IBD’s red phone—for design emergencies only—started ringing off the hook October 7. By now you’ve likely heard that the iconic clothing store Gap changed its logo unexpectedly, then with a nervous laugh and a “Just kidding! Please put down your pitchforks,” quickly changed it back.
When Gap’s new logo, pictured above on the right, appeared without fanfare on the company’s website, the design community brushed the crumbs out of its collective goatee, put on its ironic Tide Racing baseball cap, and rose up as one to denounce the logo. The use of Helvetica was way too generic (who do they think they are, American Apparel?), the gradient blend of the blue box was just so 1998, and the attempt at a visual metaphor—yes, we get it, you’re outside the box—was just so obvious. The most common—and most damning—critique came from many sources, that the logo looked like it was designed in Microsoft Word using Microsoft clipart.
It’s no surprise that designers hated the logo. Designers hate everything. The interesting thing is that everyone hated the new logo. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded with angry rants, petitions, and promises of boycotts. One website, www.makeyourowngaplogo.com, allowed users to create parodies of the new logo, highlighting just how simplistic the new design was. (Though in fairness, the actual new Gap logo has much tighter letterspacing than the parodies you create on the Make Your Own Gap Logo site. Just look at the chasms between the letters on this Nerds logo I created on the site.)
And Friend of IBD Phil Sexton, who walked into my office while I was writing this post, said, “That’s a really hideous logo. Even I know that.”
On October 11, Gap said this on its Facebook page:
We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowd sourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.
One reason Gap redesigned its logo in the first place is that sales have been down recently. This is in part because of the lagging economy, but mostly because Shea got a new job and is out of the pre-torn jeans market.
The failed Gap logo recalls other high-profile pop-culture disasters, like Crystal Pepsi, Clippy the Microsoft Paper Clip, and the Kansas City Royals baseball team. In February of 2009, Tropicana orange juice unveiled a new look and was met not with outrage, but with confusion. Tropicana’s parent company, Pepsi, reverted back to its traditional orange with a straw in it when they realized that grocery shoppers were mistaking their new look for a generic brand. (Read about that one on Fast Company.)
I think there are two important reasons Gap’s new logo failed: 1. Gap’s loyal customers are attached to the old logo, which has been around for 20 years, and 2. There’s nothing clever about it.
The old Northwest Airlines logo (on the left above) is one of my favorite examples of a clever logo. You see immediately that the letters N and W have been combined into one typographic form. What I didn’t realize right away (and what always gets an ooh or an ah when we mention it during our IBD workshops) is that the floating triangle created by the N/W typographic form becomes a compass needle pointing north and west. I was disappointed when Northwest updated its logo, that it kept the red triangle, but eliminated the N/W symbol that I found so clever.
To me, clever logos are those that require a second look to fully appreciate. The classic FedEx (look for the arrow in the counterform) proves that you can use a common typeface (Futura Bold) in a creative way. In the above identity for Antarctica created by designer William Patino, the symbol is at once an adorable penguin and a lower-case A. The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium uses the counterform of a tree illustration to create images of animals looking at one another.
The above logos engage and invite viewers to spend time exploring them. Gap’s new logo, at best, was meant to get out of the way and not distract Shea on his way to the sweater vest section. The logo didn’t really have any meaning beyond being a superficial brand—worse yet, it’s an identity that anyone with a computer and 10 minutes to spare could recreate.
And in an environment where social media gives voice to countless individuals who evidently care a lot, that was just not good enough.