The backlash to Instagram’s logo change demonstrated, everybody has an opinion about design.
This has been demonstrated time and time again – logos in particular evoke strong opinions from the general public. In 2010, Gap reverted back to their old logo after public outcry, the London 2012 Olympic Games logo was the subject of ridicule, and more recently, Channel 4’s deconstructed rebrand has been labelled bizarre by critics.
But why does everybody have an opinion about design? Well, it’s all about how we interact with and understand designed products.
Tech and social media have changed the way we interact with designed products
Design is no longer restricted to shop signs and print media. Design is now a fundamental part of our lives – especially our social lives. The websites that people visit every day are their main modes of communication. In this way, they’ve become immensely personal spaces, and the way they look is just as important. If your favourite café to meet up with friends suddenly underwent a dramatic refurbishment, it’s likely that you would have a strong opinion – whether positive or negative – on its new look. Rebrands and updates to user interfaces are essentially redesigns of a space that you share with friends.
Technology plays a similar role. Of course, it’s the place where all our social media accounts reside. In particular, the intimacy of the smart phone plays a significant role. Not only do we carry them around with us everywhere we go, but the nature of the smartphone requires us to actually touch and interact with design with our hands. Although you’re really only touching the screen, this physical interaction creates an illusion of tangibility. We tend to think of the app logos on our phones as doors into the digital world that we open with our hands, the same way you would a real door.
This sense of tangibility creates a familiarity between users and design, similar to the feeling you get when you handle a familiar printed design. For example, picking up a Penguin classic book, with their iconic designs, is likely to evoke certain feelings and associations. Graphic design is no different. So when Instagram’s logo, which thousands of users interact with physically every day, underwent a dramatic change, the associations people identified with the old logo ‘vanished’ along with it.
This leads us to our next point…
Logos represent everything we understand about a brand or product
Logos are an important part of marketing because they’re the main vehicle of expressing brand identity to the public.
While good branding alone doesn’t make a successful business – customers will always judge on the quality of their products and services – logos are essential in putting across key messages. From a business perspective, having a logo is important because not only will it elicit immediate associations with your business in the mind of the audience, but hopefully evoke your company’s values and the quality of your service.
However, design is a two-way street, and it’s important to understand that viewers will always imbue their own meanings onto visuals. In this sense, logos can be quite emotive, and that’s why they often give rise to strong opinions. The 2012 London Olympics logo, for example, was criticised a lot for its dissonant structure. While the creators maintain that this was a very conscious decision – they wanted to capture the heterogeneous, evolving, and urban nature of the city – it simply didn’t reflect the values the audience expected to project onto it.
Logos are the ‘face’ of a brand, and in that sense, they’re supposed to represent everything an audience feels and understands about a business. When these things change, or don’t match up, it’s likely to cause repercussions. Likewise, when a rebrand hits the mark, it’s likely to receive praise. This is why many people have an opinion about design, but also why design is a precise craft, and crucial to business success.
In some ways, everyone is a ‘designer’ – we arrange and design the world around us, how we interact with it, and naturally form opinions about designed products. The difference between a professional designer and everyone who has an opinion about design is that a professional designer’s opinion is usually more actionable. However, it’s important that everybody has an opinion, because a professional designer knows to listen to opinion, and knows how to use it effectively.
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