Be Like Google: The Magic of Kerning

Last week, a brave Reddit thread uncovered a shocking discovery. Google had secretly redesigned their logo, probably in the dark of night. The following GIF (via Gizmodo) reveals the radical transformation:

pixel-google

Using an incredible and never-before-seen technique known as “kerning” (if you recall, Kerning was the bad guy in the original Highlander – this may or may not be important later), Google has transformed their brand and catapulted it into the 21st century.

Naturally, it occurred to me – why not use this kerning to benefit other brands? Unlike the Highlander, there can be more than one.

International Kerning Machines

If anyone needs an overhaul, it’s Big Blue – IBM’s logo has remained mostly untouched for decades. Let’s put kerning to work:

pixel-ibm

Wow, my head is spinning. Give me a minute while I grab my heart medication. I think we can see why this magical power of kerning has been kept away from the public.

When It Absolutely Has to Be Kerned

Whenever some designer wants to sound important, they trot out the FedEx logo and talk about “negative space” and a bunch of other made-up-sounding stuff. Let’s get our kern on with FedEx:

pixel-fedex

Finally, the ‘E’ can breathe, and we’re no longer shackled by some bourgeois interpretation of what an arrow is supposed to look like. Especially when it’s an arrow in “negative space,” which, by definition, doesn’t exist.

Life Happens Over Kerning

Who says kerning has to be restricted to letters? Not me, because I barely know what “kerning” actually means. Let’s stop playing by their rules, whoever they are. Dr. Frankenstein didn’t play by their rules, and that turned out fi… ok, maybe not actually “fine,” but he did get a movie deal out of it, so that’s cool.

Anyway, let’s see what kerning does to Starbucks recent redesign:

pixel-starbucks

I’m sorry – it’s clear to me now that the world was not ready for this. If you have small children in the room with you, I sincerely apologize. As Dr. Frankenstein probably said after he awakened his monster, “Dammit, Igor, where did you put my coffee!” Let us hope future generations learn from this terrible mistake.

The Confidence Cycle

I recently had a minimalist revelation – I was thinking about all of the advice floating around about success, and I realized I could distill a lot of it into just one diagram, thoughtfully saving you a few bucks on self-help books. I call it “The Confidence Cycle”:

confidence

Put simply, confidence drives action, action (eventually) leads to success, and success creates confidence. This is a virtuous cycle, or what some people simply call “momentum.”

Sounds easy, right? Of course, we all know that there’s a gaping chasm between bumper-sticker wisdom and actually achieving momentum in our lives. Maybe if we could just jump into the cycle after some other hamster had already put the wheel in motion, life would be easier, but each of us is the hamster of our own lives. Ok, that’s probably not going to catch on.

Fortunately, my revelation had a part two, and not like a Ghostbusters 2 part two, but a serious Empire Strikes Back kind of sequel. I realized that we can jump into this cycle at any point, and each point corresponds to a popular piece of motivational advice.

I. Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Pardon a whole mess of clichés, but confidence really is a state of mind. You can’t really fake taking action or being successful, but you can act as if you were confident…

confidence-1

I know a lot of people bristle at this advice, and I’ve struggled with it, too, because it just sounds fake (seriously, “fake it” is right in the advice). Why should I pretend to be something that I’m not?

I suspect that this advice is just badly worded. What if you simply imagined confidence? What does it feel like? How would it frame your perceptions of your current situation? How might you do things differently if you were confident? Think of a person who you believe is confident – what would they do in your situation?

II. Just Do It!

I sincerely regret going all Nike on you, but there really is no better way to put this advice – sometimes, the best thing you can do is to take action, even if you’re not really feeling it…

confidence-2

Sooner or later, if you do enough, something is going to work. Here’s the undeniable truth, and something I try to pound into my own head daily: if you act, you might fail, but if you don’t act, you’ll never succeed. Whatever your probability of failure, inaction has a roughly 0% success rate.

I know where your head’s spinning, because I’ve set this trap for myself many times – what about the risks? Failure isn’t free, and we humans can be a risk-averse bunch.  It’s a fair question.

Back in college, I got to hear Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the fathers of positive psychology, speak. In his keynote, Seligman admitted that he was, at heart, a pessimist. As someone who has studied and promoted optimism for years, Seligman’s confession really got my attention, and his advice stuck with me.

Essentially, he said this: be risk-averse when the risks are real and high. If you’re going to jump off a cliff with homemade wings or buy a house with 0% down the day before your boss wants to “have a word with you,” then maybe you should think twice.

The rest of the time, though – and, realistically, the rest of the time is most of life – be an optimist. Many of our risks are imagined. The core problem is that the fear we feel, the fundamental fight-or-flight response, is the same whether we’re about to speak in front of an audience or are being chased by a hungry bear. We have it in our power to rationally know the difference, but that’s a choice we all have to make. The fear is real, but its power isn’t.

III. Celebrate Your Victories

So, how you do you jump straight to success? It’s not quite as easy as that, but there are two practices we can cultivate: (1) visualize success, and (2) celebrate your successes…

 confidence-3

I’ve always struggled with the first one – even though there are reams of research about how picturing success in your mind can help you actually succeed, I’m just not very good at it. So, I try to focus on the second one.

Success isn’t just an objective state – a lot of it is about perception. Take the time to stop and recognize your own victories – willfully frame them as successes, and stop putting yourself down for a moment. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to move the wheel.

And Will You Succeed?

To quote the late, great Dr. Seuss: “Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” Yeah, maybe the good doctor was a bit optimistic with that number. Failure is inevitable. It seems like we’re obsessed with it lately – either failure is “not an option” or we have to embrace it to the point of madness.

I try to be more pragmatic. Failure is a setback, but it rarely comes without some form of lesson. Action almost always requires growth, regardless of the outcome. Action also leads to discovery, and sometimes you find the right path by ruling out all of the wrong ones. If that requires failure, and failure isn’t deadly, then I guess failure is the price of admission.

Guess What? Jeans, That’s What!

Since 1981, Guess Jeans has been challenging us to guess something, presumably related to jeans. As someone old enough to remember 1981, I can tell you that having the Guess logo emblazoned on you was terribly important. I just don’t recall why, exactly. Like I said, I’m old. Cut me some slack.

Guess’ current logo is just about the opposite of minimalism:

guess-logo

It was a nice enough patch on a denim jacket in the 80s, but it’s all a bit busy for 2014. It’s time to get minimal on Guess Jeans.

Not Enough Guessing!

Beyond the Illuminati aspect (what is the mysterious triangle of 1201/1203, and what happened to 1202?), there’s just not enough actual guessing in the Guess logo. They’re Guess, and they sell washed jeans (unlike those dirty, dirty pants their competitors try to pawn off on us).

So, let’s strip this down a bit to a couple of key components – the name and the iconic question mark:

guess-v1

Any time I can create something new by copying-and-pasting, it feels like cheating. Let’s dig into our font drawer and update the look a bit:

guess-v2

You may be thinking “Why are these fonts better than the original ones?” to which I’d have to reply “Why don’t get your own damned blog?!” Ok, I guess I wouldn’t reply, because you were just thinking it, and I don’t read minds. OR DO I?

I’ve intentionally dropped the triangle on the question mark, because it’s super-dumb. I could back this up with dozens of academic papers, except that my cat ate them.

It’s Still Too Obvious

Except for the handful of people who might get confused because this kind of spells out “Gus” (Who is this mysterious Gus, and why are his jeans so clean?), it still feels a bit too obvious. If we marketers hate anything, it’s clear messaging about our products. Let’s go all the way…

guess-v3

Ooh… mysterious. This logo is great for the kids, too, because now they can play hangman with it. Remember that wholesome family game where you learned to spell by pretending to reverse-dismember and then execute an innocent stick-man? Good times.

Bonus Illuminati Edition

This whole 1201/1203 thing is still really bothering me – not enough to actually look it up, but hey, I’m a busy person. If you need your mysteries shrouded in secrets and cloaked in controversy, then here’s a version just for you:

guess-v4

It’s now officially silly. You’re welcome, Guess Jeans – if that is your real name.

JC Superstar: JCP Reimagined

Back in 2012, JCPenney’s (former) CEO made a dramatic shift toward rebranding the company as “jcp” and took a bold step toward minimalism on behalf of God-fearing Americans everywhere:

jcp-logo

This same CEO had crazy ideas like “Maybe we should just stick to one price and not pretend to have sales every week,” an insanity that was clearly doomed to fail. When he left, the Powers That Be decided this new design went too far and scrapped it for something more familiar:

jcp-logo2

Today, I’d like to consider a radical idea. What if JCPenney’s move toward patriotic minimalism didn’t go too far enough? It’s time to take this highway to the danger zone.

Nothing Costs a Penney!

My core problem with the un-rebranding is that the original move to “jcp” just makes sense. I’ve been to the store, and literally nothing costs a penny. Now, you may be thinking: “Wait, isn’t Penney some guy’s last name?” I understand your confusion, so let’s review the facts.

You have to remember that JCPenney was founded during the gold rush to sell comfortable-but-durable St. John’s Bay® polo shirts to miners. In those old-timey days, they added e’s to everything. Old was “olde”, a penny was a “penney”, and the letter Y was spelled “ye”, as in “ye olde penney” (which literally translates to “Why, old penny?”). When the Great Depression arrived and the cost of vowels skyrocketed, this spelling convention fell into disuse.

Here’s my question – why include the “p” at all? It’s time to take this all the way and just be “jc”. It doesn’t hurt that a certain deity’s only child conveniently shares those initials. Look, I’m not saying that Jesus actually shops at JCPenney, but if people choose to believe that, who are we to argue?

Un-un-reimagining JC

Maybe the whole American flag part is a little too obvious. Plus, that big white space in the middle just doesn’t work for me. Let’s weave our national pride into the brand a bit more subtlely. How about we abstract it a touch more:

jcp-v1

Remember when I said the original rebrand didn’t go far enough, and then I went and did the opposite? You do, because it was like 15 seconds ago? Crap. It’s a bit uninspired, so let’s get a little more America in there:

jcp-v2

That’s better, but the squares just aren’t working for me. Plus, if I end this post now, what will become of my legacy?

Aye Aye, Captain!

Let’s lose the rectangular flag notion altogether and take this to its natural conclusion. First, we’ll convert it to concentric circles:

jcp-v3

I think any fan of the Marvel Universe can see where this is going…

jcp-v4

I can almost taste the marketing crossovers – Thor: The Dark Khakis, Cast Iron Man Cookware, Nick Fury 800-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Ok, I kind of ran out of steam on that last one.

You’re welcome, JC. Just remember: with great logos comes great responsibility.

BP: Blatant Parody

It’s easy to poke fun at someone else’s minimalist rebrand gone wrong, so I thought it would be a good time to go after a brand that hasn’t made the leap yet. Today’s subject is BP (formerly known as British Petroleum, but we’ll get to that):

bp-logo

The problem here is obvious – do you know how long it takes BP’s team of designers to draw this over and over, even with a decent Spirograph? That’s not to mention the fact that they’re always running out of Solar-Sucks Yellow and Deforestation Green crayons. You can only get those in the 64-pack, so they’re constantly having to throw out all the other colors. If there’s one thing BP is against, it’s pollution, so this just won’t do. 

What Is A BP?

Let’s start with what BP isn’t – it’s not in any way British or connected to petroleum. Much as KFC changed its name to remind us that they’re not from Kentucky, don’t fry anything, and their product is in no way made from actual chicken, BP wants it to be clear that they are emphatically neither from England nor involved with oil.

BP’s logo reminds us that they love the earth and the sun and really just anything green is super-great. Their logo is known as the Helios, named after the Greek god of inhaling balloons and talking like Alvin and The Chipmunks.

Fire The Minimalizer!

So, let’s strip it down – they’re BP and they’re green:

bp-v1

Ok, no one’s going to cut me a check for that design. Plus, why is “bp” always floating out in space? Sure, when the earth is no longer habitable, they’ll have to move their corporate headquarters to a space station, but let’s not remind people of that. Let’s keep it terrestrial:

  bp-v2

Can you spot the problem (no, not “It sucks!” – no, you shut up!)?  Looking at the globe as a Western-hemispherer, what do we associate with the upper-right corner? That’s right, Great Britain (note: map is not to scale, nor to sanity):

bp-v3

If we’ve learned one thing today, it’s that BP is totally not British. Let’s avoid any geopolitical favoritism and just get back to basics:

  bp-v4

BP: Boring, Pete!

Yeah, maybe that’s a little too basic. It needs a little pizzazz. How about a tree?

bp-v5 

I’m torn… on the one hand, maybe this is carrying the whole green thing too far. On the other hand, I can’t help but think my tree looks a bit too much like this:

 bp-v6

I’m gonna go out on a limb (no pun intended) and say that nuclear annihilation is probably not a positive brand image.

PB: Prehistoric, Baby!

Maybe BP has just taken their self-denial too far. You know what’s cool about oil? It’s made from dinosaurs. It’s time to go prehistoric on your own asses, BP:

 bp-v7

You may be thinking: “Is that actually minimalist?” to which I would have to retort “STEGOSAURUS!” I think you can see that you’re on the wrong side of this argument.

Let’s try it with a bit more minimalism. You know what those stegosaurus spikes remind me of – the Helios design of BP’s current logo. It’s time to cross the streams, Egon…

bp-v8

When I saw this version, my first instinct was to give it a tail and racing stripes. Trusting my instincts has almost never left me bleeding and unconscious on the floor of a cock-fighting arena in Tijuana, so let’s go with that:

 bp-v9

Mesozoic Minimalism – You’re welcome, un-British anything-but-Petroleum.

Mind The Gap: A Re-rebranding

Back in 2010, The Gap broke new ground in minimalist redesigns – their reimagined logo was actually so bad that they ditched it after only a week. Neuroscientists have studied (I’m not kidding) why we hated the new logo, but really, just look at it:

 thegap-logo

Some unsuspecting designer received the following email at 4:50pm on a Friday:

Need new logo for investor meeting. Should be hip and fun. Use one of those web 2.0 fonts (sand sheriffs?). Keep the blue square. Add a gradient – kids love gradients. Have it to me by 5pm!

Counting a minute to absorb the email and 5 minutes of banging her head on the desk, that only left our fearless designer 4 minutes to actually do the work. All things considered, it was a heroic effort.

Sadly, the reality is that this rebrand probably took months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Years later, I still feel bad for them, and I don’t want them to walk away with nothing. So, The Gap, here’s your re-reimagined logo.

What Is “The Gap”?

To really do this project justice (in the 15 minutes I’ve allotted for it), we have to understand what “the gap” refers to. Is this an actual gap or a metaphorical one? Is it the gap between our perception of beauty and our ability to realize that beauty for $49.99 at the mall? Is it the gap between the garish display of wealth in high fashion and the sweatshop working conditions of garment manufacturers? Is it the gap in my teeth, and do I have spinach in it? No, seriously, could you look?

As Freud said, maybe a gap is just a gap. Also, I can’t shake the British voice in my head that’s saying “Mind the gap.” If you’re not aware, this is a beautifully understated English way of saying “For the love of God, try not to fall in the crack between the platform and the train, or you’ll probably be gruesomely disemboweled, and I’ll have to clean that up!”

Minding The Gap

Ok, I looked it up. Apparently, “The Gap” is a reference to the generation gap, but just for fun, let’s make it a literal gap. Let’s also try one of them sand sheriffs:

Redesigned gap logo

Accidental added bonus – it seems to be saying “Gee, an app!” THE KIDS LOVE APPS! While we’re at it, let’s just rename the company. I have to justify my fees somehow:

 thegap-v2

Pure genius, if I do say so myself (which I usually have to, after you jerks leave me hanging).

Gap, Extreme Edition!

Just one thing bothers me – what if people think the gap is a typographical error? Maybe we need to add something to it, like some water:

thegap-v3

I know what you’re thinking – is that water or some kind of rare triple Smurf mustache? You make a compelling argument. It’s just too subtle. Needs more shark:

 thegap-v4

Sorry, I think I may have lost track of the point. I’d like to say that this is an object lesson in the perils of designing by committee, but I really just wanted to draw a shark. In conclusion: You’re welcome, The Gap.

Now With More Fonz!

I’d like to thank Will Stevens (in the comments) for pointing out the obvious flaw in this post – how can you introduce a shark and then not jump it? I apologize for this oversight and humbly present one more design:

thegap-v5

I think we can all sleep easier now. Thanks again, Will!

Unsolicited Yahoo Logo #31

Have you ever finished rebranding your company and thought: “That was so much fun, I wish I could do it 30 times!” That’s what Yahoo did last fall, when they released a new logo every day for a month. They finally landed on one of the most underwhelming redesigns of 2013:

yahoo-logo

Apparently, this was the result of a lot of sciencey planning, but most of us just thought “Inner bevel? Seriously?” In Yahoo’s defense, the new design was based on important considerations, like this one:

Our last move was to tilt the exclamation point by 9 degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy.

I think we can all agree that nothing says “let the good times roll” like a 9° tilt. Like many people, I’ve spent months thinking I could do better. Unlike most people, I don’t have the good sense to ignore that impulse. So, let’s get to work…

Yahoo’s Brand Message

First, I think we have to distill Yahoo’s brand message. If Yahoo could only shout one thing from the rooftop, and if they had just been injected with some kind of truth serum before they climbed up to that roof, I think that message would be:

Guys, we’re still relevant! Guys?

Sorry, Yahoo, but it’s time for some tough love – we’ve kind of forgotten about you. I mean, we know you still exist, but when someone asks “Do you Yahoo?”, that person has mostly likely just stepped out of a DeLorean with Doc Brown.

Version 1 – The Question

So, why not own it? Sure, Yahoo’s had a few rough years, but you know what we loved about them – they knew how to have fun. It’s time to bring the fun back, and the irreverence. Here’s my first attempt:

yahoo-v1

Ya-Who, exactly? You’re too serious, Yahoo. Remember when you were purple and fun? Remember when we would go out and have a few drinks and not have to worry about getting a sitter and paying them $20/hour just to spend the entire evening wondering if they were a serial killer and if it was ok to leave the kids a 5 lb. bag of gummy bears for dinner? Good times.

Version 2 – More Questions

Of course, there’s an even simpler question, and simplicity is the heart of minimalism:

yahoo-v2

Note how the question mark on the right has a 9° rotation, for that critically important added touch of whimsy. I pushed it up to 10° and showed a focus group, and they stripped off their clothes and started doing keg stands, so clearly that was one degree too far.

Your Move, Yahoo.

All of these logos can be yours for the very reasonable price of a year’s supply of tacos or a membership to any artisanal cheese-of-the-month club. Ok, I don’t really expect Yahoo to embrace these designs, but I just needed to get this off of my chest. If you’d like to see other people take a crack at it, check out this design from a Yahoo intern or the contest winner from 99designs.