Something strange has been happening during the last year. There has been a huge number of re-brands and brand “refreshes” for major companies, most of which already had iconic looks and feels.
This article investigates a handful of these design decisions and identify some clear similarities between them. We also try to answer the question of why this trend has been happening and if it’s here to stay.
Take a look at the timeline above that shows the evolution of the MasterCard brand. It shows how the brand has changed very little since 1968 and how the 2016 iteration stands out from the rest. After becoming increasingly more complex and layered up to 1996, we now have a simple logo with 3 clear elements – 2 circles and a lowercase wordmark in a simple font.
It really couldn’t be much more basic and could genuinely be replicated by a graphic design student in 5 minutes, but this isn’t something to dwell on. What’s important is that it still maintains the essence of all the previous logo versions and refines each element without making fundamental changes.
Next up we have Deliveroo. This is a relatively new brand which has already taken a huge branding decision. The cartoon kangaroo holding a delivery bag has been ditched for something that looks like it’s been saved from the cutting room floor of a London 2012 logo committee meeting. I would argue that Deliveroo’s long-term goal for this logo is to “do a Twitter”.
That is to create a mark that will eventually be able to stand alone without any supporting text and be able to generate immediate brand recall. Deliveroo is a brand that’s a product of the internet and app culture and this has undoubtadly had an influence on this new 10-sided roo, for reasons discussed at the end of this article.
NatWest is the next exhibit. In contrast to MasterCard and Deliveroo, NatWest’s simplest logo was created in 2014 and the 2016 logo is ironically one of it’s most complex. However, investigating NatWest’s brand heritage reveals the reasons for this. The 2016 logo is a direct copy of NatWest’s first ever logo (pre-1969), only this time its iconic shade of red is used instead of a jet black.
This is an example of a brand that still wants to have a simple and clean mark, but realises that enriching it with elements of the brand’s history is a way of elevating it above its competitors whilst still appearing modern.
Instagram is our last example. This is arguably one of the most recognisable and controversial brand refreshes of 2016. The complex, 3D logo was binned in favour of a rounded square, circle, and dot on a gradient of orange, purple and blue. The same colour scheme and simple line design also carried across to Instagram’s other apps, such as Layout and Boomerang.
If you’re unsure of whether this new effort is a hit or a miss, take a look at the old logo (now being dubbed the “classic” logo) and consider how dated it looks. The old logo will always have its place in the App Icon Hall of Fame, but the new logo is an impressive step forwards.
So, why are logos all starting to follow these same design trends?
1 – The internet
The internet is where so many consumers see and interact with a company’s brand and many logos simply weren’t designed with this in mind. Take MasterCard’s older logo as an example. It’s a great logo and looks amazing in print, on posters and on billboards around sports fields. It’s not very versatile though, and the new logo is more suited to laptop, tablet and phone screens. It also seems to have been formulated to work well as an app logo – a design aspect which has held huge influence over brands over the last 10 years.
Colour is now also more important than ever on the internet. Clean, bold colours tend to stand out on busy screens, so dialling things back and creating a pallette which uses only shapes and colours which can stand alone without a wordmark is a huge advantage.
2 – Fashion
Blame Apple, Twitter and Google. These giant brands all have logos that couldn’t be any cleaner or refined. Apple is an apple. Twitter is a 2D bird. Google is now a colourful but 2D wordmark. Smaller brands admire how these larger brands are able to remove distractions and recognise the power of a simple communicator, but forget that they never had a powerful and iconic brand to simplify in the first place. Nevertheless, the game of follow the leader often persists.
However, one of the drawbacks of fashion trends is eventual homogenisation. What is going to happen when every brand’s logo is flat, consists of 2 colours, and doesn’t have a wordmark? Will logos considered to be great in 10 years time look back at 2016’s logos and wonder where the lack of detail and identity was hiding?
3 – Change
Changing and updating a brand is an easy way to create noise. So many recent examples state in their new brand guidelines that they’re simply “building on something that was already there”. However, sometimes if a market leader decides to change its logo, competitors are often forced to follow in order to appear as if they aren’t being left behind.
Unfortunately this can lead to change for change’s sake. Not only is this often uneccesary, but the market leader can often send competitors down a rabbit hole which makes the visual identity of an entire industry appear questionable (re: sports league logos).
4 – Animation
Brands are no longer static marks. They increasingly seem to have moving parts which helps to bring them to life on TV, computer, tablet and phone screens, but means that older logos need a tweak or two achieve this. A simple logo that has distinct shapes and parts is more versatile by nature, and has wider application in a world where media is consumed across so many different platforms and in so many different places.
Elaborate logos with high levels of intricacy and detail are great pieces of art but have distinct disadvantages in the world we live in today.