Why are so many new tech logos so boring?

Features Sarah Dobbs Oct 17, 2012

Sarah Dobbs takes a look at some newly unveiled logos and asks: why are they so dull?

Rebranding is a big deal. Companies choose their logos carefully; a good logo should be instantly recognisable and convey something of a brand’s values or identity, and everything, from the colour scheme to the font used for the company name, will usually have been agonised over at length before a logo goes into use. Changing that logo is making a statement – and the longer a company has been using a particular logo, the bigger deal it is when they change it. It means changing the logo on their website, stationery, and products, for a start; it means making the change publicly enough that everyone knows it’s been changed, and hoping customers recognise the new look.

But although it’s a brave undertaking, several high profile tech brands have changed their logos this year. And we can’t help but notice that they all have something in common: they’re kind of boring. Let’s take a look at three rebrandings in more detail…

eBay

The most recent tech company to change its logo is eBay. The old logo had been around since the company was first set up, in 1995, and it was fairly simple: just the company name, with each letter a different colour and a different size, all slightly overlapping. It was designed by Bill Clearly, of the CKS Group ad agency, and was supposed to convey fun and excitement. The arrangement of the letters apparently was intended to show that eBay welcomed change, when necessary, and that it was a young and dynamic company.

The new logo isn’t a massive departure from the old one. The letters are still the same colours, in the same order – red for the e, blue b, yellow a, and green y – which makes it feel sort of familiar. But now all the letters are the same size, they’re all on the same horizontal line, and rather than overlapping, they’re all just barely touching one another. According to the announcement eBay put out about its new look, this is meant to show that the company has matured – it supposedly reflects the ‘cleaner, more contemporary, and consistent experience’ that the online marketplace offers.

In other words, it’s more grown up. It’s less exuberant. And it’s less fun. Maybe that makes sense for eBay; maybe it wants to show that it’s reliable, that buying through eBay isn’t a haphazard, risk-laden activity. But it also feels like part of a trend.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s old logo is even older than eBay’s – it’s been around for 25 years – so it seems even more significant that it’s being changed. Again, though, on the face of it, it’s not a significant change. The old logo featured a four-colour ‘window’ shape that was sort of wavy, like a flag. The new one features a four-colour window that’s perfectly square. The font used in the old Microsoft logo – the one that leaned forward at a slight angle, with a notch cut out of the o – has also been replaced by the word ‘Microsoft’ in the font Segoe: it’s all 90 degree angles and no nonsense, unremarkable lettering.

In the blog post announcing the new logo, Jeff Hansen, General Manager of Brand Strategy at Microsoft explained that this logo is all about signalling a new beginning, as Microsoft is on the brink of unveiling ‘one of the most significant waves of product launches’ in its history. That wave will include Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, new Xbox services, and a new version of Office, and the branding will be consistent across all of them.

Which is all very well. But the new Microsoft logo, while recognisable enough, is pretty uninspiring. It’s clean, sure, but in a way that suggests it’s been put together by a designer who didn’t have access to the real Microsoft logo or font. It looks like a placeholder.

Twitter

And then there’s Twitter. Twitter hasn’t been around as long as either Microsoft or eBay, and its old logo was only six years old, but back in June, Twitter retired it. In its place was a new little blue bird. The new logo was a slightly darker blue and a slightly simpler shape – all smooth curves, with no cartoony flourishes like the feathers on the top of the old one’s head – and it tilted upwards, like it was taking off, rather than just flying along merrily like the old one. It’s less cutesy.

There was a lot of blather on the Twitter blog about how it was constructed and what it represented but users were less likely to see how ‘a bird in flight is the ultimate representation of freedom, hope, and limitless possibility’ and more likely to see that Twitter had changed their logo to make it look more like it was a serious company.

And rather than picking a standard-looking font to replace their old bubbly one, Twitter went one step further, getting rid of the word ‘Twitter’ from its branding entirely.

Our boring new future

What is this all about? What’s happened to cause three companies in the last few months to decide they needed to pare down their branding? Our best guess is that it’s all about appearing professional but not showy. The economic crisis hasn’t gone away, and people are still feeling the pinch; they won’t want to buy into something frivolous or silly, so branding that looks more straightforward, more grown-up, and even more austere might appeal more to consumers. In the cases of eBay and Microsoft, the updated look might also reassure customers that these aren’t old, outdated businesses – they’re businesses that are looking to the future, seriously. And, unfortunately, kind of boringly.