This is the new logo for Betworks.

The typeface is based upon Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine--what many consider to be the first computer.

Its curves stem directly from this schematic...

...like this!

The old Betaworks logo, seen here, had turned that engine into a stamp-like watermark.

Of course, many ideas were passed along the way, like this one...

...and this one...

...and this one.

With the wordmark set, the team wanted to add a traditional symbolic logo to the mix. And what resulted looked...simple.

Fine! But simple.

Ultimately, the company opted to embrace a far more complex, undefinable shape.

Ultimately, the company opted to embrace a far more complex, undefinable shape.

What you see in it is up to you.

What you see in it is up to you.

Co.Design

When A Simple Logo Isn’t The Best Choice

Straightforward logos are easy to love. But are they always better? Not when your brand is complex.

Betaworks is known as a hip, media-focused company out of New York, which probably made it sting when somebody on Twitter equated the company's logo to a coffee stain. It was time to rebrand. After months of creative back and forth, when a new logo came in from creative agency Franklyn, it wasn’t love at first sight.

“We saw it, and we were like, 'Oh.'” explains CEO John Borthwick. “It wasn’t, ‘Oh my god, I hate that, that’s terrible!’ It was, “Oh, what is that?”

The logo wasn’t an ode to a basic geometric shape, like so many classic logos tend to be. It was a chunky, vague thing with several overlapping components. You could just discern an arrow, but aside from that, making logic from its lines was like lying on the grass and staring at a cloud: You could see nothing and anything.

“I had a strong reaction to it. Which is different from not liking it!” Borthwick clarifies--maybe hedging a bit in the 20/20 vision of hindsight. “My first observation was that I had a strong reaction, and that’s what pulls me back again to take another look. I wondered ‘What is this reaction I’m having?’ and I sort of worked through ‘Do I like this or do I not like this?”

Then he consulted Creative Director James Cooper and "this least likely candidate became the most likely fast.”

Old logo (top), new logo (bottom)

In parsing this complex design, both Borthwick and Cooper realized that they liked the ineffable visual quality of it. The logo seemed to be built from a puzzle-like stack of shapes, with each shape being derived from a new custom typeface that Franklyn had developed for an accompanying wordmark. What was Betaworks, after all? An investment firm offers seed funding to startups, sure, but it also incubates products and handles design in-house, relaunching Digg as a reimagined media brand, and releasing a hit iPhone game Dots. It's a strange hybrid of a company existing in an era when technology, software, media, social presence, and financial investment are all tentacles on the same octopus.

The philosophy behind this logo--one of embracing a complex design over a simple one--could apply to the rapidly evolving, increasingly multidisciplinary brands beyond Betaworks. Not long ago, Ammunition built a brand identity for a cloud technology company named Mesosphere. Instead of building one logo, the company created a piece of software that could change the logo's angles, colors, and even animation. Simple? Not at all. These logos represent big thinking, not simple thinking.

“The more simple things are, the easier it is for you to like it. Your brain says, ‘This makes sense so it’s good!’” Cooper says. “A lot of [the early logo designs we reviewed] were simple, good, clean. They were all perfectly understandable in two seconds. Your gut reaction to that is, ‘That’s nice.’ But we wanted something more than nice. We wanted something that challenges people and makes people think about things.”

Read more here.

Add New Comment

14 Comments

  • Pamela Joy Trow-Johnson

    Simple or complex, the production aspect of a logo should never take back seat. With the size ratio between the logotype and mark of Betaworks, I question the ability of the readability of the overall logo when under an inch. BTW, there's a typo in your slideshow. Your first slide says "This is the new logo for Betworks".

  • Jay Miller

    In my opinion, wether a logo is complex or simple does not the issue. The more important issue is the mark memorable, and does it convey a feeling that relates back to the brand. Wether a logo is simple or complex is based on subjectivity, remove the subjectivity and be objective. For me, I feel like the logo is successful and I enjoyed seeing the rationalization on how it came to be. Job well done.

  • This logo is a jumbled mess. As others have suggested, it would be preferable to just use the company name in that typewriter typeface as the trademark. FedEx and Sony Play Station are good logos that communicate company identity and intrigue the viewer.

  • Raymond Holling

    Most people don't realize the difference between Simple and Plain, Complex but not Complicated.

    A Simple logo can have many levels of Complexity, leading to moments of discovery again and again without cause of confusion.

    This is the real point when a logo becomes successful and enduring.

  • Irfan Febrian

    I REALLY like the new logo. But, would it be more look solid and 'elastic' if we use bolder stroke for the logotype and(also) the logogram?

  • Interesting, though, in my opinion, the "we didn't like it at first because it was complex" bit seems to be silly. This is a logo. I'm all for logos that make you think, that challenge you, but to me a logo should be aesthetically pleasing AND make you think, i.e. a "simple," pleasing form with more depth than first meets the eye. The glyph in this logo makes me think, but not in a good way. It makes me think because I have no idea what I'm looking at and it looks like a tangled mess. I can't make any connection to the company, Betaworks, unless someone takes the time to explain the logo to me. Again, messages and such "hidden" in logos are great, but should someone have to explain the logo just so I'll like the look of it? Should a company have to sell its own logo?

  • Alex Berkowitz

    To be honest, the only improvement on the old logo that I see is that they actually followed a grid/didn't just live trace random bits of a photo this time. The new logo really isn't an improvement in terms of recognizability or simplicity (two things that are very important when it comes to logos, despite what the creators of this one say). I agree with Adolf in saying that the custom type is much stronger than the glyph and should either stand alone or should be paired with a new, more appropriate symbol.

  • Tina Schweiger

    The logo certainly draws you in, the eye following one line into the next. I can see the intent that they want the logo to challenge people and make them think about things. Psychologically, though, I'd worry that the implication is more that Betaworks is challenging to work with. I think there was room in this mark to push it a little further and end up with a more aesthetically pleasing, yet equally as complex, of a shape.