, if we look at the winning logo and work backward, we can say the vision is to pretty much be what Yahoo has been all along. And if this is the case, then a fairly predictable logo evolution is probably the right answer. And you don’t need all the time, strategy, creativity, criticality, socialization, testing, and validation a brand design agency would bring to the assignment, or the expense. Just do it yourself.
The logo. The response from the design community has gone from meh to loathing, while the general press simply celebrates it as a good media story; the ingenious introduction, the weekend effort, the roll up your sleeves spirit of the CEO and then repeating what Yahoo and Mayer have to say about it.
The logo revolves around contradictions, which is at least an idea; whimsical‑yet sophisticated. Whimsical in the tilted angle of the exclamation mark and the oversize Y and second O. Sophisticated, I suppose, in type that clearly references Hermann Zaph’s Optima designed between 1952 and 1955. (Curiously enough, the same typeface the National Security Agency uses in its seal/logo from 1956, see my previous post “Logos in the New: Prism” ) I supposethe idea of a resurgent technology company emulating a font from the 1950s for its identity could be considered whimsical, but I find it questionable. Its whimsy dissolves into contradiction, not in a good way. The idea of balancing whimsy with sophistication is hard to pull off, usually both sides lose in the tug of war. And maybe, the whimsy character is already connoted by the name itself, making the visual representation of it in type redundant and heavy handed. Or maybe the whimsy need only be represented in a single moment, like shifting the axis of the exclamation mark and leaving the rest of the word in straight type. As it stands, the logo is more like a caricature, like the three stooges dressed up in tuxes.
While there are many other characteristics of the logo to comment on, like the unfortunate spacing between the letters, and particularly the bevels, but I think you get the idea. In the end, however, it all goes back to the brief. If the goal was to signify the turn-around and renewal of a tarnished brand, this logo isn’t very convincing. If the point was to say look at us, we’re still here and we’re trying to change things a bit but we’re still your father’s Yahoo, then I suppose they have succeeded.