As is Twitter’s great calling in life, the social media site has ruthlessly given Northern Rail’s new logo stick for looking like an unhappy face. Oh, and more stick directly at the professional who created it. Oh and yet more, expressed by turning the logo into (yes, you guess it) a penis. 

But does Twitter’s reaction really matter? We recently chatted Twitter logo reactions with Form co-founder Paula Benson, SomeOne co-founder Simon Manchipp, and Taxi Studio co-founder Spencer Buck - and found that maybe Northern Rail’s problem isn’t so much to do with the logo itself, but its context. 

It must be remembered that Northern Rail aren’t the most popular company at the moment. There is an entire Twitter, aptly named Northern Fail, dedicated to easing “the pain of your Northern Rail experiences”, and a Reddit thread, where the new logo was ‘improved’ by being edited into an unhappy face, accompanied by moaning about the network. And that’s all without typing ‘Northern Rail’ directly into Twitter’s search. Warning: you will be sucked into a black hole of frustration.

So, the Twitter moans might be as to do with the reputation of the company as the logo itself. Simon told us that a logo launch must be justified. If a brand is going to totally transform its thinking, “then a new way of talking to the customer is probably a very good idea.” A new logo won’t change anything, unless it is the face of real change. Well, Northern Rail is changing – April is the rail service’s first month under Arriva. 


Image: unhappy face, from Reddit (left); penis, thanks to Twitter user @mudhutter. Given the grumblings over service, maybe a logo that can be so easily turned into an unhappy face is appropriate.

Perhaps if Arriva are going to improve the quality of their service too, then the logo’s simple curve and totally new typeface (according to Northern Rail’s Twitter) could be a successful, memorable, fresh face to the company – and the initial Twitter grumble will be forgotten.

Northern Rail have got to hope that the logo doesn’t fall into the traps Simon has spelt out: that there is “nothing in it for the audience” and it is “imposed upon them”. For example, with the change to Uber’s identity, Simon thought the negative stir was “entirely justified”.

“Whatever you do, people will often jump to conclusions,” said Paula. “Some of it justified, some of it plain ignorant, and some makes me rant.” 

Spencer adds: “If justified negativity surrounding your design emerges as accusations of it being a rip off, or just plain wrong, you’ll have to swallow your pride and go back to the drawing board – if you’re lucky enough to be retained on the project."

So, yes, often Twitter reactions don't matter - and they are typically knee-jerk and short-lived. But now and then they are a symptom of an unsuitable logo or long-term disengagement with the company (or both). Working out which category Northern Rail fit into might be a long, arduous journey for them - but at least that's something their customers already seem used to.