[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.
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."
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."