324. Branding Should Have a Backbone. 
Jan 13, 2011 at 11:19AM

London 2012. Gap. The BigTen. Starbucks. Just the beginning of some of the identity redesigns that have generated strong negative feedback recently; within the design community but also from the general public. And increasingly the public is getting more involved in the critique perhaps because it is easier and easier to do so with technology. It's not like you need a degree or any talent to say, "That sucks" or some other helpful anonymous and constructive criticism inside a thread of comments. Obviously Gap is the best example of the public altering a brand's design direction, but Starbucks has been dealing with contempt for their logo long before they changed it last week. The launch was covered on CNN with a headline that read: New Starbucks Logo Generates Disdain. Hmmm.

A few Random Comments on Starbucks New Logo:

Now, one thing that Starbucks did when unveiling their new look that Gap didn't was attempt to provide some context for the change via a video from CEO Howard Schultz.

Whether you want Starbucks to sell cellphones and car tires or not, at least they hinted at broadening their business and why they simplified and focused their identity. (For my taste, I like the new one. The old design was long ago turned into a bad cliche and parodied to an inch of its life. The circle text was horrible. End of story.)

Starbucks Logo Parodies Collected by LogoMania (Click for more. Some use the swears.)

Clearly the design of a brand will be engaged by the public in some way, and it's important they know for what it stands. But it's not important that they like how it looks. The growing design critique from the masses should be ignored for a lot of reasons.

  1. The majority of people don't know enough about design.
  2. They can't envision the context in which it will be used.
  3. When asked, some companies simply won't generate positive feedback on anything. Starbucks is an easy target, but yet they have what is considered one of the strongest in-house design teams around. "Oh, you want my opinion on something Starbucks related? I hate it. What are we talking about again?"
  4. The identity is not the entirety of the brand and it's more important for the public to like the other stuff (experience, customer service, price, personality, and oh yeah - the product.)
  5. And most importantly, the public really doesn't care. At least about the type and color over the short term. They say they do, but they don't. They do care about it being authentic and how it connects with them over time. (This is what you pay the experts for, by the way.)
  6. The public's attention span is shorter than yours. Usually, the masses will forget the controversy and the new look will be established in short order.

Duffy and Partners said it best in a related post on their blog, "But this is our reality. We put something out there and we get instant feedback from the masses. People are not only throwing out their opinions but also sending in their own free design solutions. It's becoming a beauty contest, the exact thing that we try so hard to avoid with every design project."

They used the recent BigTen redesign as the anchor of their article and it's a good one because it was designed by Pentagram; one of—if not the best—studios in the world. Now, I don't love everything Pentagram does, but personal opinions aside, it's always smart, well-executed and appropriate. Unlike most of the vitriolic comments that they heard after the launch. Not only could Pentagram out-design pretty much any amateur or common citizen out there, they can out-think them too. And that's the real difference.

The BigTen: If You Don't Like This, You're Wrong. Ha.:

The best point Duffy made was this, "Many can create something beautiful, but so much more goes into creating a great identity. The hoops we need to jump through these days are endless and sometimes we are fighting winless battles along the way. But without being involved from the original brief to the actual launch and all the steps in between, how could you possibly render a legitimate opinion?" For the record, Duffy can go toe-to-toe with Pentagram as they're pretty darn good too.

Sure, this blog and many like it critique design and communication just about everyday. But some of us have a history of commentary, a design education, experience and a portfolio to back all of that up. Anonymous commentary from the masses is bad enough, the fact that companies are listening to it is borderline insane. Sure social media and the instantaneous 'dialogue' it engenders between companies and the public is powerful and can be used in many, many useful ways. But it shouldn't be used for crowd-sourcing or group-thinking your entire design approach. I don't understand how companies can be so stubborn and insular about some processes and yet so 'invertebrate' about others. Research. Hire experts. Do something. Evaluate it. And don't listen to people who don't matter.

The public hated the new Gap logo, even though a case could be made for it, especially with how they were planning on implementing it inside their retail space. I didn't like it, but that doesn't really matter either. It also goes the other way. Here in California, people seem to love the new Golden State Warriors logo, a design that might just be the worst designed identity in the world right now. It is—as Charles Barkley would say—Turribull.

I Don't Care What the Public Thinks: This is Garbage:

The point here is that more companies should do what Comedy Central did when they launched their new look. They gave people the reason(s) behind the move in a way that resonated with who they were and basically told people to deal with it. How do I feel about the design itself? Well, the old identity was a mess and the new one has very little personality (albeit a little wit when the copyright aspect is considered.) But I love how they didn't blink when it wasn't received very positively.

Comedy Central. This is our logo. Cope.

Comedy Central: This Is 2011
Funny Jokes It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Ugly Americans

People don't seem to like change, even when it makes sense. But give them something that is smart and forward-thinking, or maybe even challenging at first and they'll eventually accept it. (Though if you ask them, they'll probably deny it.) Just remember Company X Brand Manager: at least they are talking about you and paying attention to your communciation design. How you respond (or don't respond) to this conversation is key.

People will be far more likely to respect you as a company if you respect yourself first.

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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