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Flat Design Sucks

22nd Apr 2014 Posted under: General

Before we begin, lets be clear that Flat Design has done great things for layout. I am all for moving away from techy skeuomorphism and over-complicated glossy interfaces that detract from the user experience. This post is simply looking at the dreadful effect this mere trend has had on Branding and Identity. Iconic, memorable brands left desolate and in ruin thanks to ill-considered shortcomings.

This overdue trend has finally brought some brands into the 21st century so lets start with a more positive example of what Flat Design has done to a franchise. There's plenty of fantastic and actually good examples. The one I like the most amongst a bad bunch is the updated American Airlines logo. A lot of people don't really get it when they see it on-screen but when you see it in context, on an aircraft, it has much more impact. Still not perfect but there's connotations of an eagle in there and Americans love that kind of gimmicky rubbish. I may also be a tad biased as I was there for the rather impressive launch site which had a really cool countdown. With that in mind, should a logo need a fancy website to explain itself?

American Airlines New Wing-style Logo

No. A logo should hold its own, be memorable for the right reasons and not rely on context to imply its purpose or meaning. It also shouldn't be limited to a specific campaign. Which I feel the next logo is all about. It might have looked great being pitched in a design document for one campaign but I feel this truly restricts any future usage or lifespan of this identity. When you rebrand your company you need to think about much more than just the short term. Future changes can alienate your current user base and confuse them. If Meo stick with this direction, it will be nice to see where they can take this logo in future but that will be defying the very point of creating it in the first place; having to rely on rebuilding it.

Meo Logo revamp

From there, it's all downhill. DIY tools company Black & Decker ditched their iconic hexagon, which they'd carried for almost a century, in favour of something to appeal to housewives. Something approachable, which feels like a childs toy. Also the physical new products look suspiciously like Chinese knock offs of certain other power tools. Living up to their cheap and cheerful plastic reputation? Perhaps this one was deliberate once Black & Decker realised they could never play with the big boys. Such a shame they didn't keep that hexagon in some way as it had a certain DIY aesthetic, which felt like a bolt and had some relevance. Now this company is just going to get lost among a sea of other domestic products. Twenty years from now they will be producing nothing more than bath toys and air fresheners.

Black & Decker Logo-Nogo

To follow, a logo which stirred up controversy and resulted in many articles on the web solely about this. I don't really need to expand on this as you can find a plethora of articles that will say it better. Featured here as it's testament to what happens when you throw too much money at a project and leave the wrong person in charge of overseeing that project. The saddest part was that they trialed thirty other designs; nearly all of which were a better option than the one they settled on. It is a shame as this brand seemed so lively and full of promise when I first saw them circa 1995.

Yahoo! Or not

Another giant leap backwards, if we refer to what I said about full colour displays and high density screens. Perhaps I'm just stuck in yesterday but I liked logos from the 90s which had a colourful, purposeful boldness about them. They dared to be in your face and took advantage of what we'd learnt from past generations and eras. So I don't know why TODAY has merged all it's colours together and chose a Wi-fi signal icon as their main identity. The typography is a nice refresh though.

Todays Logo, Yesterdays Treatment

Next up is just painful. I see almost no reason to change in the first place. The typeface needed work but why change to something so dull and lifeless. Getting rid of those beautiful passionate colours and any remote form of character, all to make way for something that feels like a research laboratory or dental lab signage? Ridiculous from the offset. They could have at least kept the energy of that wonderful symbol and maybe just simplified it somehow. To make matters worse, further images from the released campaign and videos were riddled with spelling mistakes. I feel this was another campaign-dependant project, sold by a clever marketing company.

Opera Australia Identity null and void of any personality

Whilst in the process of writing this article I had this little gem revealed to me. Netflix has been using this on their youtube channel recently. It's okay. As a logo, it's alright. As a Netflix logo though, it is not a great solution. The super thin lettering has been ditched for what feels like word art. I liked the old one; super condensed lettering that reminds me of movie reels for some reason. The shadows and contrast all capture what Netflix is about for me. Sure, we can still apply the shadows and colouring as before but the simple fact is: they are not doing this. They are using solid red text and a normal blurred drop shadow. The old effects would look strange on that wider text too. I'm just not very keen on this at all. What really bugs me is the textured the background; this flat trend is supposed to be moving away from skeuomorphic and faux realism, so why are we still relying on "just put in a nice texture". A nice texture to detract from a weak subject and bad design. The only difference now is that the textures are high resolution. Even just ditching the boring shadow and texture would make this a better logo. Hopefully they wont be switching their whole brand over to this new logo.

New Netflix Logo

Are they even trying? There was a short window where it was cool and beneficial to break out from skeuomorphic, over-thought out designs. When your striking sign or packaging would stand out amongst the rest. Now though, you just get lost among a sea of other geometric shapes and strong solid colour. So for two companies with this much money and design knowledge between them... Makes me question whether they just let a family member or close friend make it for them because he needed something for his portfolio. This is truly pathetic. The letters don't even share a common baseline. The least graceful and most unharmonious attempt at a logo I've seen. Shame on these two companies.

Fiat Chrysler Auto Logo, assumably produced by a 12 year old

Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope. Finally, we have the most sensible concept. A popular UK book store changed their logo, to bring it "up to date" in 2010. Thankfully they realised how awful it looked and went back to the old one, simply removing the apostrophe. A sign of the times, appealing to the digital audience they were trying include with the initial rebrand. I'd like to say common sense prevailed but I imagine it was due to complaints and confusion more than anything. I remember seeing it and wondering whether it was the same Waterstone's. It was around the time lots of companies were being bought out and I honestly assumed that's what had happened.

Waterstones logo sensibility

Put simply: This is what happens when you let web designers take care of your identity. They fuck it up. Give you something that will inevitably need replacing and minor tweaks as the years progress because that is exactly how the web design industry operates. Bad practice for your identity and proof that Brand specialists exist for a reason. You might think you're saving money in the short term, getting an all-in-one website, logo and stationary singing dancing combo package but are you really saving money if you have to redesign and tweak it 3 times a decade? If you're creating something that has no relevance to your product? Something that is probably a rip-off of an existing logo, or re-used and overdone? Worse still, if you're an existing brand ditching everything memorable about your identity? Alienating your current market because your new logo is "optimised for screen display"? Is your cheap redesign worth voiding your identity of any personality whatsoever? If a web design company refuses to use your logo for some reason, are they really the best choice in the first place? Just think about it and take your next design quote seriously.