08/18/2013 07:20 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2013

Yahoo! Re-Imagined or Re-Booted? I Am Lost in Translation


Updating and refreshing a corporation's identity to reflect the change in the marketplace and the character of the business is a delicate but much needed act. We all do it, but the approach varies greatly -- from evolution to revolution.

Let's look at evolution. Most companies seem to take an evolutionary approach making updates to their brand to modernize it even if their core business does not change. Brands like Ford, Warner Bros, Shell, Starbucks and Coca-Cola come to mind. Even Apple, which went from the original Isaac Newton sitting under a tree logo launched in 1976 to the iconic rainbow logo, the silhouette of which is still used today. However even that logo has been updated and simplified again to reflect their innovation and brand use. So we have definitely seen many examples of brands in the past making subtle moves to refresh their logo.

We have even seen some other companies take a revolutionary approach to make bold moves to radically change their brand identity. Taking this approach without explanation and context can cause a whole bunch of consumer backlash in the meantime. The most recent one is Gap's, whose launch of their new brand to "bland" was quickly reversed back to the original logo. Their customers took to social to voice their hatred towards bad design and it was an example of not showcasing the brand in the new context. One of the problems was that their product did not change so why should the brand so radically? Also, perhaps they lost sight of the importance of brand ownership by their customers, who were confused by the radical change and were not shy in expressing their feelings. Explanation is needed to help them ease into the context of the new identity. In Gap's case they did not apply context so the backlash was fierce.

Taking a revolutionary approach and making a bold statement when you reveal your new brand identity and the subsequent reaction is part of the fun. In December 2009 when AOL spun off from TimeWarner we chose to radically change our identity to reflect our reinvention of the AOL brand as the next generation media company fueled by creativity and defined by original content. The strong design approach to the iconography created a forward-thinking brand identity that reflected the importance of creativity and originality. As AOL is content, it made sense to invent an identity that acted as a platform for content and we chose Wolff Olins to lead the design work.

We generated positive buzz with 65% of people recalling the new ads feeling more positive about the AOL brand. However, I think Fast Company summed it up best at the launch of the new AOL brand identity stating, "AOL's new brand is from the future... They just created the first completely user-contributed, 100% flexible, invisible logo." As AOL continues to evolve its portfolio so does the AOL brand rapidly evolve to reflect our brand ethos that is open, relatable, flexible and fun -- just like most people online today.

So it has been very interesting to watch the 30 days of Change by Yahoo! However, I am confused. Their new brand campaign seems to be stuck in the middle (which is funny because they are midway through the 30 days where they reveal a new version of the Yahoo! logo). They are neither evolving the logo or making a radical revolution change. They are trying to do both, and I get it, to create 30 days of excitement before the reveal. But if you have been watching the logo reveals for the first 2 weeks, the change is so flippant that it fails to showcase their identity innovation (apart from color and exclamation point). From what I can tell, they have essentially changed the purple color by adding some blue to cool down the purple which was introduced in 2009 (an update they made to their iconic logo from 1997).

It is especially important in this ubiquitous digital landscape to lean into rich design sensibility for brand identity and stand for a point of view then to lean away from it. There are many companies whose name is a word-jam-mash-up-ideation-thingy ending with .ly or .me so their name alone is not going to drive brand awareness. Clearly their high quality products and services will set them apart and drive user loyalty, but combining that with a strong identity will also help greatly in the long term. It seems that Yahoo! has forgotten to give us a reason for the new logo, instead choosing to simply share a random logo design on their existing properties and services. It just lacks excitement especially on their daily update page where you get to experience all the brands revealed so far. This is a typographer's nightmare. Even over at 99 Designs a bunch of freelancers have at least taken time to develop a different approach to the Yahoo! brand. However I would recommend they stay away from crowd sourcing their final design.

Perhaps their 30 days of Change brand reveal will culminate in a radically different approach to their iconography and this will be reflected in the context of new products and services launched in tandem; otherwise, it feels like a bunch of designers have just visited 1000 Free Fonts each day to reveal another safe interpretation of the Yahoo! brand. Until then however, we will just have to wait a couple more weeks of looking at boring purple logos.