An Inconvenient Rebrand

What is it about visual rebrands that annoys us so much?

Photo: Instagram on Vimeo

“As you can see, our logo is now much more evolved with a new typeface and primary colors,” our CMO said as he presented my work in front of a hundred of my colleagues, whose lack of interest was obvious. After putting in several months of hard work updating our brand, redesigning our website, and formatting our sales decks, it didn’t really seem to matter to the people in the room who would be represented by all this new stuff.

He finished by saying,“Be sure to talk to Sean to make sure all of your marketing docs are updated.”

At that point, lack of interest turned into annoyance. Our company’s rebrand was now an inconvenience.

When an app with more than 400 million active users decides to change up its look, the reactions tend to be a bit more alarming. Instagram recently unveiled its new logo and, even though it seemed to be well-received from a quant standpoint, the howls of outrage were clearly audible too.

Source: Adweek

Aside from the fact that there are actual ‘travesties’ in this world, the overreaction to this kind of development is sort of expected now.

Source: The New Yorker
Source: Fortune

My understanding is that that any kind of design change can be an inconvenience to whoever interacts with it. It’s hard to let go of something in which you have such a vested interest, whether it’s a sales deck that needs the new PowerPoint master template integrated, a favorite sports team that’s switched up its home uniforms, or your favorite app suddenly becoming harder to find on your home screen.

Change throws us off.

And that remains true for the ‘new’ Instagram. It’s not about the logo — the design of anything will forever be visually subjective. “The rainbow is lame” or “I love the simplified camera outline” are both equally valid opinions. Rather, the uproar is usually tied to a more fundamental notion that it was fine the way it was.

Photo: Instagram on Vimeo

But change is important, and especially so for visual design. A common through-line for these types of updates is the modernization. Scroll through your smartphone’s home screen, and you’ll definitely notice a modern vibe. Remember your phone’s home screen in 2012? It already feels outdated. Or how about Google, just nine months ago? These changes are vital in aligning with the times; otherwise, Apple’s logo would still be a man sitting under a tree (although, imagine a coffee shop full of glowing Isaac Newtons on MacBooks).

Visual updates often directly reflect the growth and evolution of the company. As head designer Ian Spalter wrote about the Instagram update, it ostensibly went from a pocket photo editor to its own enterprise that’s deeply integrated in our lives. It makes sense that this kind of service should feel much more universal. As much as we like to think about how the rebranding process goes down, what seems sudden to us is probably the result of months or even years of research, trial and error, questions asked, and ideas scrapped.

There are discoveries: [This certain color] evokes [this certain emotion], or [this specific stroke weight] allows for a balanced composition. But the average Instagram user doesn’t care about color theory or stroke weights. They want to share photos, and anything that disrupts that experience, even for a brief amount of time, is frustrating. That’s where the tension of a rebrand often comes from. Can you get to the app as quickly? Can you use it the way you always have? And is it the freshest face for the brand itself? Change is inconvenient but inevitable. So while it’s much easy and fun to rage and howl when your favorite app updates its logo, perhaps the better approach is to embrace it and move on. Let’s save the “travesty” hashtag for Twitter character count updates.

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