The GAP Rebrand Debacle

And by “debacle”, I don’t mean the design itself, I mean the ridiculous uproar that has come from the design community at large over the new design.

If you’re not familiar with the GAP logo redesign, here it is:

I’ve read a dozen or so “critiques” of the rebrand, and I’m seeing the inevitable torrent of design blog contests and posts showing what they would have done, and showcasing user-submitted logo designs.

I think the new GAP logo isn’t great, but the vapid redesigns are a pointless exercise, for several reasons.

  • First, most of these new logo redesigns are just as bad and banal as the new logo.
  • Second, we have no idea what the creative brief was that landed the new logo.

Has anyone considered that they’re switching target markets? Maybe this logo is an appropriate solution to new business ideals. And all these contests to redesign in a week’s time? Do any of us honestly think that they landed on this logo in a week? I’m putting money on this being on screen and in meetings for months. But of course we’re all good enough to redesign this logo in a week. That’s also assuming we would actually give up a week straight to work on this to win a contest for a poster and a shirt from The Fifth Collection. Most of us will spend an hour on our lunch break scrolling through our activated typefaces with the letters G-A-P in the preview window, until we come across something we think we like. But is it appropriate? Probably not.

As designers and creatives, we’re a small subset of consumers. Do you think that the 45 year old husband and desk jockey is going to care that the GAP logo is in Helvetica now? He isn’t. He’s concerned with buying khakis, not with the typeface the company logo is set in.

We are supposed to value our profession and provide more than pretty pictures. We’re not artists who get to insist that our opinions are the only ones that matter. We have a responsibility to the public to provide quantitative and qualitative feedback and rationale in our decisions and choices. In an age of UX and UI definition, we should be laying the groundwork for how seriously we want to be taken by the general public, and how professional we are assumed to be. Yelling at how ugly a logo is doesn’t bring us any further than the “cousin of the guy who owns the company who makes logos.”

Side Note: If you’re posting on a design blog complaining about something, have the guts to link to your site. I’d love to see all the great branding work you’ve done.

Let’s all stop pretending that design is just how (subjectively) cool something looks and focus on whether it’s the most aesthetic solution that solves the given issues and problems. If you want to complain about a company’s redesign, fine, go ahead and complain. Though without context, your complaint is strictly aesthetic, and that’s a new argument on the quality and value of one person’s aesthetic opinion verses another’s.

Written on October 6, 2010 at roughly 1:40 pm. And by roughly I mean at that exact time.

Comments are closed

Comments are currently closed on this entry.
Jarrett Fuller October 7, 2010 at roughly 6:12 am

BOOM! Best thing I’ve read regarding the rebrand yet. I’ve been feeling the same way. Thanks for writing this!

peter October 7, 2010 at roughly 6:44 am

I agree with the awful trend of everyone rushing to submit their ideas. With no brief, no direction, it’s simply indulgent. Designers seem to love to do this sort of thing. And I might add that the vast majority of submissions I’ve seen are much worse than the redesign.

But I dont agree with you about the widespread aesthetic complaint being somehow wrong. We are consumers. We react to design. It’s actually the purpose of design - to communicate with a unique, attractive style for a target audience - to create a reaction. If the design is awful (which i submit it truly is), it’s ok to have a strong visceral reaction to it. The purpose of a logo like this is to CREATE a kneejerk reaction. This is what they’re getting - not just from the design community, but from the general public.

You’re right, there might be some secret problem that this logo is somehow solving…but I submit that whenever you replace something good with something bad, it may solve a small problem while opening up a gaping huge new one. (pun unfortunately intended..)

Casey Britt October 7, 2010 at roughly 7:01 am

Great post. I think a big takeaway here is… Logo != Brand. Though I think that you don’t have to be good at branding to be able to have a valid critique of branding. Most movie critics would more than likely make terrible movies.

Kory Westerhold October 7, 2010 at roughly 7:14 am

spot on. or should i say “square on”

Jason October 7, 2010 at roughly 7:32 am

“As designers and creatives, we’re a small subset of consumers. Do you think that the 45 year old husband and desk jockey is going to care that the GAP logo is in Helvetica now? He isn’t. He’s concerned with buying khakis, not with the typeface the company logo is set in.”

Couldn’t have said it any better.

jonathan bowden October 7, 2010 at roughly 7:45 am

thanks for this post. You bring the discussion up a whole notch by challenging fellow designers to take steps beyond a gut reaction. thanks for reminding us to always consider that there is the likelihood of much more going on behind the scenes than we know about. Stay classy, orlando!

Mikael October 7, 2010 at roughly 8:00 am

“As designers and creatives, we’re a small subset of consumers. Do you think that the 45 year old husband and desk jockey is going to care that the GAP logo is in Helvetica now? He isn’t. He’s concerned with buying khakis, not with the typeface the company logo is set in.”

If that’s the case, then we can all just pack it in and give up. Then there is no need for design schools and education and professional designers. Just slap Helvetica (or Arial, whatever you have) or Times on the page and your done. It doesn’t matter, right? The target audience doesn’t notice those things, right?

Justin October 7, 2010 at roughly 8:02 am

It’s certainly appropriate to have a subjective opinion about a design, but I would argue that professionally-voiced opinions should be communicated in a cautious and reasoned manner. @Peter has a good point. Sometimes you know a song is bad, even without hearing about the background and inspiration of the artist. Sometimes you just know a movie is awful 10 minutes into it. Sometimes you just know.

For me, I think it goes back to communication. Have your reaction. Spread it across the web however you want. But don’t be an arrogant butthead about it. Be reasoned, be humble, be respectful. Do unto others …

Aaron October 9, 2010 at roughly 9:53 am

The analogy of knowing a movie or song is wrong or right breaks down due to a large flaw. A song or painting or movie is created to fulfill the creator’s need, not the viewer. It’s sole purpose is inward, not outward. Design has purpose, reason, and thought behind it. As a community, if we continue to yell, scream, and criticize work based solely on it’s aesthetic appeal, we lose value in our profession. If it’s solely aesthetic, who are we to say that our opinion is more founded than anyone else?

The entire GAP rebrand uprising is self defeating. Since we are only screaming at the aesthetic, all the GAP designers have to say is “our sense of aesthetic is better than yours” and we all lose the argument.

If we want to be taken seriously as a profession, we need to make sure our criticism are founded in logic, reason, and purpose while being delivered with tact, grace, and a sense of calm.

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August Martin December 7, 2010 at roughly 6:07 pm

Aaron I am amazed at how articulate you are. I agree with most of what you say, but disagreement encourages creativity. Dad

Sue Brettell January 19, 2011 at roughly 2:40 pm

It seems to me that most of the focus is on the logo; perhaps we’re missing the obvious point that this “debacle” was a great marketing exercise, whether deliberate or accidental.

I mean does it matter what the new logo looks like when it generates so much free publicity? The cynic in me thinks maybe Gap never intended to actually use the new logo….it was just a stunt to get their Facebook fans to do all their marketing legwork for them! :)

Aaron January 26, 2011 at roughly 11:39 am

I’d thought of that as well, Sue. My initial thoughts were outside of the marketing realm, though. How they go about marketing their brand is a completely new discussion I don’t think I want to really try and tackle.

If I wanted to slightly include their (possible) marketing strategy within the context of their rebrand, what does it say about a company that is willing to promote bad design strategies just to make waves? Wouldn’t that reflect on the company’s entire thought process and corporate structure in a negative way?

Does bad design sometimes create attention? Yes. Is it good in the long run? No.

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