26 November 2009

[logos] The New AOL Logo Is More Of An Emotion

2266.AOL has come a long long way since 1983, when it was just another online network provider specializing in Commodore 64s (QuantumLink). America On Line rose from a member of that prehistoric scrum to the top of the world for a while – actually becoming a equal, at least in nomenclature, of the venerable Time magazine; the once-geeky haven grew big enough to eat Time Warner to morph into AOL Time Warner, a move seen then as a herald of the New Media, with hands in the old world of print but looking toward the apparently ascendant one of online electronic media and commerce.

Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and men, as they say. As it turned out, just about the time AOL laid out 164 US Megabucks for it, the tech bubble was starting its legendary deflation and the online landscape was beginning its seismic shift away from nation-spanning ISPs and "walled gardens" to the … well, whatever the hell it's supposed to be today. By 2003, the bloom came off the rose, and the AOL came off the Time Warner. By 2005, AOL Wunderkind emeritus Steve Case was not only no longer the excecutive chariman, he was off the board entirely, and now, in 2009, AOL, the ISP That Ate Time Warner, is getting spun off … by Time Warner.

This, of course, means it's time for a re-branding. And that's going to happen as of December 10th.

Throughout its life, the AOL logo has been a rather skillfully-conventional implementation of imbuing a graphic mark with a certain style and letting it stand in for the company. The AOL logos from the late 80s though the 90s and to the doorstep of the 00s were a clever combination of the elements suggesting the A (the big triangle) the O (the upper curve of the swirl suggesting a O) and an L (which is what the lower curve of the swirl suggests). The result is a compact, locked-down logo that contains an energetic heart – kind of the idea of the AOL walled garden, indeed:

As the 80s and 90s ground on and certain fashions fell by the wayside, AOL got rid of the Flashdance inspired typography and simply shifted, as many similarly-named entities seem to over time, to just an initialism:

… a move which was just stylish enough at the time. An interesting point; the letters AOL stopped officially standing for America On Line at this point, and the AOL trigram became a name in and of itself. That hasn't stopped the old-school punters from remembering it as – and still thinking of it as – America On Line (or, as my friends at the time called it, "A**holes On Line").

After the turn of the century and The Biggest Media Merger Evar Until A Bigger One Comes Along, AOL saw the light – realized by a soft light complete with Official Web 2.0 gradients, which actually abstracted the already-abstract AOL logo:

The triangle has become an arrowhead; the AOL logo has become a "play button". Like it or not (and I've seen both opinions – mine is, not bad actually) it's au courant and fairly hip to the trends.

Now, in 2009, the AOL star, rather dimmed, is leaving the Time Warner constellation. The online environment now looks nothing whatsoever like the cosy dialup environment that AOL helped define and poor AOL, even with its hip new Web 2.0 logo, was really feeling out of place.

The first thing one asks onesself after the breakup of a relationship that defines them is usually "who am I? Where am I going now?" And what's AOL's answer going to be, as expressed by it's new logo and identity?

I'm not really sure. You see, all of the above is AOL's new identity – and none of them are. As defined by the company itself:

The new AOL brand identity is a simple, confident logotype, revealed by ever changing images.  It’s one consistent logo with countless ways to reveal.

Just like someone on the rebound – you're everything to everyone. Not even that, really, you're whatever you want me to want you to be, with the true-blue, consistent heart revealed by your ever changing ways. To be exacting, the AOL logo is gone from being AOL to being "Aol." a three letter mixed-case combination which actually pretends to single-glyphdom, with a full-stop bringing the confidence.

Why is it I feel as though I've stepped into a Khalil Gibran poem? The premium seems to be on dynamism. The "Aol." isn't on display, it matches the background and doesn't appear until something steps behind it, it's revealed, as stated, by ever-moving backgrounds, some of them rather pretty in and of themselves, as demoed by the video at this location at the AOL Corporate site. And how pround of this approach is AOL? You can download this video! Here's the link for QuickTime, and here's the link for Flash Video.

I've downloaded it, even though I can't explain why. The whole thing seems New-Coke-y, but AOL … sorry, "Aol.", may be on to something here.

Credit for courage, though, for pushing the evelope as what qualifies as a graphic element to something that's rather like nailing jelly to the wall. Seriously, I'm impressed by the bravado here.

Good luck with that, AOL.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

No comments: