04 February 2016

[logo] When You Know The Rebranding Was A Swing and A Miss

In the last two days, I found myself compelled to comment on two rebrandings; that of Uber, and that of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I have to confess, I found myself only, at best, whelmed. I mean, the rebrandings worked on the basic level, and they were successful in as much as they resulted in a revised image that could be used, but were they good? Were they called for?

Ultimately, whether or not a rebranding works starts on a personal level. Anyone with a pair of eyes is a critic. On some level, the critic will write a critique, and maybe poke a little well-intentioned fun, on a slightly read blog. Most levels will be the eyeballs in the public; people like new things, and a lot of people will come look regardless of whether or not a 'please look at me', mildly-self-deprecating (Uber's mild poking fun at itself and its "90's haircut" was just so pitifully dear) toned press release or online newsroom post happens.

The mere observation that logos are everywhere and the most memorable ones become touchstones of pop culture (you know who Paul Rand and Saul Bass are, even if you don't know who Paul Rand and Saul Bass are), to me, hints at how we all care that things look, if not good, at least in a way that makes sense. It also hints as to why companies put a premium on image and why some spend so much energy on, hopefully, hitting it out of the park with a timeless logo or logotype.

So, what is is about the rebranding of the Leafs and Uber that leave me cold? I can't distill it down into just a pithy phrase or two (actually, I'm working on it; experience tells me that I can distill anything down into a pithy phrase or two; some things just take more time to bake than others), but I do know that the reaction to those rebrands left me more scratching my head in mild bemusement* than being all that impressed.

In the case of Uber, they got rid of the U-in-the-box, updated the type and beefed it up a bit. Okay, I guess. But what made it newsworthy was that it was deemed newsworthy at all. It didn't communicate any change of focus or message; it's just … well nice effort, I suppose. At least you showed up. You can beef up the type and put in little chisel terminals and fillets in the corners … but all you still have is a four-letter German loanword. I'm still not sure what change in company wit and wisdom really called for it.

Well, if it works for you. Those new app icons … well, if it suits you. It just confuses me.

The Leafs' redesign at least seems called-for. It's the centennial of the club, and they want to reach back into the glory days for visual inspiration and motivation. The neatness of the type works very well. But all the parts of the design each sending a message just seems to work too hard at being a logo. Look at it this way; if every nook and cranny of the design is intended to communicate something, to mean something, would the logo be any less rich and interesting if you didn't know that the 31 points and the total number of veins in the leaf as well as the number of veins above the type were supposed to tell you something? It's kind of like someone over-explaining a pun.

Trust me, I know from over-explaining a pun.

Keep it simple. And if you find yourself hearing the question 'is this trip necessary' asked out loud by the people you were hoping to impress … then maybe it wasn't. 

Logo redesign and rebranding can seem like a natural evolution, or a pitiable plea for attention. Sometimes, it's best to leave well-enough alone, or at least, don't overexplain it.

* bemusement is a synonym for bewilderment … not mild amusement. You'd be surprised how many people don't know this.

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