What the Gap did wrong

Published on .

So, that didn't go well.

When the Gap unveiled its new logo on October 6, the reaction was swift and unequivocal. And bad. The redesign attracted the kind of mainstream attention and brought down the kind of wrath that, for a marketer, must be horrifying to watch, but at the same time provide some valuable lessons.

Design types, naturally, were quick to weigh in on —and, mainly, condemn—the new logo from New York's Laird and Partners. But the critiquing wasn't restricted to design blog comments, it was a more mass occupation. The response was such that Gap execs responded immediately, asking the public to share its designs, sparking speculation that the whole thing was a front for a crowd sourcing campaign, and even further criticism from designers who decried the idea of spec work being offered up to the retailer for free.

The Gap is the latest marketer to have its re-imagined brand identity become public sport (see also Aol, Tropicana, Pepsi).

So why, exactly, is the new Gap logo bad? If you're a marketer (which typically means that you're not a designer by trade), how do you know that new logo you're paying for isn't going to make the entire world gag?

Here, four well-known designers give their opinions on the logo, and on the Gap's handling of the episode. It seems that the Gap flap transcends mere complaints about overuse of Helvetica.

Armin Vit, designer and co-founder of UnderConsideration and the Brand New site, where the Gap redesign was discussed at length.

The logo has two problems: Its typeface choice and its use of a gradient square. They are big problems because that's what the logo is made of. Choosing Helvetica in 2010 is inexcusable. It's a 63-year-old typeface that is as bland as grilled chicken without salt and pepper; that it was a popular choice in the 1960s and 1970s for corporate identity, spilling into later decades does not make it any more appropriate. It's as if all your friends only ever ate grilled chicken without condiments. Every day. Of every year. Helvetica is so overused that it fails to provide a unique visual identifier for any company that chooses it as its logo. But even if you forget about all of that, why would Gap choose the same typeface as one of its main competitors, American Apparel, who use Helvetica for its hipster irony and expressionless detachment similar to that of its models. To stand apart, and move into the twenty-first century convincingly Gap should have chosen something less generic and with a tad more personality. The square gradient is unfortunate because it's completely gratuitous, like an asterisk at the end of a word, except there is no footnote. Or, in other words, there is no there there. Just a vapid reminder that the word Gap used to live within a blue square in its previous incarnation.

It is quite baffling to see this result. Gap isn't at the frontier of fashion and its clothes are modest and safe. Consistently well made and easy to wear. It's affordable sophistication. Their previous logo and advertising campaigns have always shared those qualities. Nothing too fancy but nothing to be embarrassed about either. The new logo is completely embarrassing and it's hard to understand how client and design firm arrived at this decision. I can hypothesize, but it's useless as there are many roads that lead to a burning Rome, which is what we are seeing here. I expected more from Gap.

David Airey, author of "Logo Design Love: A Guide To Creating Iconic Brand Identities" and a Northern Ireland-based brand identity designer.

What I dislike about the story coming from Gap is how it seems that they're expecting their target audience to create design ideas for free. The whole idea of spec work shows a complete lack of respect from Gap, as well as doing the potential design outcome a huge disservice. Designers should always be fairly compensated for their skills.

Joe Marianek , senior designer at Pentagram, adjunct faculty at the School of Visual Arts, co-president AIGA Rhode Island board

"I'm not going to comment on specific aspects of the dialogue. But we're thrilled about the energy and passion that customers have shown. We want to collaborate with them."Bill Chandler, vice president of corporate communications on Co.

"From this online dialogue, it's clear that Gap still has a close connection to our customers, so tapping into this energy is right. We've posted a message on the Gap Facebook Page that says we plan to ask people to share their designs with us as well. We welcome the participation we've seen so far." — Marka Hansen, President, Gap North America on Huffington Post

Gapgate is not about the design and launch of new logo. It's not about the misuse of Helvetica, squares and gradients. It's not about taste or lack thereof, It's not about bad briefs, lazy designers or naive clients. It's not about engagement, dialog or input from customers. It's not a hoax...it happened. Gapgate is about arrogance. It's about the company's poorly executed rollout and reactionary call for spec work as confirmed above on Huffington Post this morning. As Gapgate unfolds, the company's actions are damaging to the entire design profession. Gapgate is also about vanity. Gap's old logo was a mole. Whether you liked it or not, it gave them character and identity. In a weak moment, they scratched their mole off...now it's bleeding. Gap is asking for a band aid. Don't give them one.
Footnote: Read the AIGA's, (The Professional Association for Design) position on spec work. Consider writing a letter to let GAP to let them know that you do not support or engage in spec work.

Jason Santa Maria, founder and principal of the New York design studio Mighty, creative director for Typekit, a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and creative director for A List Apart.

The biggest thing about it is that it's nameless and faceless. The Gap has a logo and for whatever reason it's an acceptable logo that was passive enough that nobody really cared about it. But using Helvetica in such a bland way has incited rage. Helvetica, while not a bad font, is an absurdly ubiquitous font; probably a quarter of the world's fonts are Helvetica. And gradient is somewhat detested. It's kind of like combining a bunch of zombie elements that are all bad. Or throwing together three different flavors of vanilla, hoping you're going to get chocolate somehow.

It's not a bad idea to change a logo, but what you need to understand is when you have that much equity built up in a visual identity you don't want to throw it away. There are things you can do to make it a modern, more relevant and a well formed version of itself. But something that feels more considered [than what Gap did]. Any designer, especially logo designer, worth their weight would not have gone down the path they went down. It's unfortunate that this is on a public stage, because it's not going in a good direction for designers. This is not how good design happens. The Gap is not creating a good environment for good ideas and designs to happen, they are basically shilling and pandering. Is it going to affect their sales? Probably not. Most people don't go to a clothing store to purchase a logo. What's dangerous here is the Gap's responses. They announced they are going to do a crowd sourced logo competition with independent people redesigning it; these are very dangerous propositions. It's going down the road of spec work and it's putting the role of the designer aside, and it's getting work and thinking for free. Again, you'll get a logo nobody likes -- it will be dry and anemic, or it will be a logo half the people agree with and half don't. This kind of attention isn't long term. Any press is not good press. Everyone knows who the hell the gap is.

[The new logo] could have been design by committee, or handed down via the Gap, or bad design choices by the designer. Maybe there was some sort of inconceivable shroud of bad taste nobody really realized was happening.

[So how does another marketer prevent this from happening?] Are you asking how to get rid of bad taste? I don't think that's possible. But by contrast, that's what makes good things that much better. There has to be really bad logos to [appreciate] the good ones. In the end it won't matter. I would bet my entire paycheck they're still not going to have a good logo on the other side of this.

Paul Keister, executive creative director, Goodness Manufacturing

I had taken a look at the logo and it's funny to see all of the comments.

This big change has reminded me of one thing and that is, the old logo wasn't the greatest and needed to change. I think I just got desensitized by it over the years and looked past it whenever I dashed in to get a last minute meeting shirt.

So, to the new logo. Overall, it's a miss. It looks like something for a responsible banking institution or pharmaceutical company and not for a fashion brand. It's the small, blue square that's creating this result for me. I would love to see the multiple revisions leading up to the new Gap logo. I can only imagine there were some brave and solid explorations. But with each meeting, over the course of its (2 year?) development, it got whittled down.

If Gap chooses to stick with this new logo, all us regular folk will eventually stop our angst and be okay. Remember the great Pepsi debacle of 2009? And then hopefully, Gap will give it stronger meaning through its use. If they don't want to stick with it, they can't do the crowd-sourcing thing. The last thing they need is more muddying of the waters. Find a designer they trust, who gets the ethos of Gap and with as few decision makers as possible, make it great.

On a side note, I freaking love Helvetica. It's a beautiful font that has a timeless elegance to it. Haters can hate, but it's a damn fine font.

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