Ryan Donahue
Oct 26, 2016 · 3 min read

I help to run the creative department here at Zendesk where today we launched a massive corporate rebrand. We even made a little documentary to tell the story about why we did it (see below). My team and I were pretty confident most people would initially hate our rebrand. I say that not because we lack confidence or don’t like it ourselves, but rather because I firmly believe people hate it when brands change too much of anything.

Rebranding stuff is typically a nasty and thankless task. It will cost a ton of money, it’s incredibly time consuming and it will take your creative team away from far more lucrative goals for a long, long time. As your reward for this expensive and shitty undertaking, you will likely receive a backlash of trollish outrage when you first roll out your changes. Ironically, you should count yourself fortunate if anyone gives two shits about your rebrand at all. If people care enough about you that they can get emotional about the slightly new color of your logo, I would argue you are doing something right.

So why do so many brands embark on this expensive, thankless chore or rebranding? Can’t companies simply get better at picking the right brand the first time and avoid the messy and costly exercise of changing it all down the road?

Sounds nice, but sadly this is rarely so. That’s because rebranding is increasingly interconnected with the process of competition itself. Where I live and work in Silicon Valley, young companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated at the formula of starting-up, as entrepreneurs search for what is known in tech circles as something called Product Market Fit. With so many companies embracing, even celebrating the unknowns of their future, the act of casting an inflexible corporate identity for yourself on the same day you incorporate your business is becoming increasingly laughable and out-dated.

Businesses that are successful will inevitably have to rebrand themselves to some extent because change is interconnected with success. You should expect that few of your brand assets will be spared from the Schumpeterian editorial process: that precious domain name you spent months acquiring, that expensive logo you had designed, even that huge shipping container of t-shirts and umbrellas with your cool tagline… Yeah, you succeeded so all that shit has to go now. You are creatively disrupting yourself and this is messy work.

So that’s enough on why you will hate rebranding, but why will your customers hate it too? Because they don’t like change. The main reasons people dislike the change of a rebrand is because as humans we are hard-wired to hate the loss of control — even small losses. And, when things do change on us, we tend to exaggerate the perceived work that we believe will be required for us to adjust to the said changes even if it means something as small as looking at a slightly different logo everyday.

So, what can we do as designers (and the entrepreneurs who hire them) to deal with this greatly distasteful fact of life we call a rebrand? My advice is to focus your energy and creativity on building something beautiful for yourself. Make something that your creative team and your founders love that supports your aspirations for the future — and don’t worry too much about what other people say about it. That’s what we did. I hope you like it, but then again you will probably hate it.

Design Insights from Designer Fund Bridge

Bridge is a professional development program for design leaders from product, communication, and management backgrounds. Apply now and join a lifelong community of exceptional designers: designerfund.com/bridge

Ryan Donahue

Written by

VP of Global Design at Zendesk. Trying hard to ask the right questions. http://t.co/ldxEHHnbec

Design Insights from Designer Fund Bridge

Bridge is a professional development program for design leaders from product, communication, and management backgrounds. Apply now and join a lifelong community of exceptional designers: designerfund.com/bridge

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