In case you missed the 9,000 or so listings on Google, here’s the story: On October 6, Gap unceremoniously unveiled a new logo on its website, jettisoning the familiar “white Gap in a blue box” logo it had been using for the past 20+ years. The outrage on the social media was immediate and almost universally negative. Among the thousands of comments posted online, some of the less terrible remarks were that the design was banal and probably done using Power Point – it got worse from there. One week later, Gap announced that it was yanking the new logo and returning to its old one because it realized the “passion” that consumers felt toward the old brand. This in itself seemed strange since most rebranding programs are months in the making, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to execute, and involve dozens of corporate managers, departments and outside suppliers. What made Gap cave in to public pressure in less than seven days, rather than consider that the “shock of the new” always causes some discomfort? Why not wait to see if the furor dies down in a few weeks or months?
This quick reversal has caused some people to charge that the whole thing was planned as a cynical publicity stunt, with the ultimate goal of crowd outsourcing the new logo. Gap’s Facebook page this week even went so far as to state, “we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so that we’re asking you to share your design… We love our version, but would like to see… other ideas.”
Anyone who has ever worked on an identity program has lots of questions. Like how was this allowed to happen? What was the original design brief? How many other design options were presented? And why was this one chosen? Was the new logo tested in focus groups? Why do a soft launch on the Gap website, rather than the more typical global announcement with press releases and media fanfare? If Gap management was so uncommitted to the redesign that they were willing to pull it in a week, why did they put it out there in the first place?
My own theory is that the corporate choice and perhaps the entire design process were over-intellectualized, analyzed point by point and never viewed as a whole. My guess is that the design brief said, “We are refreshing our brand merchandise and need a new identity that reflects that change. It should be contemporary, honors the brand heritage, forward-looking and easy for merchants and suppliers to reproduce worldwide – i.e., no custom typeface.” Disassembled that way, it could be argued that the new logo hit the key objectives – quasi-contemporary sans serif type, Gap blue box (the heritage) stepping up and out. Helvetica — a font choice available on any computer. Contemporary? Check. Heritage? Check. Easily reproducible? Check. What wasn’t taken into account was the emotional response. Did anyone step back and consider the logo from a purely visceral standpoint and argue that it was not unique, distinctive or memorable? It seems not.