Customers freak out over branding changes—and that's a good thing.
When Gap introduced a revamped logo in October 2010, the reaction was positively withering, with khaki fans and design experts uniting in their disdain for the new look. Parody Twitter account @GapLogo quickly gained 5,000 followers, and haters flocked to Gap's Facebook page to vent. "It reminds me of the old Microsoft free clip-art galleries," wrote one poster, according to CNN. "I can't believe this is happening." Gap scrapped the new logo less than a week after presenting it.
The Gap logo overhaul—along with a similarly short-lived Tropicana packaging revamp the previous year—marked the rise of a new kind of consumer activism: design rage. Designers and design advocates have long complained that the field does not get the respect or attention it deserves. But these and other subsequent outbursts of vehement public anger weren't what they had in mind. "I dreamed of a day when regular people like my dad would be aware of graphic design, of typefaces, logos, packaging, when these things would be discussed as seriously as movies or books," the designer and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut mused in a Design Observer essay earlier this year. "And look how it all turned out."
Still, regular people paying attention to design really is a significant development, and one that ought to be understood on its own terms. Sure, online mobs can be hostile beyond reason, but they can also be playful, creative, funny, and devastatingly convincing. Besides, design is and should be an inherently contentious subject. Consider this response to American Airlines' recent rebranding: "It has no sense of permanence. . . . There was no need to change." A snarky tweet from the hoi polloi? No, that was a critique from design-world giant Massimo Vignelli, whose earlier logo for American was the one being replaced.
For designers and their clients, then, a vocal and dispersed new audience is just one more voice to consider—or have the fortitude to ignore. (Starbucks's last logo update was mocked, but the company kept it anyway; American dismissed the tweeters, and Vignelli.) It scarcely matters whether this new crop of critical outsiders can express themselves in traditional design discourse or care to unpack Bauhaus influences or drop Dieter Rams's name for the umpteenth time. They are reacting to design as they see it.
And don't they have every right to? Given that every modern consumer exists in a design-soaked world of products, packaging, logos, fashion, and all manner of interactive screens, it's inevitable that design sensibilities and attachments will develop. In fact, this is arguably more true in the realm of design than in entertainment: You can choose not to watch Mad Men or read J.K. Rowling's latest book, but good luck choosing never to see Gap's logo again.
Sometimes this will mean outbreaks of design rage on social media, angry email campaigns, even online petitions. But the venting is merely an occasionally unpleasant side effect of more people paying more attention to more forms of design—which ought to be viewed as an opening for designers and their advocates to engage with a broader public in a new way. And that's why, snark and awfulness notwithstanding, the crowd adding design to its critical repertoire is good news for the design world after all. —Rob Walker
After helping Apple create the iPod and iPhone, Tony Fadell invented Nest, a thermostat that learns your habits and regulates temperatures by itself. Fadell's genius was in identifying a perfectly primed product—one that's widely used but quite stale. An 1883 patent sketch of the standard thermostat (represented above) shows just how ripe the opportunity was.
1. INNER COIL
The coil is made of two metals, and expands or shrinks as temperature changes, triggering the system to adjust. Fadell improved upon the idea by having Nest monitor user-made temperature changes, so it can program itself.
2. OUTER COIL
In 1953, Honeywell embraced the coil's round shape and created the world's best-selling thermostat. The company is now suing Nest for, among other things, its roundness.
3. KNOB ON LEFT
The twist-to-change-temperature model lasted unchallenged for nearly 100 years, until it was eventually replaced by digital displays in the 1980s. Nest is the next big evolution in digitizing the ubiquitous device.
99% Invisible is a hugely popular podcast about design. Its first episode opened with an unusual problem in the San Francisco Public Library's atrium. A partial transcript:
Dennis Paoletti, acoustic engineer: "It's very hard, with all the plaster, concrete, reflective materials. The architect had the main information desk in the middle (A). It would be disastrous for people to try to hear visitors. We recommended to tuck that desk under the mezzanine (B)."
Roman Mars, host: "That created a wide-open entryway. No one knows how to walk across it without bumping into someone. So this building added a hack—a jankety velvet rope partition for traffic flow (C). So 15 feet from one another is a minor triumph, and a minor failure, of design."
COLOR OF THE YEAR*:
*According to expert color forecasters at Pantone.
Jawbone’s Jambox gives music fans a sonic boost.
3-D televisions. Do you know anyone who bought one?
SHOE OF THE YEAR:
Alexander McQueen Armadillo Heels: Instant icons of extreme couture.
LIGHTBULB OF THE YEAR:
Plumen: High-design bulb makes CFLs beautiful.
BOOK COVER OF THE YEAR:
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell; Design: Lynn Buckley
- 2004: Ambitions Rise in the East, Project Runway vs. The Industry
- 2005: Rethink Dinner, A Better Drug Bottle, Inside a Designers Mind
- 2006: PG&G Best-Kept Secret, Man with the Golden Touch
- 2007: Know your Type, The iPhone... Stinks?, The iTunes Effect, Can Design Change the World?
- 2008: All Politics is Visual, Nature as a Teacher, The Rise of Designer Founders
- 2009: Track and Fields, The Crowd Takes Over, Don Draper Hits the Mall
- 2010: Hands Off that Logo!, Innovation's Perfect Storm, Close your Eyes, See Everything
- 2011: Why People Love an Infographic, A Long-Awaited Vision, Reviewed by All, When Design is Also Art
- 2012: London Plays for Keeps, Instagram, Pinterest, and the Next Big Thing
- 2013: Talent War, Young Guns, The Future of Transit?
[Photo illustration by Peter Hoang (Gap); illustration by Studiosap]
A version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.