Is Brand Simplification Simply Wrong?
“Surely not… not Google?! Not after fourteen years of hyper logo creativity? They wouldn’t evolve their logo into something more palatable or boardroom friendly, would they?”
Well fortunately they haven’t, but it could be a possibility should the share price suddenly plummet that somebody very serious might say: “Hey, maybe we should start with that logo. Let’s show the city we mean business, a proper business; you’ve had the fun now it’s time to grow up.”
Logo simplification appears to be an increasing trend, with a number of big brands seemingly happy to ditch what personality their identity had in favour of something a little more serious and ‘simpler for a digital world’ (their words not mine). For example, USA Today recently evolved its iconic masthead: “the aim is to be more online friendly,” we are told. A simple dot with some basic type: nothing more and nothing less. Could we not have left a touch of personality there? Just a little something to foster a continuing relationship with…please!
The reasoning is based on making things simpler. So what’s going on here? Brands that originated online are trying to be taken more seriously, and offline brands are trying to be more generic to work better online. In my opinion, these factors have resulted in some middle of the road compromises.
Could it be that User Experience Architects have been allowed to get too much control in the creative decision-making process? As advocates of frictionless journeys in the online world, they can often try to simplify everything down to a rational, transactional task or designers of brands not willing to embrace and dive into an online world and see what’s possible, resorting to just handing over the logo? There will be a number of reasons but the end consequence is that personality gets stripped out .What’s been forgotten is that the personality of the brand, and its identity, is a bigger thing than just an element of an online experience, and even in the online experience some form of ‘stickiness’ is surely still important?
In many ways, simplicity is good, but make sure your identity keeps as much personality as possible in order for it to stand out. Look at Coca Cola: it has taken red, bold simplicity to heart and spent the last few years crafting and distilling the iconic elements while using other assets, like illustration and tone of voice, to punctuate the communication. You’re left with enough historic visual traits to affirm it’s the brand you know and love, combined with modernity that makes it relevant today.
Yes, brands need to evolve and react to the world around them, but they need to do it naturally and organically so that the personality we fell in love with in the first place remains, and is enforced – unless there is something fundamentally wrong and the only answer is radical change of course. ebay may have needed to appeal to a more retail audience, choosing to keep the colour but reduce the playful type, yet did it really need to boil down its identity to such simplicity? The original logo’s different letterforms clearly communicated diversity and choice, maybe it was a little jokey for some, but was there not a way to keep a bit more personality? ebay is a brand to explore, not just somewhere to place an order.
So, let’s see more evolution in a digital world and less panic. There are some great examples of brands that have done this well: when twitter ditched the word marque and crafted Larry the bird they focused on giving the chirpy chap even more personality; when Starbucks realised the siren could go it alone it simplified, rather than dumped important elements (although it could have crafted a bit more); and I’m sure Google’s eccentric branding puts a smile on our faces every now and then.
Brands that embrace the digital world with both arms open like Burberry are a good example of how a brand can live online without compromise. They have evolved a “what if?” attitude, excited to see how technology can develop better relationships with its customers, not how its brand can develop a better relationship with technology. Take a look at its flagship store in London. “Am I online, offline in a shop, or watching a show?” I’m not really sure but it doesn’t matter. And that’s the point. When Burberry realised all its communication channels could link up…it did just that! Technology has added to the brand rather than standardised it. I walk into the shop and it feels exciting: clothes turn screens on when you pick them up, I pay for stuff on a sofa like I’m browsing at home and the online experience just adds to it all. In my opinion it just confirms that a brand established in 1856 only survives by evolving in a digital world and positively re-establishes its iconic personality in all its quirky glory.
Brands must remember that it’s their personality that consumers identify with when they try and bring it to life online. By all means, craft, simplify and distill your brand personality, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and strip it bare in the name of technology and functionality. After all, simplicity isn’t always simple.
Dave Roberts, Creative Director, The Partners (firstname.lastname@example.org)