Why very few companies can pull off a logo redesign like Google’s

Makeover season.
Makeover season.
Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
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September has been the month for logo makeovers. On the first of the month, Google unveiled a major logo change, officially declaring its shift to the sans serif side. On the same day, the Tokyo Olympics announced its decision to scrap its logo, and soon to follow was Verizon’s simplified new mark. Even the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield embraced a new logo.

It may be tempting to consider ditching your company’s dated logo for a snazzier alternative, but before you start sketching ideas on the back of a napkin, a word of warning: Overhauling a logo is not just an aesthetic-driven project. It’s a bold business decision, fraught with a unique set of political and pragmatic challenges that are easy to overlook in excitement of contemplating new fonts, shapes and colors.

A new logo requires a considerable investment in revising both physical items (business cards, IDs, building signage, conference booths, vehicle wraps) and digital assets (websites, templates, e-newsletters, email signatures). It also involves hours spent on creative development, meetings and emails to employees, partners, customers, and various constituents to explain the change.

Google Patch.
Google Patch.
Image: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

When is it actually worthwhile to redesign your logo? And once the time is right, what’s the best way to go about it?

Quartz turned to two experts and got in reply some sobering wisdom. Wally Krantz is the executive creative director of the renowned branding firm Landor, and has helped reshape many top brands, including Visa, LG Electronics, the American Red Cross, and Japan Airlines. He even once worked as a designer on the landmark FedEx identity redesign early in his career. For advice on employee communications, we spoke to Elizabeth Baskin, the CEO and executive creative director of the Atlanta-based internal communications agency, TRIBE.

Condensed and edited, here are some tips from Krantz and Baskin:

Boredom, in itself, is not a reason to change your logo

Wally Krantz: An established company needs a radically new logo as soon as it becomes apparent that the current logo doesn’t function in a way that that the company requires. Here are a few examples: merging with another company, acquiring another company, spinning off a company, introducing new products or services, changing the core offering, expanding into new markets.

Don’t keep your employees in the dark

Elizabeth Baskin: If your company is going through a logo and brand messaging update, the worst mistake you can make is to have your employees be the last to know. Employees are the ones delivering the brand promise; it’s important that their understanding be aligned. Internal communications is critical during a rebranding process—the external brand and internal brand are two sides of the same coin.

A redesign can be more complex and costly than creating an initial logo for a new company

WK: A new logo for a new company or product has its own challenges, but it doesn’t have the past to consider. A new logo doesn’t have to consider the affinity that employees or customers may have for it. Speed of implementation is a massive consideration for companies that have many physical locations and vehicle fleets—think of delivery companies, airlines, cable operators—any company that has more permanent media to change than websites and business cards. Look at FedEx and all the places you see it: every truck, every dropbox, every envelope or box, every aircraft, every storefront.

You don’t always have to start from scratch

WK: First, take a tally of what you have. Unpack the key elements of the logo and visual system to see if there are any real equities to hold onto: colors, typography, iconography. I think that the more notable brand refreshes, Google and Verizon, have pretty much kept those core equities intact, but have recast them to work better in much more complex environments and situations than they were originally created.

Evolving the logo instead of completely reinventing it allows for them to have two different identities living together in the same world for a period of time, without the outlay of a huge capital expenditure.

Do your research, but don’t design by committee

EB: Ideally, you’d start integrating that new brand messaging internally well before you launch it to the marketplace. Even better, involve employees in the development of the new brand through employee focus groups and interviews to help define what the true essence of the brand really is.

WK: The design process is an exercise in looking at possible futures for your company. This necessitates a strong relationship between the strategists and designers with the senior management of the company making the change. Always make sure that you get the right input from the right voices. Do whatever research you need to do. But don’t let it be designed by a committee. Get input, process it. Then make a decision.

A new logo is not always the answer

EB: A logo or visual branding update can boost internal morale by helping employees to feel pride in the brand’s position in the marketplace, but one would hope the visual update is accompanied by communications that help employees see how each one of them plays a role in supporting the success of the brand.

WK: With enough time, money, conviction, and patience, anything could be completely changed. Some you probably wouldn’t though. Coca-Cola doesn’t need to be overhauled. Neither does Apple or BMW. Evolution and refinement will be necessary at some point.

In many cases, that is a process of shedding the things that accumulated along the way and made the brand communications overly complex. Remember that the logo isn’t going to tick all the boxes of your communication objectives. It can’t be disconnected, but it doesn’t have to encapsulate the entire story.