Good or bad, Yahoo’s logo has long been a cheerily oblivious snapshot of mid-1990s design trends.
Back in 1995, when the original Yahoo logo made its debut, there was seemingly a universal methodology for Silicon Valley startups to come up with a logo. Find some low-res clipart of a generic stick figure to emphasize the humanity of this new cyber age we’re all living in, then pair it with the company’s name, typed out in a "wacky" font sourced from the back of a new "Xtreme" flavor of Hi-C juice box. But while other Silicon Valley startups either died out or rebranded, Yahoo kept this peculiar mid-'90s look for the better part of two decades. They may have shed the clipart, but except for a couple color changes, the Yahoo logo has been remarkably consistent for the last 18 years.
Well, it’s officially the end of an era. Yahoo just announced that next month they will be replacing the Yahoo logo with something more modern.
"The new logo will be a modern redesign that’s more reflective of our reimagined design and new experiences," Yahoo has announced on their Tumblr. "To get everyone warmed up, we are kicking off 30 days of change. Beginning now, we will display a variation of the logo on our homepage and throughout our network in the U.S. for the next month. It’s our way of having some fun while honoring the legacy of our present logo."
Since it’s just the first day of a 30-day exploration of logo design, it’s not exactly clear how radically different these variations are going to be from one another. The first logo Yahoo’s showing off is a sans-serif affair with some anthropomorphism around the OO’s, which makes them look like boggling cartoon eyes, inviting the viewer to mentally trace the supine curve of a smiley underneath them. It’s a friendly, flat design that stays loyal to the company’s past.
"We want to preserve the character that is unique to Yahoo!—fun, vibrant, and welcoming—so we’ll be keeping the color purple, our iconic exclamation point and of course the famous yodel. After all, some things never go out of style," Yahoo explains.
It’s easy to see why Yahoo wants a change. Especially under new CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo has tried to differentiate itself not as another hodgepodge conglomeration of web properties but as a design-first Internet company. The new Flickr and Yahoo Weather apps are testament to that vision. Yet despite this refined direction for the company, Mayer has inherited a logo that is the typographical equivalent of a pair of clown’s shoes. Not exactly the sort of thing you want your app to wear to digital design awards.
If the first iteration is anything to go by, the new logo will try to retain the previous design’s gee-whiz optimism, irreverence, and fun, while still embracing modern trends, like getting rid of all those serifs and compressing the type down to optimal sleekness.
Yahoo is also sticking with the color purple for the new logo. We’ve written before about why Yahoo’s purple is so divisive to so many people: While it’s a fun, unique color that is underrepresented in the dreary blue palette of corporate Internet branding, it also has deep cultural connections with the shameless opulence of oppressive hereditary dynasties and power-mad plutocrats. Either way, it’s going to be a contentious decision.
At the end of the day, though, Yahoo’s logo needed a makeover, and so far, Yahoo’s ideas on how to go about a redesign seem good. Mayer and Co. is remaining faithful to the company’s past, but they’re also being forward-looking, baking the very design savvy that the company has made core to its ethos right into the logo. And perhaps the most notable aspect of all of this is that Yahoo thinks that something as routine as an Internet company’s logo redesign is important enough to people to spend a month exploring and having fun with.
They’re right, and that’s why Yahoo’s new design-first strategy is sound. Design is something we all care about now. Not just as a blip but as a part of the day-to-day exploration of our lives.