Why Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are leading a digital design revolution

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter are among the digital giants to have recently reworked their brand identities.

  • Bing's old logo

    Bing's old logo

  • Bing's new logo

    Bing's new logo

  • Google's old logo

    Google's old logo

  • Google's new logo

    Google's new logo

  • Yahoo's old logo

    Yahoo's old logo

  • Yahoo's new logo

    Yahoo's new logo

  • YouTube's old logo

    YouTube's old logo

  • YouTube's new logo

    YouTube's new logo

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For a sector that has hitherto demonstrated a static approach to its logo design, this surge in activity begs the questions: why bother, and why now?

"A brand's identity is the most powerful, defining and fundamental statement it can make," says Jonathan Ford, founding partner and chief creative officer at design agency Pearlfisher.

"As a very influential group, digital brands are realising that they can't sit still and that they need to creatively evolve to secure a complete and future-facing connection with their consumers."

This month (September) alone, Yahoo, Bing and Google unveiled new-look corporate identities.

For a sector that has hitherto demonstrated a static approach to its logo design, this surge in activity begs the questions: why bother, and why now?

Google of course is no stranger to tweaking its visual identity, via its Doodles, which have seen it change the logo on its homepage more than 1,000 times since 1998, to mark the anniversaries of the likes of famous artists, pioneers and scientists.

Recent examples include the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, which saw Google spelled out in the iconic coloured lines of London’s Tube map.

More recently Google made a more permanent change, retouching its brand ID, throwing out the 3D effect used on the letters of its name and introducing a flatter and cleaner version.

Elsewhere, Microsoft’s Bing unveiled a visual identity overhaul, swapping its old lettering to use a customised version of Microsoft’s Segoe corporate font as part of plans to reposition the company as more than just a search engine.

"More than in other areas, digital is a ‘live’ medium and arguably the most youth-focused," says Silas Amos, creative director at JKR. "As such it pays to stay on-trend as well as on-brand."

Design possibilities

There can be more fundamental reasons for changing a logo design. Yahoo ditched its 18-year-old logo with a new-look brand, marking the climax of a month that saw 30 different design possibilities go live each day.

The redesign was part of an overhaul of the brand under chief executive Marissa Mayer.

"Yahoo wants to be reappraised and to leave the old Yahoo behind," says Kevin Johnson, Seymourpowell’s creative director. "They don’t have a physical product on the market so they have to have something that shows the company is different from before."

Companies that were wet behind the ears, the start-ups, are now maturing and demanding better design.

But design experts are quick to point out that there are pitfalls on the path from fledgling, ingenuous brand to sophisticated player.

"There are some brands in people’s consciousness, so you’ve got to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater," says Johnson.

"eBay is a good example of a brand logo that’s thrown away part of what made it special. It’s kept the same colours, but it’s lost its distinctive shape."

Until recently, online brands had favoured simpler branding, notes Pearlfisher’s Ford: "There seems to have been a recent default setting for neutral identities and logo design - probably inspired by the single-mindedness of the Apple brand identity aesthetic -  and creating a host of brands that all look the same."

But the medium’s evolution will be mirrored by a change in that aesthetic, insist designers. "A celebration of originality and personal style statements should be as true for digital brand design as it is for fashion retail and indeed packaged brands," Ford says.

Better design

His point is echoed by JKR’s Amos. "Companies that were wet behind the ears, the start-ups, are now maturing and demanding better design," he says.

"At a more exciting level, digital brands are operating in a relatively new medium and are just beginning to create the rules of the road for themselves. Why wouldn’t they want to keep things fresh?"

As digital brands become bigger and more sophisticated, many of them will no longer solely exist in the virtual realm. Google is a case in point, with its brand appearing on physical products such as the Chromebook laptop.

"I think the two worlds are converging more and more," says Johnson. "It’s not new what digital brands are going through. You see it in retail brands when you look down the high street. It’s a busy environment and certain shops stick out. The high street is no different from web browsers."

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