Trend Watch: The Rise of the “Friendly” Logo

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With all the virtual chit chat about Myspace’s second (third?) coming thanks to a new look and possibly a new logo, we got to thinking about a recent — dare we say disappointing — trend in the big business of branding. Myspace isn’t the only identity grappling with the reality of a brave new iWorld dominated by Facebook and its burgeoning entourage of enterprising social spaces. Everyone from Microsoft to eBay to Domino’s Pizza is feeling the need for a digital era makeover. The ubiquitous look: simple sans serifs in a pared back, “friendly” style. We’re all for simplicity, but why does simple and friendly have to mean flat, boring, and uninspired? Why the pursuit of friendly in a digital world?

Maybe the answer’s an obvious one. After all, every online thesaurus lists friendly as the number one synonym for social, the undisputed buzzword and ultimate objective of every brand on the planet. Click through to check out a handful of logos making headlines today as we take a look at why we think the rise of “friendly” design is more complicated than a simple synonym.

Microsoft

Image credit: Microsoft via Phaidon

There’s been a lot of speculation as to who designed Microsoft’s new logo. Some say it’s design superfirm Pentagram. Others think it might be Microsoft’s in-house creative team. We’d be more forgiving to know that Pentagram didn’t have anything to do with what we think is an amateur attempt at a streamlined, back-to-basics (Apple-fied?) identity.

According to the press release, they’re focused on what they like to call “a Metro design, which includes modest colors, sans serif text, and user interface elements.” Commenting on the evolution, they state that they wanted to get rid of the “bold, aggressive, italicized identity of old. In its place is a far lighter, far more approachable logotype in an inoffensive grey, complete with four colored blocks in orange, green, blue, and yellow.”

Simple and inviting might be the goal, but where’s the personality? It’s smart to take cues from the most iconic brand in the world, but one of the things that landed them there is the unique personification of a friendly fruit that just so happens to share the brand’s name. It’s smart, clever, and charming. Three attributes that — unfortunately — four colored squares don’t share.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 by Paula Scher

Image credit: Microsoft via Branding: Magazine

One of the reasons why there’s been speculation that the internationally recognized design consultancy Pentagram had something to do with Microsoft’s brand new look is Paula Scher’s Windows 8 overhaul. In an attempt to bring Windows back to its roots, the more modern and minimalistic geometric shape eliminates multiple colors and puts the logo in a perspective, serving as a metaphor for Microsoft’s refreshed views on the new operating system.

“I think the waving flag was meant to be a flag in perspective,” says Scher. “All of the clichés of technology design are based on the idea that icons should look dimensional like product design that tech designers call ‘chrome’ — look at the iPhone interface where everything has gradation and drop shadows.”

Perhaps the root of the problem?

USA TODAY

Image credit: USA TODAY via UnderConsideration

A flat circle’s not far from Microsoft’s simplistic squares, but at least the design has legs, and Wolff Olins’ USA TODAY revamp has that in spades.

Apparently redesigned to be as “dynamic as the news itself,” the logo is meant to “change with the news.” As they explain, “It is simple and straight to the point, providing the opportunity for the newsroom to highlight the stories that matter to the nation… Representing the pulse of the nation, the logo will be used as a platform to express USA TODAY’s editorial spirit — fun, bold and impactful.”

Proof that they might actually be on to something, USA TODAY responded to Stephen Colbert mocking the new look with the funny jab above.

eBay

Image credit: eBay via Los Angeles Times

Its first new logo since launching 17 years ago, eBay ditched their signature quirky logotype for a more simple, serious look that’s supposed to reflect a transformation from start-up auction site to multi-billion dollar operation. The new look, by global brand strategy and design firm Lippincott, certainly plays it safe and straight, but is that better? Sacrificing personality for convention seems like a bad move for a multi-billion corporation financed by the wacky whims of a world bidding on My Little Ponies and vintage what-nots. Embrace your consumer’s eccentricity. Don’t dumb it down. You wouldn’t be here without it.

(According to the company, the new logo will go live on the site and appear in advertising and marketing campaigns in mid-October.)

Associated Press

Image credit: Associated Press via Branding: Magazine

Tom Curley, AP president and CEO, said “we have world-class content and world-class products and now we have the world-class look to go with them. This new look, from logo to color system, translates to AP’s growing portfolio of digital products and platforms, and distinctively relays our role as the definitive source for news.”

The perfect example of distilling a perfectly fine logo down to an App-able dimension. Just because it looks good as a Facebook profile pic doesn’t mean it should be your singular identity.

Domino’s Pizza

Image credit: down with design

This might actually be our favorite of the lot, even though it’s not that different from its predecessor. Unlike the most unoriginal of geometric shapes seen above, this is at least a semi-interesting interpretation of their actual product — a pizza, in a box.