We catch up with Form co-founder Paula Benson, SomeOne co-founder Simon Manchipp, and Taxi Studio co-founder Spencer Buck, to find out their thoughts and tips on how to avoid the internet’s wrath following your logo design.
We all love the internet – with its endless stash of information, instant reach around the globe and plentiful supply of cats – but I think we can all equally say that we absolutely detest the internet.
If you’re a logo designer, sometimes it can feel hard to make it out of the web alive. From The Met to Gap, Uber to Airbnb, no one seems free from the internet’s judgement when it comes to logo design.
Excitingly, this new age – where brands can’t hide from the consumer – demands more accountability for logo designers. But the most common or loudest opinion is not necessarily a good filter for design quality.
And unfortunately, the internet’s brand of thinking is usually knee-jerk and impressionable. So, what the hell can you do as a logo designer to survive this unforgiving digital era?
Preparing clients for the plunge
Simon warns that you should point out the curse of logo design to clients: even the safest, best designs can be badly received. “We’re super honest with them and tell them to prepare for complaint — but also to lower the levels of hate by bedding the new work in actions that benefit the audience.”
When Uber launched its new identity (below), social media would just not shut up about it. Their mistake was that there was “nothing in it for the audience,” says Simon. “It was imposed upon them…So no wonder the masses weighed in. It was entirely justified.”
Was that the result of a client-design studio communication problem? Clients, of course, really, really care about their business - but probably know nothing about design and might cheerlead a bad idea. It is your job to teach them during the design process. And remember that if someone’s hiring you just to draw one of their own rigid ideas, they’re hiring someone who is too qualified anyway.
Spencer doesn’t feel much need to discuss social media with his clients, believing that, if you’ve done your job right, there is no need as they “create a bullet-proof brief, together” – and so both client and designer are both responsible.
“As an agency we pride ourselves on delivering fearless creativity, so a little feedback is always welcome, good or bad. The worst that can happen is total apathy.”
Paula agrees: “A final logo is more often than not, not solely the designer’s decision. It involves teamwork between client and design agency, and sometimes it might involve compromise. Therefore a negative reaction to a logo or identity launch does not lie purely at the designers’ feet (and vice versa).”
In her studio’s 25 years of work, they’ve never received any major negative reactions.
“We take time to really understand our clients and their audience, delving into the crux of the brand,” says Paula. “We often send out a well-considered press release explaining our thinking behind the logo or brand identity, being careful to explain the brief too.”
We at Digital Arts can confirm a well-written, informative press release can transform what could otherwise be a short, disinterested article (or no article at all). Note: that doesn’t mean writing a press release bursting with bullshit.
“You simply can’t please all the people all of the time,” continues Paula. “But some clients and designers receive negative criticism to an identity launch where they have jumped into a project without really taking time to address who they are and how they want to be represented.”
Launching a logo well
“What often bugs me is that so much attention is still given in this day and age to a stand-alone logo,” says Paula. “A logo is often part of an overall identity or visual language that only makes sense when you see the bigger picture.”
When New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art greeted 2016 with a bright red stack of striking capital letters spelling THE MET (below) – you know, what everyone calls it - the fresh new logo garnered a rotten response, with New York Magazine’s architecture critic John Davidson accusing it of looking “like a red double-decker bus that has stopped short, shoving the passengers into each other’s backs.”
Paula is exasperated: the logo was initially released without the accompanying graphic identity - a logo to a design identity is as telling as a thumbnail is to a video clip.
“When they later went on to explain the wider story, critics saw that as back-tracking or post-rationalizing, and that created a small storm within the design community.
“Maybe it didn’t help that the designers Wolf Ollins announced that the logo was the result of two and a half years work. We’d be extremely lucky to get as long as two and a half months on most of the logos and identities we have created!”
Of course, two and a half years weren’t spent solely sweating over just the logo. This is The Met, after all – and there was a hell of a lot to think about, including overhauling the museum’s entire, precious and widely influential identity, with the aim of more consistent visuals more suited to the digital world.
Spencer takes the importance of communication one step further: “to launch a new logo well, you first need to 'sell it in' to the people that will be dealing with it day-to-day. Ultimately, a logo is symbolic of a company’s culture, its products and its people and they’re both inward and outward facing.”
For Simon – who is not shy about his scepticism towards relying on logos alone - the safest way to launch a logo is to never launch it all.
SomeOne recently gave a student property brand Hello Student a brand refresh – which you can find out more about in our piece on the change - that “has no symbol or logo, but simply a very impactful set of images and the words ‘Hello Student’. It’s launched effectively and everyone’s delighted,” says Simon.
If you do decide to launch, “prepare for the hate. Everyone hates new logos and always have done. And with so much hate, you have to ask yourself whether you actually want to launch one. Do you need to?”
Simon “sincerely” doubts you do, unless a previously hated brand has totally transformed its thinking– “then a new way of talking to the customer is probably a very good idea."
So, Simon believes a logo launch must be justified. It must take the business and design language with it to a better, prettier, more efficient world. Otherwise it’s just a skin-deep logo, a cherry without the cake.
What to do if the launch goes pear-shaped anyway
First off, you should actually expect some animosity. Logo design is, after all, subjective. No films are universally liked - apart from, perhaps, Toy Story – and logos are no different
“Whatever you do, people will often jump to conclusions and comments are sometimes made on face value, without understanding the brief or the long-term vision,” says Paula. “Some of it justified, some of it plain ignorant, and some makes me rant.”
At least ignorance can usually be exposed. Paula notes, that the Uber website “didn’t even feature the main logo symbol everyone was talking about” - what’s more, as Digital Arts pointed out, the Uber symbol everyone was getting so outraged about wasn’t even a logo.
When Form redesigned Abbey Road Studios, “there were a few mild pops, mainly because there is so much love for the brand - people like to think it belongs to them and they know best, but we’re tough and the overall response was great,” says Paula.
Mutters of dissent are one thing, but impossible-to-drown-out worldwide internet and media outrage is another. You can either try to ride the tidal wave of indignation until it’s (hopefully) over or abort before too much damage is done. Time does sometimes heals wounds - including controversial-logo-shaped ones.
Cue DesignStudio’s logo design for Airbnb (header image), which appeared to miss the mark in 2014. Rather than evoking the sense of belonging intended, it faced a social media backlash and prompted The Guardian to wonder if the design is of “balls, a vagina, or both?” - genitalia-related accusations now being on the verge of traditional when it comes to logo design. The outcry has now settled.
The London 2012 Olympics logo was - like seemingly everything else - also compared to sex (this time involving cartoon characters). Nine years and one successful Olympics later, we’re instead asking “was it really so bad after all?” No, probably not. Waiting worked.
“The recent noise surrounding The Met logo by Wolff Olins is a great example of a relaunch that was undoubtedly well handled,” says Spencer, “but still came under fire from the creative community after it was deemed, in essence, a load of old bollocks.” The Met is holding tight with its rebranding, though, and time will tell whether it will settle. Taxi Studio posted a funny tweet on the whole ordeal (below).
“There are trolls, there are sensationalists and there are the deeply concerned. All three parties can be easily handled if the management of the organisation, product or service genuinely believes that this new work is justified,” says Simon.
“We have some very simple rules: never take it personally or become personal, be incredibly polite at all times, and tackle everything with a sense of humour. Remind people that branding is iterative and ever-evolving. It’s very rarely there forever.”
SomeOne recently launched a wrist band for World Cancer Day to support Cancer Research UK - and it was a huge success: “give people something to do, involve them and they generally like what you are doing.” And, just like the wristbands, know that the design exists for a reason and is not just change for change’s sake.
“Just as most creative work is given the ‘overnight’ test, “ says Simon, “where an experienced eye is able to look at it again in the morning and assess if the work is going to work - you need a 30 day calming off period where the initial foam and splutter subsides and you can look to see if any of it has stuck - or indeed should stick.”
A theme of honesty and transparency is developing; if you take the time and effort to explain, then people - or, at least, most people - should eventually either forget about the logo, get used to it or, reluctantly or not, be swayed in favour of your design. That, is if the logo is justified. Time doesn't heal all wounds, unfortunately - and you certainly don’t want that bad reaction to scar.
Gap’s new logo (below) did not play the waiting game for very long. In 2010, the clothing company unveiled a seemingly harmless new logo – Helvetica combined with a small, blue, tinted square – to a storm of public criticism, including a twitter account set up in protest, causing Gap to retreat to its iconic white-on-blue logo. The surrender came after only a week.
Most people might agree that the creation of the new Gap logo was odd and possibly unnecessary. But – once they’d gone with that fated logo - was the decision to axe it also unneeded? A week of waiting is not long. In fact, it stinks to the kind of quick-thinking social media itself is guilty of: rash, quick and ruthless.
If your logo is genuinely bad or inappropriate – and Gap might have ended up believing their’s was - don’t “hide behind utter flim-flam and nonsense,” says Simon. If it’s a bad logo, it’s a bad logo – and you must respond correspondingly.
When Kenjiro Sano was drowned in a tidal wave of social media abuse after accusations of plagiarism for his Tokyo 2020 Olympic logo design, the logo was scrapped.
“You need to measure your response in line with the reaction,” says Spencer. “You don’t want people fixated on the controversy surrounding the logo vs the event it’s supposed to represent, regardless whether the accusation is justified or not. In an ideal world you’d find this out before a costly launch, not after.”
Branding is now a conversation, set in very, very erasable pencil and not the stone of pre-digital days – and it is no longer just the territory of designers. As the public role shifts, designers must adapt (even if that means explaining to the internet why they’re wrong).
One thing is clear: the internet is not just a few shouty, sweary people, but a consumer force that can change the minds of corporate giants. And if that sometimes surprisingly eloquent, always fearlessly loud-mouthed mass feels out of touch with your brand, they will let you know.