For the last few months, a great deal of my branding, writing and web design efforts have been poured into my new music magazine, Culture Creature. Please visit CultureCreature.com and like Culture Creature on Facebook!
I’m working on a new business that I plan to launch in 2016 (gosh, that feels good to say!). Long story short: Twitter has changed its standards for reassigning trademarked or inactive Twitter handles, and it’s harder than ever to acquire a name that’s already in use.
First, I applied for a trademark of the name of my new business – let’s say it’s ‘Music Widget.’ Now, the ‘@musicwidget’ (again, not the real name) Twitter handle is in use by an individual who hadn’t written a Tweet since 2014. The first thing I did was ask nicely if I could use the name. About a week later, I got a reply: no, sorry.
Once the trademark application cleared, I was still unsatisfied: I now had the legal right to use the name, and the current owner of the Twitter account wasn’t even actively using it. So, I went to Twitter and reported a trademark issue. Twitter provides two options here, one for ‘impersonation,’ and one for infringement, i.e. “Someone is using my organization’s trademark-protected materials.” I chose the latter claim – I was not claiming that anyone was pretending to represent my brand, merely that my trademarked name was being used by an unauthorized party.
About a day later, I received the following form email rejection of my request:
We’ve researched the reported account and determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s Trademark Policy. The account is not being used in a way that is misleading or confusing with regard to its brand, location or business affiliation.
Twitter does not have a username reservation policy. Users are free to select any name for their account, provided they do not violate Twitter’s Terms of Service or Rules.
In other words, it seems like the only way that Twitter will take action on a trademarked name is if someone is “Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation.”
So, if you’re starting a new business, don’t get your hopes up about that Twitter account that’s being squatted on – even if it’s trademarked and inactive (Twitter used to reassign inactive handles). Your only option may be to ask nicely, or, failing that, negotiate a monetary price for the account. Otherwise, you may have to come up with a clever new Twitter handle or go back to the brand name drawing board and choose something unique. Good luck!
Normally, ‘mobile-first’ is a concept that applies to web design. The mobile-first approach has historically meant designing a responsive website by starting with the mobile version, then designing upwards towards desktop. This way, the concerns of the mobile experience are considered first, and applied or revised for larger viewports. It’s time to approach branding the same way.
Logos and other branded elements have been reduced to tiny squares across the web. These environments include social media avatars, favicons, and increasingly, the sticky navigation bar on your website itself. Logos are required to communicate your brand identity in a very small space – whether it’s on a mobile device, or even in a Facebook feed on desktop. That’s why it’s time to consider small scales first when you’re designing a brand identity. Design brand iconography that works in small contexts first, then scale your concept up for larger contexts.
The kind of design that is best suited for these small contexts includes very simple icons, short acronyms/single letters, or very basic secondary identifiers (a simple shape or even color scheme that is integral to your visual identity). In other words, the most basic forms of human communication – icons, letters, runes, color and shape. Full wordmarks don’t often work well at small sizes (see the Amtrak and BrooklynVegan examples on this page).
Ironically, this is the kind of simple, concise icon & logo design that the old masters like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser excelled at. In the past decade, the trend for ‘flexible brand identity’ has moved away from this style of iconography and logo design in favor of motion, animation, and iteration. I think it’s time to reintroduce an element of classic, simple logo and icon design to modern branding.
The next time you build a brand, try starting small: design a mobile icon in a 50 pixel square before you do anything else. Start here before you approach your logo, color palette, or even your brand name. Start small and work up!
My clients in cancer nonprofits have strong feelings about the color pink. Pink is a symbolic color used to represent breast cancer, and while it is used primarily for a very good cause, there are a few pitfalls. For starters, some organizations have been accused of “pinkwashing” – or exploiting pink cancer iconography to sell unhealthy or non-charitable products. Furthermore, you’re likely to be pummeled by a tsunami of eyeball-searing pink-osity during October, a.k.a. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Too much pink is too much of a good thing.
What is it that makes this color so charged with meaning? Pink is a symbol. The color itself symbolizes femininity, breast cancer, tenderness, and romance. Walk into any toy store and you’ll find this color used to codify the strict binary gender system of the Western world. I remember a Christmas during childhood when I was mortified to find a partially pink bicycle with my name on it under the tree. Oh, the horror – boys don’t do pink!
Recently, the color pink has appeared in the unusual context of war and protest. Despite the unusual context, pink is often chosen because of its connotations of femininity and tranquility. Pink has been worn by political protesters in Yemen – “chosen to represent love and to serve as a signal that the protests were peaceful.” In 2011, pink dye was used by Ugandan police to “humiliate” anti-government demonstrators.
We live in the “global village” now – a world connected by technology, where the meaning of any given symbol is likely to be standardized across cultures (and usually originating from Western influence). But it wasn’t always that way.
According to University of Maryland historian Jo Paoletti, the gendered colors assigned to babies were much more varied in the early twentieth century. “There was no gender-color symbolism that held true everywhere,” says Paoletti. Historically, it not unusual for men (or Jay Gatsby) to wear pink. Pink is a tint of red – a color we associate with masculine qualities like blood, war, and aggression. Studies show that women find a man wearing red attractive and desirable; it’s a bold color that “traditionally has been part of the regalia of the rich and powerful.”
It’s fascinating that a simple tint (white added to red) would have such a dramatic effect: the difference between red and pink seems like night and day (see below).
The rise of pink a feminine symbol may simply exist for same reason that diamonds cost two months’ salary: because marketing. From Barbie to Disney princesses and Hello Kitty products, the color pink is used as a green light for female consumers.
The more connected we get, the more universal the meaning of any given symbol will be worldwide – be it a color or a piece of fruit. For those of us in the design & branding industry, that gives us great ammunition when it’s time to defy accepted standards and go against the grain.
Last week, Verizon unveiled a logo “refresh” by Michael Beirut of Pentagram. The online consensus was ambivalent – Verizon’s refresh wasn’t a disaster, nor would it do much to turn the ship around for a reviled brand. The mixed feedback is odd if you consider that this logo looks an awful lot like the 2010 Gap logo redesign – the P.R. equivalent of an ocean liner colliding with an iceberg.
The similarities are numerous. Both logos are set in Helvetica or a close variation of it (the Verizon wordmark is set in Helvetica’s very close predecessor, Neue Haas Grotesk). Both relegate their iconographic elements (check mark and square) to sad-afterthought corner placements. Both of those icons are nearly primitive in their basic simplicity, and both use a primary color (red and blue, respectively). One of the only differences is that Gap is set in Title Case while Verizon opts for quiet, unassuming lowercase.
The Gap redesign was met with such unanimous derision that the brand reverted to the previous logo. So why hasn’t the Verizon logo met the same fate?
First of all, the Verizon logo is a “refresh” while the Gap logo was an overhaul – Verizon’s move is less shockingly new. Furthermore, Gap found out the hard way that its customers had brand loyalty and affection for their previous logo. In Verizon’s case, the brand is loathed and therefore consumers are less likely to take offense at any change (they’re too busy taking offense at bad customer service). While the Gap’s new logo felt like an utter disaster that didn’t fit a beloved brand, the Verizon redesign feels more like rearranging (or “refreshing”) the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Verizon revised their logo this week – but the revision does little to change the fact that their corporate identity looks like it was designed by a bored robot. In the landscape of corporate design and digital culture, it has the personality of a spindle of blank CDs.
What is it that makes this speck of visual furniture so mundane that is seems nearly invisible? The wordmark is set in Neue Haas Grotesk – a (very) close relative of Helvetica that will appear to be Helvetica itself to most viewers. Using Helvetica (or its ilk) in your logo is a Catch-22: it’s one of the only truly flawless typefaces in design history, but it is so overexposed in corporate identity usage that it blends in with the crowd like a golf ball in a bowl of rice. Then there’s the central motif that has been carried over from the old design: a red check mark. This symbol is a red check mark. The check mark is red. It symbolizes technoloZZZZZZZZZZ
In the new logo revision, the check has been moved to the right side of the wordmark. Verizon’s Chief Marketing Officer, Diego Scotti, offers the following explanation for the identity refresh: “Our goal was to define a brand identity that stands for simplicity, honesty, and even joy, in a category that has become overrun with confusion, disclaimers and frustration.”
Now there’s a perfectly distilled jewel of tone-deaf corporate brand-speak. First of all, consumers find Verizon incredibly frustrating. Furthermore, to say that this logo has an ounce of joy in it is akin to saying that it’s neon green. Unless you love check marks so much that you cry blissful tears every time you check “REFILL STAPLER” off your to-do list. If you want to see what a joyful logo looks like, check out Google’s new ultra-friendly, humanized identity.
The logo refresh was done by Pentagram – design heroes to anyone who’s ever touched an oil palette or a Photoshop filter. Pentagram partner Michael Beirut said of the revamped logo: “It isn’t intended to be clever or flashy. It’s really supposed to acknowledge its role as being ubiquitous as a kind of brand with a big footprint and one that isn’t trying to add to the visual noise around us.”
I can see that perspective. Verizon is so huge that it doesn’t need to visually announce itself with trumpets and fanfare. But the bottom line is this: Verizon’s visual identity cannot transcend the brand’s negative reputation as long as it is lugging that sterile, clinical, uninspired check mark around with it.