Co.Design

How Yahoo's Clown Logo Finally Grew Up

After 30 days of teasing, Yahoo has finally unveiled its new logo, and it's not what you'd expect. Here's how Yahoo's logo redesign came together.

The old Yahoo logo was the kind of logo a class clown could love. It was wacky, immature, fun-loving: the design equivalent of a naked guy covered in body paint rushing through the quad, yodeling. You might love that guy, but you were always secretly wondering if he'd ever grow up. After almost two decades, the same was true of Yahoo's logo. Would it ever change?

Changed it finally has. Following a 30-day campaign showing off alternatives, Yahoo has finally unveiled its new logo--the kind of logo that yodeling party guy would choose when he became, against all odds, a sophisticate. The knowing wink, the sense of humor, the nod to the past are all still there, but the bearing and carriage are different. It's more stately and self-assured; more at ease with Yahoo's place in the world than the logo of the past. It's a logo of a company that has grown to realize that there's just as much dignity as delight in good design.

Of course, that's the point. Since Marissa Mayer took over the reins as CEO of Yahoo back in 2012, Yahoo has been slowly and systematically recreating itself as a design-first Internet company. Piece by piece, Yahoo began to radically reimagine their existing apps and services to reflect an ethos that saw great design as the natural extension of the spirit of humanism that has always been at Yahoo's core. But even as Yahoo released new versions of apps and services that were widely praised for their design chops, the goofy old logo stayed the same.

"Before our products had evolved to reflect our new design ethos, we thought it was premature to change the logo," Yahoo CMO Kathy Savitt tells Co.Design. It could be seen as an empty promise, a pretension that Yahoo under Mayer had yet to earn. But as Yahoo started redesigning their apps and services, people started noticing the discrepancy, says Savitt. "They kept on saying, 'Your logo doesn't look like your apps!' When your users and partners start to say that your branding doesn't look like your product anymore, it's time for a change." Even Yahoo's employees agreed: polled internally, 87% of the people working for Yahoo thought it was time to move on.

To develop a new logo, Yahoo Senior Vice President of Brand Creative Bob Stohrer put together a team of about 12 designers. "When we started the process of trying to find a new Yahoo logo, we started it by identifying a design destination: sophisticated with a wink," Stohrer tells Co.Design. "We wanted something that represented the sophistication and elegance of Yahoo today, while still bringing forward the hallmarks of the brand that people have come to love."

Those hallmarks? To start with, purple. According to Savitt and Stohrer, Yahoo's purple streak is much beloved by users (the truth might be a little more complicated), but it still needed to evolve to reflect the more nuanced and mature shades of purple Yahoo's design teams were using in their apps. Additionally, practically no one wanted the Yahoo logo to drop its personal touch: the double-o's that anthropomorphically form a set of eyes, or the fun exclamation point bobbing at the end. More than anything else, the last three characters of the Yahoo logo were what made it feel human. They had to stay. But anything else was up for grabs.

Stohrer's team got to work. While Yahoo wanted to create its own original, iconic font, the design team started quickly prototyping logos in commercially available fonts to come up with an "instant metaphor" for what they were trying to build. These failed prototypes are what Yahoo has been showing off as part of their 30 Days of Change campaign. Once an approach had been decided upon, the designers explored and refined the design, reaching out to Yahoo's various in-house app and service teams for input. Even Marissa Mayer rolled up her sleeves and pitched in.

The end result eschews many of the design trends to come out of Silicon Valley in recent years. Where the zeitgeist is to go flat, Yahoo has gone beveled, almost three-dimensional. This, according to Stohrer, is to reflect all of the different facets of Yahoo and its brands. And though many new web companies have favored lower-case only typography in recent years, Yahoo is proudly, self-assuredly capital. While sans-serif, the new logo is somehow stately, almost Trajensque: It looks like it could be carved into the marble facade of a bank. The typography reflects Yahoo as a company that has evolved into an institution in its own right. Even so, Yahoo hasn't abandoned the human touch: as the company is proud to point out, just as there isn't a straight line in the human form, there isn't a straight line in the finished design, either. It could almost have been drawn by hand, a design goal that Stohrer describes as an "amplification of human focus."

But for all its dignity, the new Yahoo logo doesn't abandon the fun. In fact, the new design incorporates its very own take on the Google doodle: every day, the exclamation point will pop up on the Yahoo.com homepage with a new, unique animation. "We want the exclamation point to be an impish character, the wink and the nod to Yahoo's legacy," explains Savitt. "One day, the exclamation point might ride in on a Segway; the next, it could swing in on a Tarzan. Every day, it will do something fun and playful." But don't expect the new Yahoo exclamation point to start yodeling through your speakers: It will, Yahoo promises, be silent.

Even at the best of times, Yahoo's logo has been divisive, and the new logo will be no exception. It's still proudly eccentric, bucking the design trends of the rest of Silicon Valley in favor of its own singularly idiosyncratic ideas and, of course, it's still purple.