Yours Truly, Angry Mob

December 18th, 2012 by Mat Dolphin

Recently, the University Of California unveiled a new logo. The general reaction in the studio was relatively muted. Clearly they’ve attempted to update their previous mark – pictured below – with a more contemporary look. The result, whilst certainly not horrendous, is also not amazing. It’s pretty inoffensive and basically ok. It would seem that others had stronger, more negative opinions about the rebrand, and weren’t afraid to let their feelings be known.

The original logo:

The launch video of the new identity:

In short, some people were not happy. The opposition and towards the new design was astonishing. An online petition on gathered over 50,000 supporters calling for the logo to be scrapped, the obligatory Facebook page was set up and various pieces of press coverage criticised the rebrand for, among other things, its ‘lack of dignity’. One article deeming it ‘One of the worst logo rebrands in history‘. Wow.

Have we been here before?:

In essence, it’s Gap-gate all over again – Brand launch new logo. Public outcry at new logo. Brand revert to previous logo. Public loses confidence in brand. Yesterday, an announcement from Daniel M. Dooley, the senior vice-president for external relations at the University of California, stated that:

“While I believe the design element in question would win wide acceptance over time, it is also important that we listen to and respect what has been a significant negative response by students, alumni and other members of our community. Therefore I have instructed the communications team to suspend further use of the logo.”

We weren’t huge fans of the logo, but we’re not going to be celebrating it’s demise either. Regardless of whether you’re a supporter or defender of the actual design, the situation does raise some questions about the affect public opinion can have on design.

One interesting thing to bear in mind is that scenarios like this probably wouldn’t have occurred before the rise of social media. Anyone with a Twitter profile now has a platform to express their opinions to anyone who will listen, and generally, this is a positive thing. It does, however, risk the possibility that snap, reactionary judgements can be broadcast to huge numbers of people and quickly gain enough momentum to make real differences. Both for good and bad. Users of digital media have the power to be incredibly proactive when it comes to voicing opinions – this blog is a testament to that – but we’re a massively fickle bunch (no doubt you’ve already deleted the Instagram app as a result of their new Terms of Service), and should be aware of the potential waves our hastily formed online opinions might cause.

Lisa Simpson doing you know what:

The first example we saw of this in the design community was back in 2007, with the massive media backlash against the London 2012 Olympics logo. Looking back at how the branding was rolled out across the hugely successful games, most people would agree that the London 2012 organisers did the right thing in sticking to their guns and not scurrying back to the drawing board to hurriedly produce a safer, more conservative logo. Some people even grew to like it.

Whether the University Of California logo will be accepted (and embraced?) in the same way over time is something we will now never know. The party responsible for commissioning, briefing, accepting and announcing the work has folded under the weight of public scrutiny. This is something which should be a genuine worry for designers. After all the time, effort and hard work of producing a design which both answers the brief and pleases the client, the work can be instantly destroyed if the right number of people click the ‘Like’ button on a Facebook page set up in opposition to a design.

The opinions of non-designers are of key importance to everything we do and genuine criticisms need to be listened to. Public opinion matters and we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply design for our peers. But, as experts and leaders in doing what we do, it’s hugely dangerous to allow short-term public consensus to dictate what is and what isn’t good design. The lengthy discussions, brainstorming, debates, decision making, discarded concepts and compromises that the designer and client share during the design process don’t always result in the perfect outcome. Sometimes it’s simply wrong. But without the courage and discipline to stand by the work we think is right – regardless of dissenting voices – we risk losing a huge amount of innovative, interesting, boundary pushing design work.

Whether you agree or disagree, do let us know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

Phil and Tom

7 comments on “Yours Truly, Angry Mob

  1. Gordon Bonnar on said:

    Great read. Totally agree.

    It’s a shame when such a knee jerk reaction to the ‘mobs’ response stops a brand from rolling out fully to see its true potential. I hold my hands up to hating the London 2012 indetity when it was first launched, although I still wasn’t keen on it when the Olympics came round, what I did love was the execution of the brand rolled out across all platforms. A testiment to having conviction and standing by a design to see it flourish.

    p.s. I don’t mind this rebrand, I think it looks quite nice on the mediums shown in the video. That’s my 2p worth anyway.

  2. Good post chaps.

    I like the rebrand, it’s brave, bold and didn’t do totally away with the old logo, it still lurks there. The video was a good touch.

    Did you see the gradiated logo that looked like a pre-loader? Quite liked the metaphor of ‘loading the brain with data’, unsure if that was intentional but it worked for me.

    It’s a shame they’ve decided to drop it.

  3. Violaine aka salade folle on said:

    Yup yup, you’ve nailed it. It shows very little confidence in their new brand (nice video by the way) and a lack of vision for where they want to go next. Reverting to the old logo is a sheepish move, and could potentially ridicule them further in ‘the community’ (I wonder if it was only designers who moaned about it, or, as they indicate, their students too).

    While I didn’t think the new brand was particularly good, I’m not any keener on the old one, and really don’t see how they will benefit from this change of heart.

    In any case, regardless of this summer’s success, I still think the London 2012 logo is sh*t!

  4. Tom Albrighton on said:

    Great piece. I wrote an article about the Gap logo at the time that sums up my position:

    Basically, if you are going to rebrand, you need to have the courage of your convictions. A rebrand is not a consultation. If you want to do a consultation, or (God forbid) crowdsource your design, then you should make that your stated aim from the outset – not devolve into it awkwardly like Gap did.

    At the very least, you need to set expectations internally for how you’ll respond to negative criticism – for example, you could say ‘we’ll use the logo unless we get XXX negative comments’ or similar.

    Any of that would be better than a hasty, reactive move like withdrawing the logo in response to a bit of social media flaming. After all, what do you expect? People never like rebrands at first. People laughed at the word ‘iPad’, saying it was like a sanitary product – should Apple have changed it?

    It’s sad that, under the banner of ‘engagement’, brands feel they have to respond to bandwagon criticism. They shouldn’t be afraid to place themselves above the conversation on those occasions when they know they’re right. By acting on this sort of criticism, they’re saying they value off-the-cuff Facebook comments on the same level as the advice they paid their agency to deliver. Which, when you think about it, is utter madness.

  5. I liked the article and am in favor of sticking with it. People get used to it. Just remember all the ‘ban facebook’, ‘give me my old facebook back’, groups and reactions whenever facebook changes it’s interface. But people still use it. They get used to it.

    There’s nothing wrong with the new logo.

    What ever happened to focus groups? Did they do away with those?

  6. sprungseven on said:

    I wonder if the University management would’ve been so quick to back-pedal had the exact same end result come from an external studio (say Pentagram) at high cost.

    People tend to value design at whatever they paid for it. Unfortunately for in-house design studios they have client lists made up entirely of people who pay nothing – their colleagues. So they’re guaranteed to face an uphill struggle before they even start.

  7. Stuart Morris on said:

    To many opinions = design by committee = not good

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