Co.Design

Gap's Retro Redesign Incites Flaming Logo Rage

Retro only makes sense if people remember what your brand was like in the old days.

[Here's the first official interview from Gap, after the kerfuffle, which answers whether the whole thing was a hoax.?Ed.]

The logo police came out in forces last night as American clothing company Gap -- Is it just Gap? I'm still calling it The Gap -- unveiled a drastic new look that frankly did not jibe with the deskchair design critics around the world.


Gap's new face, with the old logo on the right

Two things seem to especially tweak designer brains: the plain-jane use of typeface Helvetica (which even longtime stalwart American Apparel is ducking away from these days), and that odd little square, painted in an oh-so-yesterday gradient, like a sad out-of-season hat. Armin Vit at Brand New, our go-to for redesigns, offers some perspective on both issues. "I hate Helvetica in logos," he says. "It has the unique ability to make anything look pedestrian and, in this particular case, it makes Old Navy, Gap's low-end retail sister, look like a luxury brand by comparison." As for the shaded square, "this one is just too unsophisticated," he says. "If they got rid of the blue square and went with the Helvetica wordmark by itself I might be more open to the change, but this is not flattering on the retailer."

The backlash is so pronounced there's even a Twitter account that popped up yesterday which appears to speak on behalf of the logo (it's definitely not a Gap-sanctioned account). A highlight: "I think me and @itunes10icon need to form a support group. Maybe even invite @IE8icon. HAHA, just kidding ? the @IE8icon sucks." (For our logo-on-logo interview, click here.)

Luckily designers have already expressed their extreme dislike of the logo in the only way designers know how: By creating their own versions.

Bobby Solomon at Kitsune Noir created this animated gif as a way to freshen the brand without going for the square. To him, Gap is in the midst of a more serious branding crisis. "I think the bigger problem that Gap faces is the fact that they've lost their style identity," he says. "When I look at the front page of Gap.com I see J.Crew knockoffs, but without the attention to details in the product shots or styling."


Proposed new logos by Stephane Rangaya, Ataken Seckin and Dean Oakley

Over at ISO50, Alex Cornell is running a redesign contest with dozens of submissions already envisioning how a new Gap should look. He even predicts that Gap is about to "pull a Tropicana," referring to the notorious yanking of Peter Arnell's new Tropicana packaging after consumers said it made the O.J. look like a generic brand.

And then there's this one, by Mark Weaver who says he made it in "all of three minutes -- probably longer than the designer spent on it."

What most people probably don't know -- including those who are vilifying the new look -- is that Gap has been around since 1969, when they sold "Levi's, records and tapes" out of a storefront in San Francisco. Check out the clean, stylized type back then (which looks like a customized version of Avant Garde, which was designed in 1968).

Now here's whats interesting. The new logo (minus the square) already showed up last year at this 40th anniversary pop-up in London, which was modeled exclusively on that 1969 store.

Plus, advertising for Gap's 1969 jeans have also featured the new look throughout the past year. So it makes sense: The move to Helvetica is actually an attempt to look back to that '60s mindset. But what's a shout out to your retro look when no one even knew you were retro to begin with? When your look is so classic and conservative any attempt at rewinding 40 years with no context is like a parent trying to convince their kids of their awesomeness. "I swear, I WAS COOL!"

Gap's attempt at throwback is a popular move for brands these days, but one that makes absolutely no sense to those who have lived with the serify blue square for so long. Without a more solid connection to that 1969 brand (maybe a more dramatic Avant Garde-looking type) the use of something as pedestrian as Helvetica just looks like they're trying to nudge themselves into American Apparel hipness. And that square? Well, it's almost as if they're trying to push aside the brand that people have known for years, literally relegating it to an afterthought, a tiny blue symbol up in the corner that's slowly fading away into irrelevance -- like a pair of jeans slowly going out of style.

Or maybe, just maybe, the design-minded are making too much of this and Gap's reaping the benefits? As Mule Design's Mike Monteiro just posted on Twitter: "Step 1: Launch shitty new logo. Step 2: Listen to free PR. Step 3: Watch designers pout upon realizing buyers don't give a shit about logos."

For more:

Our logo vs. logo interview with @GapLogo

Gap's first official response: "We're open to other ideas"

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11 Comments

  • Mark Von Der Linn

    I agree, the new logo is awful. Hard to understand how a decision like that gets made. Unless perhaps by design (no pun int), ie, a ploy for media attention?

  • Chris Reich

    I'm not sure the logo is going to change anyone's perception of the company. It seems to me that they have a following in dire need of new converts. Problem is, you're GAP or you're not.

    The reason the company is struggling is not because the logo is out of date, the merchandise is. The focus should be on goods for sale.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Brent D Smith

    Is gap even relevant? Why not cover young up and coming companies rather than giant corporate entities? Far more interesting...

  • Nicole Hammonds

    Just because Helvetica such a versatile typeface, does not mean that any usage will be neutral and convey the right message in every circumstance. Not that I have anything against Helvetica in logos, but the way it is used must be carefully thought through. In this case, the bold letters with tight kerning convey an urban message. The blue square takes away from the hip and trendy feel of the bold Helvetica and tacks on a business-like formality. These two messages are entirely juxtaposed.

    The clothes that Gap sold in the past few years have been business casual and conservative. Their looks rarely strayed from neutral colors and drab, loose fitting denim. Currently, they sell much of the same style, but have updated with some slender jeans, stylish jackets, and younger looking blouses. In terms of their clothing, Gap seems to have done a good job holding on the the conservative style, while at the same time, reaching out to the younger, urban crowd. They stay unified with the colors they sell and emphasis on denim, khakis and solid color sweaters and shirts, but update some of the styles and fits.

    What their new marketing campaign should aim to achieve is keeping that classic Gap style, while adding a modern, sleeker and higher-fashion look. It is understandable that they would want to change the old logo, which is old fashioned and rigid with the tall serif typeface, and solid blue square. I think they should have kept at least something about the old logo so consumers could make the connection instead of trying to revolutionize the face of the whole company. It would have been interesting to see them keep the blue square, maybe making it look reflective or transparent, maybe it could have another overlapping square of a darker blue. Then, the typeface could be played with, perhaps keeping the serifs, but using a shorter, sleeker font and playing with the kerning. More space between letters could give it a classier look.

    The new logo is very corporate looking. Overall, it looks like the design for an oil company, or some business that is plain and boring. They shouldn’t have used Helvetica in the American Apparel/Urban Outfitters way in the first place, because it’s overused in the context and besides, even their new clothing is not even trendy in that sense. The blue square ruins the effect anyways, because it is small and boxy, which takes the boldness of the letters and makes it reserved and quiet. This logo is so much less classy than the older one. The poor design decisions made to unite the black text and blue square bring the Gap down to the level of JC Penny or Walmart.

  • Freddy Nager

    Cute comment by Mike Monteiro, but considering that the Gap sells a lot of clothing featuring its logo front and center (see "The Social Network" - blatant product placement), consumers just might indeed care since they've gotta wear it.

    That said, while the new logo looks like something designed by Microsoft or Polaroid, I don't think it's terribly offensive. Just innocuous.

  • David MacGregor

    This discussion seems curiously familiar.

    There once was a little magazine called Fast Company.

    Its funky banner referred to more of a Rolling Stone mindset than, say, Fortune - although it was about business too.

    Design was a big part of the mag's ethic, and it won awards for its efforts.

    Then, one day, having changed ownership and endured a buffeting fall from its hay-days, when it weighed in at 2-300 pages an issue, the banner/logo changed from the funky, ornate device we all had come to love. It became an austere, post Enron compressed Hevetica thing.

    The Company of Friends were mortified (here in Auckland, New Zealand as much as anywhere). There were pitchforks and torch meetings and a flurry of communications - not all flattering.
    Then, in a Tropicana moment of their own the owners of the magazine acquiesced and the original banner was returned to its proper place.

    Whatever happened to the Company of Friends?

  • Robin Davidson

    I've said it on Twitter and a few friends' blogs and I'll say it again, it looks like someone was inspired by PowerPoint. I don't like the use of Helvetica either.