by Janet DeDonato, CEO, Methodologie, @id_360
The design world watched with much fascination this month as the beloved global brand Gap attempted to update its iconic logo. What ensued is a cautionary tale for every major brand in the world and has generated more questions than answers. It became kind of a global passion play of Who Moved My Cheese?
Setting aside for the moment whether the new logo was good or bad, and whether springing it on an unsuspecting public was wise or foolish—there have been thousands of blogs and tweets covering both of these topics, with no end in sight—I’ve been pondering the broader implications of what just happened. (And don’t even get me started on the crowd-sourcing bake-off idea.)
I think that the extent to which people were engaged and outraged is in direct proportion to how much consumers are attached to the Gap. In many ways, the company should be proud that there was such intense emotion generated and that the public cares so much about every move they make. As a point of full disclosure, my relationship with (and respect for) the Gap runs deep and wide. I am currently a consultant, partner, customer, and investor. But this is not really about the Gap. It could be new Coke, Tropicana, UPS, or the Olympic Games.
What responsibility does a company have to the world at large to “prepare” them for an intended shift in brand image? Why do we think we even have a right to weigh in? Silly question, I suppose, since we all feel we have the right to weigh in now on everything from Lindsay Lohan’s rehab to the level of service from the neighborhood shoe repair. Social media has changed everything, forever.
The next time a large company wants to respond to shifting market conditions by updating its identity (and, hey designers, isn’t this how we make our living?), what hoops will they need to jump through to avoid this type of public outcry? Just produce a really great new logo? Will our final logo options need to be sent out in a global Survey Monkey, so the world can vote thumbs up or down before the final is chosen?
Let’s be honest, as this was unfolding, who among us didn’t think “oh god, I’m so glad I didn’t design this logo”? What would have been such a plum project coming in the door quickly devolved into public humiliation for all concerned. My heart goes out to them. Honestly.
But as I rant, who are all these people who have the time to write endless blogs about Helvetica and gradient boxes? Don’t they have jobs? Oh, wait—global economic meltdown, endless recession, joblessness—sorry, never mind. I digress.
My real question is this: Do we as designers now have the responsibility to advise our clients to engage the public in discourse or in the process somehow before they set out to alter their identities? Or do we throw caution to the winds and let them, and us, risk a similar outcome? One thing is certain, what the Gap experienced this month will have profound implications for our clients and ourselves going forward.
Janet DeDonato has served on the national board of AIGA and the Association of Professional Design Firms. She is regarded as an expert in investor communications and has designed and managed more than 100 annual reports in her 25-year career. Her experience spans all aspects of brand strategy and corporate communications and her clients include Amylin, BNSF Railway, Boeing, Microsoft, and Potlatch.