Logos speak a thousand words. A great logo can tell the story of an organization without a single word. Recently, logos from various companies have experienced a transformation. From car companies like GM, restaurants like Burger King, and food products like Pringles, it’s clear that many companies are dipping into this trend of logo redesigns. Along with redesigns, however, is the trend of disliking them as well. While backlash towards any change is generally accepted, the trend for disliking a specific design language is relatively new — so what happened?
Why fix something that isn’t broke, and why change a logo that is already beloved? It’s the question everybody asks whenever a new logo surface, considering logo redesigns aren’t cheap, costing millions of dollars and years of research. At first glance, it makes zero sense why a company would even consider it, and yet numerous do each every few years.
While I’m not a graphic designer, I personally believe that logo and brand redesigns happen for 2 main driving factors: Technology and Markets.
Technology heavily influences design; it both enables and limits it. Technological progress like better computer hardware and the adoption of software gives opportunities for designers to try new things that weren’t possible. Technological limits are the opposite, like limited screen size or energy consumption, but also push designers to be creative in spite of the constraints given. While technology can influence design decisions, the market (and to an extent, the consumers) are the main decision-makers.
Markets, whether corporate clients or target consumers are naturally the highest authority when it comes to design decisions. Logo redesigns rarely ever happen if a company doesn’t feel like it can benefit from it (they aren’t cheap after all,) even if they might cause backlash and resistance from their existing consumer base. A redesign can be a new beginning; a message towards consumers of what they can expect in the future.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room (or logo if I may). From iOS 7 to Tropicana: Minimalist, simple, or flat graphic design style has been on the rise for nearly a decade now. We’ve discussed how technology and markets decide trends, but what does it say about the current trend we are facing today, namely the minimal, flat, and mostly simple logo redesigns?
Technological appeal - Increasing needs for online presence are the main reason companies are simplifying their logos. The rapid growth of mobile device usage has caused the old conventions for highly detailed, highly stylized logo designs to be increasingly difficult to do. Aspects like scalability and file sizes are made vector-based images much more popular, which are coincidentally easier to create, manipulate and edit than their raster counterparts. Logos that incorporate sans-serif and blocky fonts like Airbnb, Animal Planet, and Google are doing so because it’s easier to read them on devices like phones.
Market Demand— both corporate and consumers seem to agree (though not without resistance) that simpler is the way to go. Simpler, flat designs mean it’s easier to understand and recognizable to a broad audience. Many proponents of flat design cite the effective, inoffensive, clean and neutral design style to be the largest benefits of the style. Who remembers how cluttered and overwhelming the over-the-top designs of Windows Aero during the 2000s? The times have certainly changed
When flat design works, it can create gorgeous and meaningful logos that stand the test of time; The logos of IBM and Shell are some of my favorites. But just as simplicity can easily create some of the best logos, it can just as easily miss the mark.
With the new decade, companies have been on a streak of redesigning logos with flat design in mind, becoming simpler and simpler as time progresses, albeit with mixed feelings from the online community.
Any redesign will meet some form of opposition. According to a study by Walsh, Karen Winterich and Vikas Mittal, how consumers perceive brands (brand attitude) formed by years of a relationship between consumers and the brand itself (brand commitment) play a substantial role in how consumers view redesigns. This is evident when companies with high brand loyalty like Apple decided to change its logo in 2003, immediately receiving an online petition within hours after the announcement. Walsh, Winterich, and Mittal argue that logo redesigns disturb the relationships formed, and consumers are obviously upset about it.
Some logo redesigns like Burger King were met with a warm welcome, while others like Firefox and Animal Planet were met with harsh criticism. Burger King made the decision to not only move to simpler designs but to capture the nostalgic feelings people had in the past, thus was accepted considerably better than logos like Animal Planet which had a totally different style and message than what they did before.
It should be noted that there is nothing inherently wrong with flat logo design, many logos like Coca-Cola, IBM and Shell utilize simplicity to become timeless masterpieces. What causes the massive backlash against flat logo design may be attributed to a far bigger phenomenon: a growing distaste and cynicism towards corporations and the corporate culture. Concepts like the corporate art style, corporate Memphis and global homogenization are usually blamed for this massive wave of “oversimplified” design logos, noting how many of the design decisions are cold-blooded, devoid of humanistic traits, and feel unnatural or fake.
It’s no longer just random people on social media typing out their dissatisfaction anymore either, as many content creators and internet memes have resulted in a cultural resistance; painting these oversimplified logos to be the result of a cold and insensitive scientific experiments, and some even demonstrating what oversimplifying logos can lead to if the trend doesn’t stop, creating a bland world where every logo is the same with no personality.
YouTuber Solar Sands in his video essay “Why do corporate art styles feel fake” states how many of the flat design trends that are present coincidentally are used by numerous companies, particularly Big Tech, which itself has created trust issues with consumers after numerous events. The negative association we have with this design trend leaves a bitter taste, causing us to resent it; we feel like these cold-blooded corporations are taking away the things we love. In the wake of this wave of cynicism, Solar Sands closes his video with a particular remark: All Trends have a shelf life.
Design trends always exist in cycles, and every trend has a shelf life. The logos of Pepsi are a very good example of how dynamic the design world is: going back and forth from simple to complicated designs, to simple again. There is never quite an absolutely good design style but designs contextual to its era.
With rising discontent over the current design trends, it might be the beginning of the end for flat design, but one will never know for sure when or what will replace this era of simplicity. Many companies like Apple and Microsoft are incorporating elements of neumorphism and glassmorphism into their design language, attempting to give character and detail to a style devoid of it. While we certainly won’t roll back to the days of flashy hyper-detailed logos of the past overnight, the popularity of flat design may start to wain.
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