Does Yahoo!'s New Logo Matter?

September 05, 2015

As a designer, it’s easy to critique every bit of new design I see and remark that I can do it better. It is certainly easier to find the flaws in a design than it is to commend what works well in an updated design, and this is especially true with the new Yahoo! logo. All design aside, we at The Shop take serious issue with the process of this logo, and we believe that when it comes to design, process and strategy are everything.

30 Days of Change

Yahoo! announced its rebrand to the public with a campaign entitled "30 Days of Change"during which they displayed a new logo on their site, culminating in the display of the actual new logo at the end of the 30 days at the stroke of midnight, which was at 12 am this morning.

When this was first announced, the commentary on Twitter was somewhat mixed, but it seemed that the general online community was excited to see what was coming next. I was also excited to see the new logo, but was not thrilled with Yahoo!’s decision to release 30 fake logos before the big reveal.

I believe Yahoo!’s strategy behind this plan was to generate buzz and drive more traffic to their website, which I’m sure it has accomplished. I think the more important metric to drive for Yahoo! is increased brand engagement. I’m sure they saw an uptick in brand engagement, but was it positive or negative engagement? I follow a significant cross-section of the design community online, and the commentary I read and engaged in was mostly negative. I was especially critical of Yahoo!’s strategy because I don’t believe that Yahoo! handled the refresh in a manner that strengthened their brand.

Releasing a new fake logo for 30 days to me communicated that Yahoo! wasn’t sure of their new trajectory but knew they needed to update to look more modern. It also implied that they were so unsure of their new logo that they wanted to try a few options out on their user-base to see what people most gravitated towards—essentially crowd-sourcing their design. This is a major branding no-no.

Public perception and buy-in are key to any successful brand refresh, as we’ve seen with the failed and thankfully-reversed Coke and Gap logo redesigns. But the masses’ collective thoughts cannot and should not solely dictate your brand’s new trajectory. You have to decide who you are, who you’re working to become, what your promises are, how you plan to keep those promises and what best visually represents your brand and be fully confident in the updated trajectory. Yahoo! undermined the branding process from the very beginning by conveying their lack of confidence by releasing fake logos.

Yahoo!'s 30 Days of Fake Logos GIF
GIF via The Verge

Strategy and Process

The CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Meyer, posted an entry on her Tumblr this morning detailing the process behind the logo and her role in the redesign. "On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made. I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)"

I am thrilled that she cares about branding, colors and design. I believe the most famous example of how successful you can be when you pay attention to the details is Steve Jobs at Apple. But there is a fine line between being a productive member of the design team and being dangerous, and everyone—even us designers—can cross this line on occasion. The online community is giving her credit for using Illustrator to design the logo, but giving her points for using Illustrator to design the new logo is like giving a nursing student credit after they botched the surgery for using a robotic surgery instrument to get the job done.

"So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma. We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish, and we had a ton of fun weighing every minute detail."

One weekend this summer. It’s as if logos magically happen over the weekend. Logos take months of work from start to finish. There are several phases we employ during our logo designs: research, planning, strategy, design, refinement and final execution. The longest phase of the redesign is the research phase, during which we comb through the competition, discover what’s out there, hone in on the unique brand proposition and identify how we can use visual elements to illustrate and define those unique propositions. I am not saying that Yahoo! did not do this, but the updated logo is the evidence to me that the new CEO came in to turn Yahoo! around and said we need a new logo, so they decided to sit down one weekend and bang it out. Don’t get me wrong; there have been times that I have spent hours designing and found the solution immediately, but it generally requires strict adherence to a proven process that allows the actual execution to go as smoothly as it can.

The Logo

Now for the subjective part of our show. Quote below taken from Marissa Meyer’s blog post.

We knew we wanted a logo that reflected Yahoo – whimsical, yet sophisticated.  Modern and fresh, with a nod to our history. Having a human touch, personal. Proud. Other elements fell quickly into place:

  1. We toyed with lowercase and sentence case letters.  But, in the end, we felt the logo was most readable when it was all uppercase, especially on small screens.
  2. We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo.  Straight lines don’t exist in the human form and are extremely rare in nature, so the human touch in the logo is that all the lines and forms all have at least a slight curve.
  3. We preferred letters that had thicker and thinner strokes – conveying the subjective and editorial nature of some of what we do.
  4. Serifs were a big part of our old logo.  It felt wrong to give them up altogether so we went for a sans serif font with “scallops” on the ends of the letters.
  5. Our existing logo felt like the iconic Yahoo yodel.  We wanted to preserve that and do something playful with the OO’s.
  6. We wanted there to be a mathematical consistency to the logo, really pulling it together into one coherent mark.

  1. Does tilting the exclamation point 9 degrees convey whimsy? Not to me, although I think it is a nice touch.
  2. Letters with thicker and thinner strokes? The first goals are admirable and are definitely directions I would have recommended for the new logo, but the new logo completely misses the mark. The scallops on the new logo and the line weights of the strokes immediately reminded me of the typeface Optima, which I affectionately refer to as the memorial font because of its prevalent use in memorials — the Vietnam Wall and World Trade Center memorials, for example. This typeface is not modern or fresh and the allusion to this typeface in these letterforms undermines the mark’s ability to convey modernity and freshness. A nod to history? Yes, but certainly not Yahoo!’s history.
  3. No more serifs? I fully support sans serif for conveying modernity, but there is a significant amount of equity in their old serifs, and this decision to completely get rid of them is one I would have weighed heavily before going all-out on the sans serif.
  4. Playful OOs. If there’s one major gripe I have with this logo, it’s the atrocious letter spacing. Kern that Y and A and open up the spaces between the H, O and O! You’re killing me, Y  ahoo!
  5. Lower vs. Uppercase. It works, but this mark is certainly not readable at small sizes because of the thin line-weights.

Why Does this Matter?

I am not compelled to engage with Yahoo! because of their new logo. I believe they have done us in the branding and design industries a disservice by broadcasting their logo refresh method. I believe they have undermined their new logo from the beginning and that overall, this refresh is of no consequence because it does nothing to drive brand engagement now that it’s over. Users will continue to hit Google and the Internet will return to normal within a few short hours.

Yahoo! is facing an uphill battle back to relevance, and their services and user experience—the brand promises they have to define and keep—are what will determine if this brand refresh effort is a success or failure.

The user experience makes the brand, not the logo.