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I'll start by getting it out of the way immediately: I'm not a
fan of what was the redesigned Gap logo. There, I said it…
alongside about a gazillion others.
Fact is, I wasn't a fan of their new approach to three letters
and a square. Nope-just not feeling it. I do want to stress the
critical importance of this whole thing, though. You see, we're
serious people, and we take serious things like this seriously.
(Seriously.) Google "Gap logo" and you'll find many, many other
serious people with serious opinions on this newsworthy, and
Upon being asked for his opinion on this grave incident, Armin
Brand New) exclaimed,
"Choosing Helvetica in 2010 is inexcusable." And right he
is! Helvetica has become so terribly gauche it's hard to not
feel pummeled, assaulted, and even outright violated in its
presence. He continues, explaining that the typeface is "as bland
as grilled chicken without salt and pepper." True dat… true dat… I
gotta say, though, those are fighting words,'vetica. You really
going to take that?
Vit, and the many who are onside in castigating the new Gap
logo-majig are quick to throw out insults from "bland" and
"absurdly ubiquitous," to "disastrous" and "lazy." Fine enough;
such aesthetic criticisms aren't entirely off-base. Meanwhile,
there's little more gratifying than being able to disparage
whatever new visual direction a major brand unveils.
Protest photo by Flickr
user Philippe Leroyer (Creative
The problem with all of these criticisms is threefold. First is
that, when it comes to issues of taste, everything is subjective.
Sure, the form is a little pedestrian, I'll give you that. Let's
get real, though, it's not like it's a silhouette of Mother Teresa
performing fellatio on the devil or anything. It's just a
utilitarian typeface next to a square.
The second thing that seems to be largely missing from all of
this "discourse" is what boils down to pointless sentimentality
around popular forms. Anything the Gap would have released
was likely to cause some consternation. But as we witness with
every Facebook redesign: the populace is as quick to forget what
they once screamed "bloody murder" over as they are to initially
share their colorful opinions.
The other concern I have with these sorts of criticisms is that
they're largely uninformed. In spite of the many logos I've helped
design, I have yet to find one that simply gets put into use,
without being forced to endure the "insights" and passionate
feedback of well-meaning CFOs, office administrators, aunts,
uncles, second cousins and neighbors who had no involvement in the
process up to the unveil. It seems that design criticism has met
American Idol and, as a result, almost everyone readily
lends an opinion in spite of lacking any explicit, or tacit,
I recognize that this post is being housed on the AIGA site, and
this suggests you, my dear reader, are likely a designer and
therefore quite visually literate. But I feel inclined to ask: Did
you read the brief for this logo? Are you aware of the strategic
challenges Gap wanted to address in reworking it? Have you examined
the plan for its integration in brand collateral?
My suspicion is that you probably didn't read the brief. I'm
also going to bet that you aren't that sure of what they had hoped
to achieve, or how they intended to roll it all out. Don't worry;
I'm not blaming you or anything. I too recoiled upon first seeing
this logo. My point here is that we should all know better than
this. Seeing any branded element out of context leaves us poorly
equipped to pass judgment.
Gap's serif logo (left) is here to stay after the redesigned
version in Helvetica (right) was heavily criticized.
In spite of it not being my cup of tea, the redesign of the Gap
logo was more legible than the previous incarnation; meanwhile, its
slightly wider footprint might have lent some adaptability. Also,
let's not forget that the folks at Laird and Partners likely
weren't just "chucking shit around." Their body of work indicates a
strong sensibility, not to mention trust from a number of major
brands. Could it be that they actually knew what they were
Yes, the use of Helvetica felt a little staid, but it does
harken back to the brand's roots. Also, upon considering the
brand's nature: plain, practical and utilitarian, one might argue a
certain suitability to the chosen treatment. Khakis, denim, plain
T-shirts… these are all the domain of everyday basics. What more
suitable typeface to align these items with than the "2x4 of
This, of course, says little of the implementation and rollout,
which never got beyond its infancy. Given time it could have been
integrated quite successfully into the brand, even in spite of its
lack of "pizzazz."
I'd like to take a brief tangent and consider some other recent
logo "disasters" that have resulted in so much media attention.
Given a little distance, perhaps we can better examine the
responses they met, and how they fared thereafter.
I don't know Peter Arnell, but from the few articles I've read,
I am left with the strong sensation that the dude spent a little
too long sniffing the office Sharpies. (Alternately, he may just
have a keen sense of how to get journalists to write about him.) My
point here is that, once again, it wouldn't be accurate to describe
me as a "fan" or anything.
Arnell's relatively recent approach to the Pepsi logo leaves me
uninspired; yet, in use, it seems to function quite effectively. I
say this in spite of the rather hysterically nonsensical "leaked"
design document (link
to PDF), which accompanied the new logo. Forgive my cynicism
here: I simply can't help but see this as much more than a 27-page
publicity stunt masquerading as "creative genius."
The notion that I find interesting here isn't limited to the
negative consumer reaction we see to these treatments and the
attention generated in the press. I'm amused by the urgency with
which these corporations have pulled back on their new directions.
While Pepsi's new approach just managed to escape the guillotine,
and the associated hubbub has largely died down, the rebranded
Tropicana box of 2009 didn't fare quite as well. The company
succumbed to the negative press, and killed the initiative rather
Excerpt from a document explaining the gravitational pull of the
The actual story in all of this, in my opinion, relates to the
conservatism of both corporations and the general populace when it
comes to design. You know, I hate to be the one who has to bring
this up, but Arnell's taking the cute little orange off a box of
Tropicana isn't exactly an international incident.
It's easy to share one's opinion in the digital space. (Whether
such opinions are of much consequence is an altogether different
discussion.) Nevertheless, here we find the masses online feeling
the desperate need to opine on some subject-but preferably not one
that might require any of that pesky "thinking" that real issues
tend to demand. Social media has enabled us to "point and mock" en
masse, but in this instance do little more.
This lambasting of logos (which I really think we should call
"logo-basting") is so fast, easy and fun that it's almost becoming
a digital pastime of sorts. "Hey Bob… look at how I changed the new
AOL to read 'LOL.' Har, har, har… Isn't it a hoot?" It
only takes a few moments in Photoshop and a couple of snarky
tweets, and we have a new meme on our hands.
Sadly, much like nerdy adolescents in high school, corporate
decision makers seem quite sensitive to such criticism, in spite of
how inconsequential these collective ramblings may be. Tropicana
puts the stupid orange back on the box; Sun Chips takes the
"noisy" biodegradable bag out of production, and Gap calls a
mea culpa, making things altogether worse by
proposing to crowdsource the whole deal.
Fury over Tropicana's package redesign (right) prompted the
company to go back to the orange-and-straw version.
The now-old new Gap logo is milquetoast, but I wonder if that's
actually perfect, given that the populace is too: "Don't take away
our orange with a straw in it… we love our orange with a straw in
it!" or, "If you keep that blue gradient in your logo, I'll start a
Twitter account to make fun of you, silly corporate
It's not so much that the logo is aesthetically unexciting (or
perhaps awkward) that's the issue; it's that we're collectively a
bunch of visual sissies when it comes to anything that might
challenge our precious sensibilities and need for pretty, quaint,
and traditional, packaging.
As designers we needn't carry on about the overuse of Helvetica.
It's just not a big enough issue. Instead, I ask if we might
challenge the populace to expand their visual sensibilities and
ready themselves for a braver and more adventurous and challenging
Somewhere in this, I wonder if we're all missing something
bigger… like the millions of dollars of publicity PepsiCo has
generated by launching and retracting new logos and noisy chip
bags. The folks at Gap certainly shouldn't have to miss out on this
party, and from the way they're playing this, I get the feeling
Come to think of it, I don't want to be left out of this either.
It's time to get out some paper, pencils and a copy of Illustrator,
and redesign our agency's logo too. Given how scared everyone is
about a little Helvetica and a blue box, I figure I can get the
front page of USA Today for our version.
What do I want in our new logo? Swastikas, aborted fetuses and
rocket launchers. That's right… rocket launchers.
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Graphic DesignerHybrid Design
San Francisco, CaliforniaDecember 19 2014
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