Mea Yelpa : My Pitch for Redesigning the Yelp Logo

Michael Ernst
5 min readDec 20, 2019

We are winding down 2019 and closing in on a new decade, and I’ve been consumed by updating my design and illustration portfolio. I’m honing in on my own personal style and working to fix all sorts of thorns and misalignments in old projects as a form of rediscovery and personal development.

A few years ago I returned to art school as a large adult man and it helped me refocus artistically and go further in depth to my overall studies. Now I see so much with new eyes – better shapes, overall balance & composition – all the glaring errors of my old work have come into stark focus. As I examine so much of my progress over the years, I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and re-examine my most visible work, the Yelp logo.

I wonder if Tom was mad we stole his ‘y’ thunder.

Yelp was an amazing journey for me as a young designer, but it’s not a style that resonates personally for me anymore. My aesthetic was brighter, bubblier, and even a little cartoon-y when we started, but it worked for that target audience we were striving for. Early in my career my desire to be unique often outweighed elements of my craft, causing me to make more decisions in order to stand out rather than offering up pragmatic design solutions. Some worked (look, bold red!), some fared less successful.

When I joined in 2004, YouTube’s Chad Hurley had designed the original logo, but it’s comic bubble look didn’t quite speak to our audience of aspiring taste-makers. We were tasked with creating a social network from scratch, so we looked to other companies in that space to help us identify aesthetic elements that were relatable. We chose a similar type to MySpace (oof), but eschewed the exclamation points that infiltrated logos on websites of the early aughts (hi, Yahoo!). To that end, we came up with ‘The Burst’ — a pop of self-expression derived loosely from comics that felt fun and friendly. It sort of had a food bent, loosely resembling pizza slices. And people even still call it a ‘flower thing,’ which I’m not a huge fan of, but logos are kind of like Rorschach Tests, right?

I developed an asterisk-type mark, but with softer, more rounded edges to appeal more towards a female audience (a half-dozen tech-bros sitting around a table attempting to design for women? Sounds about white). Then I tilted the symbol to represent the irreverence of Yelpers’ reviews, but my arrangement and angles were sort of, uh, arbitrary. I’m sure I eyeballed it to make it work, but at small sizes it’s always ended up looking sort of off. Then I made it larger than the all-lowercase type, leaving an empty space for a ‘powered by’ or ‘find us on.’ The intention was sound, but man, on its own it leaves a little bit to be desired in a logo, doesn’t it?

In 15 years, Yelp’s grown up and become more ubiquitous and sophisticated, so here’s how I would go about fixing my original work:

First, the Burst should be straightened out and given proper angles and spacing. I would align all five parts on a pentagram and put everything at 35° angles with a little extra space for the top “slice.” Then, I would ditch the MySpace ‘y’ for an upper-case. We’re all adults here now, right? Time to put on some big boy upper-case pants. I don’t know why so many companies thought they were e.e. cummings with the all lower-case schtick, we just followed along with the trend on that one. An upper-case Y feels more relevant in tying it all back together with the name as portmanteau of Yellow Pages + help.

Second, the Yelp red has stayed an integral part of their brand, and I’ve always been partial to the white outline as a separator, so I would still hang onto that piece. Plus, it’s a nice contrast with the black type. And finally aligning the Burst correctly with the type feels like slipping into a warm bath.

What a difference a capital letter makes.

Lastly, the typefaces could go in a few directions… An updated version of the rounded type with the fun, offset counters in the ‘e’ and ‘p’ of the original would hold onto a lot of equity. My personal favorite would be to see a sturdy slab serif make an appearance that was in my first couple rounds of the early logo presentations, giving the name a little more overall heft. Or, Yelp could go the route of a modern, geometric sans-serif typeface to fit in at the cool kids table with virtually every other tech company out there. Or, or, or they could scrap the whole thing and go with Nish Nadaraja’s original vision of ‘owning the noise a dog makes.’ What? It could happen.

People would love them *more* on Yelp with this update, I bet. Maybe.

Doesn’t this look like a much more grown up Yelp?

Anyway, I feel better getting this off my chest, this has been gnawing at me for years (I wish I could quit you, Yelp) as I move a new direction in my design and illustration career. So many pieces that my old, wisened self sees now that the young party-boy did not years ago.

Plus, Yelp could use a refresh, help them button up and possibly even help shed some of the negativity they seem to shoulder in various respects. And I probably saved the company like $250k in agency consultancy fees on a rebrand with all this built-in strategery rattling around in my brain for the past decade and a half. So, feel free to float me a check whenever, kids. I’ll shoot you over the updated files.

Well, my work here is done, I’m off to new and exciting projects…