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The Yahoo logo redesign or the perception of design

So much has already been said about the quality of the new Yahoo logo. It’s bad. Really bad. In fact there are some seriously in depth articles and posts all over the world discussing the typeface and the pro’s and cons of the new logo. In most cases I think these articles took longer to write than the actual design of the logo. One of these articles (well written) is by Oliver Reichenstein of iA is probably the best I have read on the matter.

Let’s start this post with the CMO’s own words:

“We wanted a logo that stayed true to our roots (whimsical, purple, with an exclamation point) yet embraced the evolution of our products.” – By Kathy Savitt, Chief Marketing Officer

(I imagine the whimsy they mention is the bevel edge. Very whimsical!)



From a design and typography perspective the new yahoo logo looks like it was designed by a freshman designer who just discovered the bevel filter. The new logo is not well executed or thought out and in my humble opinion it won’t be long until it changes again. Quietly next time.

But this post is not about the design of the logo.

The new Yahoo logo development process is indicative of a much larger problem in business. The problem is the perception of design and it’s role in business.

Marissa Mayer states “On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator.  I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made.  I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)”

It was this statement that made me cringe. Marissa indeed knows enough to be dangerous – but not in a good way.

Marissa Mayer then goes on “So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma.  We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish, and we had a ton of fun weighing every minute detail.”

I am completely speculating, but my experience tells me Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and their intern Max Ma collectively would rather be as far away from this re-design as possible. When the new CEO informs you she is going to help you with the design of the logo over a weekend, I imagine the eye rolling behind her back was quite a thing to behold. Through a tight grin they said “that sound great Marissa!” and thought to themselves “oh s@#$ this will be a train wreck.”

Don’t misunderstand, this is not a personal attack at Marissa Mayer. The type of  ‘hands on’ approach exhibited by Mrs. Mayer occurs across all industries, all levels of management and all around the world. Over the aforementioned weekend the team may well have had a ton of fun, but did they solve the problem? Did they build a sound identity upon which to build the new Yahoo?

The reasons for a CEO to believe they can assist directly in the actual design are many. Ranging from the person’s experience with previous designers,  previous projects, reading about Steve Jobs or simply being a control freak. In this case however I believe Ms. Mayer did not trust her designers to do their job. She truly believed she held the vision and either could not articulate the vision or could not let go to allow the designers to convert that vision into a graphical representation that could anchor the Yahoo brand. Setting the tone for the changes she wants to make for the company.

Mrs. Mayer’s public logo re-design highlights some other important problems in the graphic design community to the surface. The lack of trust and understanding of a designer’s role and the failure of an open dialogue between the designer and the client.

Let’s look at each of these problems.

Lack of Trust (I’m going to roll up my sleeve’s and help you out!)

There is no quality regulation within the graphic design community. To call yourself a graphic designer you do not need to pass a bar or be approved by a board. Anyone can actually call themselves a graphic designer and begin to charge for design services. As a result there are many inexperienced people practicing design who have no business doing so. They create sub par work and leave a wake of distrust in their path. After an experience working with these designers a client’s trust will diminish and over time become non existent.

During the process of working with this type of designer the client will then revert to a start up mode of thought, “If this designer can’t get this done I will do it myself” they think to themselves. The client will then begin to direct and micro manage the designer, and the designer will become deflated and agree to anything the client tells them. “Move that here,” “change that color,” “add more content to homepage.” The resulting design will look like an amateur did it, and in Yahoo’s case that’s just what happened.

The problem here is shared between client and designer. Without an open discourse the foundation of trust can not begin. The client will then move from designer to designer without understanding what went wrong with the previous designer and simply hoping that they will find a more talented designer. Each time with a little less trust in the abilities of the designer.

The solution is for client’s to begin asking different types of questions and engaging with designers on a different level. Asking a designer to make something look pretty is very subjective and can have a variety of outcomes. Making things pretty is what a designer does, right?

Design is only partially about aesthetics.

Asking a designer to help your web traffic increase by 20% is a tangible problem to solve. The designer can then use their skills of problem solving which they visualize using design techniques. If you ask these questions and the designer can not provide a discourse on how they will help you achieve your goals find another designer who can help you.

Start asking the right questions! Let the designer know what you are trying to achieve. At first it may seem weird to discuss business strategy with a designer, but the more a designer knows about you and your business the more they can use their skills to solve your problems.

Open a dialogue (I know enough to be dangerous)

Most design schools train students to design through a series of incremental classes. They train the students to use tools to create layouts, manipulate imagery and at some level, they teach them how to conceptualize design solutions. Sadly, much of the design training students receive today is directed at how to use computer programs like Adobe Illustrator. This is akin to teaching a writer to use a pen. Of course the design ability of each student is a factor and will vary greatly based upon innate talent and hard work of that student, but only a few design schools across the world instruct their students on how to discuss their concepts, solutions and executions thus creating designers with analytical design skills. These schools arm their students with the ability to think and solve problems using the principles of design. This type of training allows the designer to discuss their work with clients and reach deeper customized visual solutions for every project.

There are many different types of designers out there, and I know I am generalizing, but the problem here lies squarely on the designer. Specifically, certain types of designers. Some designers are very talented but are unable to talk about their work. Some designers have ego’s that are so ridiculous it causes them to miss opportunities with their heads in the clouds. Some designer’s get their feelings hurt and react with negativity and withdraw.

The solution is to arm the designer with plenty of information up front to enable them to use their analytical skills to find visual solutions that you may not be thinking of. Not simply “let’s spend a weekend and create a logo!” The designer should challenge the problem, and you, in a way that makes the project better. If the designer you are working with does not have the analytical skills, it’s time to find a designer that does.

How do you do I find analytical designers? I hear you asking already.

At this point the problem lies with you, the client. First, look at the designer’s work and open the dialogue. Review a designer’s portfolio and ask how the piece helped solve the problem it was designed for- this is critical to understanding how the designer thinks. Listen to the designer describe the problem, articulate the solutions and describe how they ended up with that particular solution. Every project has a story to tell.

Each designer’s work is subjective, and one designer’s solution may not work for you aesthetically (design is part creativity after all) but finding out how the designer thinks and problem solves is not subjective. Hire designers that solve problems and your business will see the benefit immediately.

I truly have no factual information on the events that led to the final Yahoo logo or the weekend of fun. Marissa Mayer may or may not have trusted the designers to solve her problem. Only she can answer that question. But the final Yahoo logo solution exhibits all of the problems that exist between executives and designers.

In the end, it’s Yahoo that suffers. Not because they have a poorly designed logo (many companies have poorly designed logos and still achieve success) but because with some trust and dialogue the Yahoo logo could have provided a solid base for the companies future brand.

By Brett Yancy Collins