Have you ever made a snap judgment only to realize some time later you were wrong? This is what was on my mind during my most recent visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. As I took in the satisfyingly fresh and thought-provoking 2017 Biennial, I also reflected on the museum’s wonderful W logo—and how it was utterly panned by critics when it was first released.
For those who aren’t brand diehards like myself (occupational hazard at Landor), the Whitney Museum launched a new brand identity in 2013 with a “responsive” W. The thin zigzag line is in the shape of a “W,” but depending on the background and usage—such as for a pamphlet, web page, or gift bag—the W will stretch, condense, expand, or take on any other transformation to fit the context. At first, brand experts criticized the new design for being simplistic and lacking impact. But after giving the new brandmark a chance to settle into its exhibition and programming activities, and considering its context within the museum’s rebirth in the vibrant meatpacking district, the design has proven to be a very fitting and accommodating brand vessel.
Negative feedback is not novel, nor necessarily surprising when a brand introduces a new logo. Often people rush to judgment and react with their gut instincts, neglecting to give the logo a chance to prove itself and play out as part of a larger rebranding strategy. Perhaps part of the issue is the way many new brands are announced: often in press releases where the logo design is the singular focus, and the broader consideration of context is not addressed. It is only later, when the entire rebrand is complete and the bigger picture is revealed through actions, that we can fully appreciate the total impact and relevance.
Many brands—and the agencies that support them—are victims of “logo-hate” when a new look comes on the scene. It’s arguably easier, and certainly more provocative, to criticize than it is to praise. So in order to give new logos their fair due, here are three things to keep in mind next time you come across a new design.
The new brandmark doesn’t stand alone
Rarely does a company redesign its corporate identity in isolation. It is usually one piece of a broader and more substantial branding initiative. Though the company might be able to explain its intentions for the new design, these descriptions often come off as marketing jargon. Until the new mark can be seen and experienced in situ, logos should be judged in the context of the new brand direction. It is only when the mark’s aspirations become tangible that the true intent, power, and impact of the design can be appreciated.
Curb your first impression
Some logos are initially panned because of people’s gut reactions. Thanks to social media, everyone’s a critic—and though these opinions may be retweetable, the comments are often shallow and juvenile. Airbnb’s current logo, for example, was ridiculed on social media because people thought it looked like genitalia. But the company stood strong and did not change course despite these preliminary reactions. Today, the Airbnb logo is readily recognizable and a positive asset for the brand.
Let the logo breathe
The process of branding is changing. No longer solely under the strict control of brand managers, many brands seek—and even encourage—engagement from a broadening range of communities (including customers and other external groups like superfans and brand ambassadors). And that input can extend to logo design. While many companies treat their logos as a sacred asset that cannot be modified, some brands create logos that are adaptive to shifting needs, applications, and attitudes. Consider IBM’s Smart Planet logo where the central icon is intended to change based on context, while the distinguishing five rays at the top of the logo remain constant. Brands with such adaptable logos are sure to stay agile. Other brands should take note and consider giving audiences a voice in how their logos are expressed and experienced.
Logos are highly visible representations of a brand—they don’t exist in a vacuum. So it’s important not to judge too quickly. Step back, wait to see how it fits with the brand’s new positioning, and observe whether it adapts to fulfill a new customer need.
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