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Money Can’t Buy You Love

The road of design is covered with bad ideas, poorly executed and heavily financed by misdirected corporations that have money to burn. After a long streak of success in the apparel market, the clothing company, The Gap, decided to redesign its logo to counter slumping sales. It’s a common pattern: market leader loses vision, faces new competition that is lean, innovative and hungry, society changes along with consumer preferences, sales slump, and then someone decides to redesign the logo.

Company executives often look to change in the logo as a way to make their own mark. Many designers will jump at the opportunity to redesign a logo, whether it’s necessary or not, simply for the attention that follows. In The Gap’s case, the logo redesign was done silently and announced publicly without warning to consumers and the media. As soon as it was announced, there was an immediate uproar proclaiming that the new logo was a mistake. The Gap and the agency that was hired for its rebrand were thrown into damage control mode, pointing fingers and covering up the mistake, saying that the new logo was launched to find out where the public stood on the old one. After a management shake-up, The Gap quickly returned the logo to its original design.

Big brand agencies perpetuate the notion that when a company struggles, a new logo will do the trick — and since so much is at stake, the cost of a new brand identity will require an exhaustive process and cost a significant amount of money. To be clear, most company logos are middle-of-the-road at best, and good designers are vastly underpaid relative to the value that they bring. Like most designers, I long for the opportunity to be invited by a large company to design something significant, like a logo, that will impact the company’s success. Ultimately, that’s why we become designers in the first place—we want to improve the way things look and work, and we want to be part of significant, challenging work, while adding lasting value.

Big companies are often run by big committees who hire big brand agencies to develop their identities, believing that it takes a village to design a logo. Big brand agencies gave us Ameritech, Chevrolet, Best Western, Burger King and Pepsi – lackluster logos that lead to more mediocrity simply because of the size of the company and its bank account. For the agency, completing a re-brand for a big company leads to more opportunities to do more of the same. Most of the best brands today are the result of savvy entrepreneurs who partner with talented designers for the long term. The best brand identities, i.e: Apple, IBM, CBS, Nike, Virgin, Prada, and Coca Cola, to name a few, started with logos designed by exceptionally talented, studio designers.

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