A well-known company has only to change its logo in order to activate a flood of tired journalistic tropes.
First off is the “How much??” story, in which non-designers say the cost was ridiculous. “I’d have done it for a tenner,” says a man with Photoshop on his computer.
Then there are the hatchet jobs. Some are delivered by paid hacks whose editors have given them a hating brief and some are delivered by injured professional parties who insist they would have done a better job had they had landed the contract. I’m not sure which of these is worse.
Someone called Sara Larson, describing herself as a “roving cultural correspondent”, writes a stink piece on the New Yorker website that falls into the former category. Stumbling, incoherent and sophomoric, Larson’s critique begins by harking back to the sepia-coloured halcyon days (2000) of early Google, when “everything that sounded like ‘google’ was funny and innocent, tied to childhood and imagination”. Google back then was “like the Brooklyn bridge” — mainly so the writer could shoe-horn a piece about a Silicon Valley tech company into the New Yorker.
Larson then complains that the new logo design, in replacing a serif with a sans serif typeface, “now evokes children’s refrigerator magnets”. In other words, something funny and innocent, tied to childhood and imagination. “Google took something we trusted and filed off its dignity,” Larson insists. How so? Easy: look at this old style “e”.
It’s clear this original “e” is “thoughtful”. But compare it with the new “e”:
Well, anyone can see this new “e” is “demented and showboating”.
Having delivered this crushing blow, Sara then gives herself over fully to hazy memories of using Google with her bestest girlcrush Alice when they were kids (ie 2002). The implication is that living through Google’s move to a sans face is equivalent for poor Sara to Eve biting the apple; now a serpent-like Google that hates freedom is intent on flying a plane into the Brooklyn Bridge in a hideous attack on decent metaphor: “When I see that shifty new rainbow-colored “G” bookmarked on my toolbar, I recoil with mild distrust”.
I do love a mild recoil.
OK, Larson is probably a young hack on a first assignment, overawed by the masthead and anxious to get her name out there. But this is the kind of brief that anyone serious would turn down straight away, because there is no way to come out of it without looking slightly foolish.
Self-publishing via the medium of, er, Medium, self-styled “opinionated typographer” Gerry Leonidas describes the new Google logo witheringly as “a particularly unfortunate piece of design”, without qualifying that. He does, however, issue a magnificently self-aggrandising disclaimer: “I don’t usually comment publicly on typefaces for brands,” he says, as though his private salons in Montparnasse are where he usually delivers that kind of thing.
He then spends 793 words doing just that. Ostentatiously, he demonstrates he has some knowledge of typography — or at least that he can Google it — by peppering his piece with clunky and opaque sentences designed to blind the reader with pseudo-science:
“Once you reduce modulation to optical compensations and structure strokes on geometric primaries, there is just too little room for any distinctiveness and identity.”
He clearly hopes readers will be so dazzled by jargon they won’t notice the argument’s conclusion is a total non sequitur.
He then spends a couple of pointless paragraphs suggesting a range of serif faces that Google might have used instead, making attempts at utilitarian arguments for each.
But my favourite part of the Leonidas article is the phrase the author himself marks as the “top highlight”. It reads thus: “In 2015, I cannot imagine that monoline circles are the ultimate representation of pervasive, transformative innovation.”
Ooh la la, so cutting. But must I spell it out in fridge magnets? It is precisely because you can’t imagine that, Mr Leonidas, that you did not get the gig.
What’s the point?
Such articles, protesting change, generally miss the point. The point of changing a logo is change. And there’s a reason the brand owner wants to signal change.
When an established, mature company doing well, such as Google, updates its central visual image in this way, it is usually to shake up a brand that has become part of the furniture and get people to see it with new eyes. To rediscover it. Re-imagine their use of it. It is about repositioning.
Today’s Google is not just the plain-speaking search engine of 1998. Google now offers so much more than search; most of us do not even know the half of it. Getting column inches where people talk about that is a great quick win in terms of ROI. It matters little what people like Larson and Leonidas think. It matters only that they reinforce the repositioning by talking it up in the media. They have complied and this logo redesign has more than met its brief.
So what does Google itself say about the update? The company has released a rather stressful video that plays somewhat like the opening titles to Homeland: that is to say, it faithfully replicates a nervous psychotic state. In it you will find all the answers. Either that or you will experience neurological distress. Good luck.