While I don’t consider myself a “design professional” by trade, I have been doing graphic design for a quarter-century. The process of design is difficult, introspective, laborious and often frustrating for me, because I lack the skills and training that many others have. The reason that I design (and this is the important part) is not for the sake of designing something, but instead, it is part of solving a particular problem. When I am putting together a presentation to be used at trial where the stakes involves tens of millions of dollars, while good design alone isn’t enough, experience has proven that bad design definitely detracts from the message. In this essay, we take a look at the new Yahoo! logo designed by the company’s non-designer CEO “done in a day or two over beers and laughs.”
When Yahoo! announced their newly revised logo, the response was probably not what the company’s leadership hoped for. Here is a video introducing the new logo:
Here is the problem, elucidated by designers with a lot more skill than myself:
Anybody can make a logo. No doubt. It’s not complicated. Just try a couple of fonts and colors, choose the one you like, then change the font a little so it becomes special. Make it look nice. Blog about it, showing those magic construction lines. You can do it. All it needs is a little time, a computer, someone that knows how to use Illustrator, and taste, maybe. Everybody has taste, right? So let’s do it!
So thought Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, and she went and did it.
On the need for change:
Whether Yahoo needs a change in brand identity is hardly something we can decide from outside, not knowing exactly what the overall brand strategy is. It seems legit, because currently the Yahoo brand feels dead. Yahoo is still a massive online property, but it is as boring as it is big. Changing brand identity when you change strategy makes sense.
What is a brand anyways? (This is a conversation that I unfortunately have found myself in far too many times with people that were incapable of having the conversation…)
Branding doesn’t start with the logo. It is not primarily a visual discipline. Your brand is what you stand for. Branding is more about content than shape. It is who you are, not how you look.
And finally, Reichenstein’s conclusion:
For a brand like Yahoo there is something more important than spacing, kerning, colors, serifs, or making designers angry at this point. No, it’s not getting attention. It’s gaining trust. Ironically, for that you need a reflective, clear, and consistent brand identity. A different logo powered by bullshit doesn’t convey identity and trustworthiness. It conveys desperation.
Graphic design isn’t about snowing a client into believing a story you spin. Graphic design is about understanding the way in which type, color, shape, and other factors may communicate specific feelings or facts. It is about legibility, optics, psychology, and more. One doesn’t train in design to make posters or logos. One trains to develop an increasingly intuitive sense of what works and why. Focus groups don’t help in the design process, although they can assist (as can the market, in terms of sales or response) in determining whether the intended meaning and feelings are conveyed.
Too many people think graphic design is not a specialty, but something anyone can do, because the tools to make decent-looking Web pages, newsletters, books, and the like are readily available. But design isn’t putting stuff on a page. It’s about solving visual problems through an iterative process of decision-making, which may involve consultation, or may happen in private. If you can’t master that process, you can’t work in the field. No one will hire you because your work looks obviously bad to any trained eye, and is interpreted poorly by any untrained eye.
The Yahoo logo design process represents the worst aspects of someone who doesn’t understand or accept that type design, typography, and graphic design in general are professions that benefit from years or decades of training. Mayer explains the process they employed to create the new logo. If I had attempted to present the reasoning she used to any of my graphic design teachers in college, any of the people I worked for at studios or on a freelance basis, or to a client who had hired me, I would have been laughed at and told to get real, or fired.
What’s the Point?
Part of the reason I have always been and remain reluctant to call myself a “designer” is that I don’t think that I am very talented as a designer. The iterative process that Fleishman describes above is how I have always approached design — not because I’m a well-trained designer, but because I never get things right the first time and am constantly revising.
But it isn’t just revising either. I am constantly questioning my assumptions and reevaluating the premise from where I am approaching the particular design. That occurs on a macro/big-picture level, as well as a micro/OCD-detail-oriented level.
Here’s the thing, though: I would never even try to get work as a designer at a company like Yahoo! which already employs dozens, if not hundreds, of designers with more talent in their left ear lobe than I have in my entire body. And yet, the CEO of that company just told all of those designers that despite their ability, talent and years of training, that she could do a much better job than they can.
And to twist the knife in their back even farther, what Marissa Meyer is implying, intentionally or not, is that the failure of those designers to produce a better logo is the reason the company itself has failed.
I have a feeling that it won’t take very long for the marketplace to show Meyer the truth.
And one more thing…
I love the Optima font. I once considered making it the default for all body text in my corporate communications. But now, that great font will unfortunately likely become known as the “Yahoo! font.”
What a shame.