Them’s fighting fonts! Illustration by Mandy Crane

Sans serif, sans spark

Mandy Crane


Logo changes are in the news. But is simpler really better?

When I was a kid there was a product on the beauty shelves called Dippity Do. It was everything a girl born to work in design could want: Pink, ladylike, sparkly and that typeface! Love!

But it was also my first epiphany on logo changes. You want to see what it looks like now? No, you don’t. OK. But really, you’re in for heartbreak. Here.

That ‘e’ tilt. Such cute!

I noticed it happening again recently with Google’s updated logo. I had no problem with it and even told my journalism and strategic marketing students that I supported it. It’s cleaner, looks better in small app boxes and reminds me of Twentieth Century Gothic and my all-time fave, Helvetica Bold. Plus, that little thing that they do in the video, when they tilt the “e”? My heart sings with joy every time.

Logo changes have been happening ever since logos started. But we seem to be evolving to a sans serif style that is becoming so ubiquitous that very little appears to be standing out anymore. I’ve started calling one stretch of Melbourne the Helvetica Highway — nearly all of the logos on the storefronts utilise the king of fonts, or a similar sans serif typeface.

Time travel 100 years back and we’ll find brands that became just as famous for their script logos as their products. That Ford ‘F’ still makes me swoon. And it wasn’t until the other day that I finally linked the typework for Cooper tyres to my favourite 1970s iron-on letters, Cooper Black. But do you know what Cooper Tires look like today? Cover your eyes! Here.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Look at the above. It’s a sea of brands, broken into colours. First note how many of them have changed since this collection was assembled. Then look at how many of them are merely symbols — it’s assumed we know what each one signifies. A popular app a few years ago was just a guessing game of match the logo to the brand.

So different is good, right? Then why are so many logos trying so hard to be the same?

Here is an assembly of current logos for some Australian, American and international brands.

I can hear them in the boardroom now. “Let’s do something radical, Carsten. Let’s move our symbol to the right of our name.”

Now I’ve taken away the colours.

And then I’ve taken away the logos so you can focus just on the typography.

And yes, I did a lousy job in Photoshop but this way I can track it if anyone else uses it on the Internet. Yep.

Just look at the gosh-darned graphic, please.

This is our future, people. All these lowercase, sans serif companies want our money. How will we tell them apart?

Logos are meant to do many things. They embody the brand — using colour, semiotics and, yes, typography to send consumers a signal of who they are and what they represent. Green signifies freshness, lowercase conveys friendliness. Symbols, well, we seem to be swimming in ovals and geodesics lately so I’ll take a stab and say these mean companies are forward-thinking.


This just in. Medium has updated its logo. But you’ve already noticed that, haven’t you?

Let’s run it through the checklist:

  • Green
  • Geodesic effect
  • San serif typeface
  • Fits in an app square
  • Looks like other logos
  • (Don’t get me wrong, @Medium, I love you guys. Especially your timing. I was able to update this from my phone!) ☺

The logo to the left is one of the earlier logos for tractor mega-brand John Deere. Note the play on the name. Yes, there really was a John Deere. He looked like this. But also note the concept of the deer leaping through the fields. Deere invented the steel plow, which had the capability to move through fields at an astounding rate of speed compared to the plows farmers used to use, made of iron or wood. Thereby, the deer symbol is not just an homage to Deere’s surname but the concept that you, too, will frolic in your fieldwork. I know all of this by heart because I was born and raised in Moline and you’re not allowed out of town until you can recite this. Seriously. And no farmer ever frolics in a field. Where were you born? In a barn?

Images in a logo mean a lot.

Logos also pull the brand together. This is Google’s main motive, excuse me, Alphabet’s motive. Four simple colours covering all of their different entities. Every agricultural vehicle by John Deere is painted “John Deere green”. Which is very similar to the colour of Coca-Cola Life but, thanks to its iconic bottle shape, I know is still Coke.

A good logo is appropriate to the brand. IBM would look silly in “Barbie pink” or a script typeface. You need those solid serifs and navy blue to hold all that genius in place. Similarly, the idea of McDonald’s ever moving from Helvetica to a serif typeface would be ludicrous. Helvetica portrays simple, clean and easy — just like McDonald’s used to be before they changed the menu again. But don’t get me started.

A good logo is also versatile. So many companies have been caught with their pants down as apps have forced traditional horizontal logos onto tiny screens and into tiny squares.

Like, this tiny.

But a good logo also needs to be memorable. Some companies, like Coke, are very careful to make only incremental changes to their written logos over broad spans of time so any tweaks appear almost seamless. The overall logo message is still present in our minds. Design play for the company, in terms of digital and social media symbols, centres around the silhouette of the Coca-Cola bottle. Much cleaner and easier.

As we move toward the necessity of greater simplicity, as we downsize in design to Zoolander-phone-sized logos, are we forgetting this memorable aspect for the sake of the tight fit? Is there a way we can hang on to our longer names, our freer spirits, our serifs and still get our message across? Will logos eventually lose their type altogether and become just a colour?

Change is inevitable and companies need to evolve with the technology. Gotcha. But don’t forsake style for space. Don’t lose your serifs, or your script, or your dippity doo-dads for the sake of looking “modern”. Like US President Barack Obama in jeans, it just doesn’t work. And I can say that, because I was born in Illinois.

Mandy Crane is a journalism lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She’s previously worked at Fairfax Media, RMIT University and Indiana University. Her interests are typography, journalism and keeping a job. Follow her on Instagram @melbamandy

Like what I said? Then please click on the Starbucks green heart below to recommend it. Did I get it wrong? Then please click on the plus signs next to the paragraph that offends or amuses you and set me straight. Thanks!