The ugliest logo ever, but maybe it makes sense

Logo creation is a thankless task. Almost all of the interesting shapes and doodles were trademarked years ago. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on artists and lawyers, and a lot of time, you usually settle on using your company name with no artwork at all.

Or you can take the approach adopted by the newly-formed Symbian Foundation, keeper of the Symbian OS:



Yes, that's really the new Symbian logo. I guarantee no one's going to sue them for it, unless it's the producers of the movie Juno:



I've already gone through a couple of stages of reaction to the logo. The first was horror. Not only is the font something out of 1974, but the color is one of the least popular in the world (step outside and count how many yellow cars you can see, or click here or here). I know I've seen uglier logos in the past, but I can't remember where, probably because I tried to block out the memory.

The discussion on All About Symbian has been amusing (link).

Once I got over my reaction, I reminded myself that the folks at Symbian are smart and very deliberate. Let's assume they have a good reason for choosing this logo. What would it be, and what would it tell us about the company and its business strategy?

The new Symbian is an open source software project. They need to appeal to open source developers, many of whom have a reflexive hatred toward slick and calculated marketing. After all, these are the sort of folks who, when allowed to choose their own logos, spontaneously chose a fat, stoned-looking penguin and a drunken ox:



The GNU Gnu Head and Tux the Linux penguin (link)
Tux drawn by lewing@isc.tamu.edu. Gnu head reproduced under the copyleft license (link).


To the open source community, Symbian has historically been kind of an antichrist -- controlled by some of the biggest tech firms in the world, bureaucratic, closed, and incredibly complex. If you're going to win over the open source crowd, you have to overcompensate by being excessively informal, friendly and "childlike." (That's Symbian's word for it, not mine.)

Here's how Symbian explains the logo (link):

It is a brand that’s human and playful and friendly, where you feel the human hand. A brand that enables you to discover unlimited creative possibilities, that wants to share and talk A brand that’s fun, that isn’t fixed, but free to constantly evolve. A brand that’s owned by all the people that create and build with Symbian. A brand that celebrates new ideas and creativity in all forms. A brand that’s truly alive and refreshingly different, because it is! A brand that’s human to the core and that underneath beats a human heart.

In other words, the slick and calculated marketing approach is to give the company the most artless logo imaginable. And from that perspective, I think they succeeded.

I am wondering, though, what they'll do when it's time to use the logo for something other than just decorating a website. OS logos are generally used as compatibility marks. In that role they need to be displayed on screen, and preferably printed on the back of the phone, to let the user know that he or she can run Symbian applications on the device.

Picture a meeting where the folks at Symbian try to convince a product manager at Nokia or Samsung or SonyEricsson that they should print that logo on the backs of their phones, or that it should be displayed prominently on the screen. I don't think it'll go over very well. And even if they did agree to include the logo, the tiny details in the lettering won't show up well when reduced in size. The logo just isn't designed to travel.

So Symbian app developers should ask how they'll be able to market their applications when Symbian OS users don't even know what their OS is. Symbian has never had a good answer to that, and I think the new logo doesn't move them any closer to solving that problem.

Maybe the assumption is that all Symbian phones will have application stores built in, so developers won't need to communicate compatibility. Maybe, but that will still put a big marketing burden on an application developer to explain model by model which phones their apps work on.

The bottom line is that any logo artless enough to please the open source community would be problematic as a marketing tool. As is often the case in marketing, you can't please all your audiences, so you can either be universally bland or you can optimize for one audience. I think the folks at Symbian decided that open source street cred is the thing they need most.

And maybe they're right.

14 comments:

Josh Jonte said...

I think that's *awesome*; in the most dry and sarcastic way possible.

It looks like they messed around with Microsoft Word and it's amazing "WordArt" feature.

Really though, it does embody "Symbian" pretty well; amateur, ugly, dated, and kind of a joke.

Spot on!

Jonathan Biddle said...

Think there were better ways to make a logo that was 'human', and that communicated 'open source'.

I like the hand-drawn idea as a starting point for people to remix it, but think they should have a more distinctive starting point to build from - looks too much like a second grade doodle.

Flash Sheridan said...

I agree that this logo is impossibly amateur, ugly, and dated; but I will point out that the open source community doesn't always insist on ugly amateurism: the most popular version of the FreeBSD daemon was drawn by Lucasfilm/Pixar/Disney's John Lasseter. (And I think you're a bit harsh on Tux the Penguin; he did rather well in IBM's criminal guerilla marketing campaign.)

Peter said...

Maybe symbian should take a leaf out of phonegap's book - they have no logo.

Or try crowdsourcing design (designbay.com) and let hundreds of or real web designers come up with a solution!

Cheers, Peter.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments, folks.

Flash, you're right that the FreeBSD mascot is more professionally drawn, but I'd still have trouble picturing that printed on the back of a phone.

Maybe what Symbian should have done is make a professional-looking logo, but then also get an open source-style mascot...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike. Thoughtful as always.

On certification maybe they will just have text that says 'Symbian Compatibile', with a little yellow heart next to it... It doesn't have to be big, just readable and recognizable.

Hiram Verma

Anonymous said...

Symbian's previous logo was as professional and designed-to-please-the-company-board as it gets:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbian_OS

I'm just happy that they're doing something different. At least this kind of visual identity makes it clear that they're not even trying to play the same game as the lifeless immaculately marketeer-built brands in the same space, i.e. Nokia and Apple with their endless shiny vector graphics and happy clip-art people.

I don't really see the new logo as being "artless". From a Euro perspective, it just looks trendy to a fault: 25-year old designers freshly out of design schools all across Europe are producing work like this. Maybe you're too old and too American for this style? ;) (There's nothing wrong with being either, of course!)

H said...

According to Anonymous:

"At least this kind of visual identity makes it clear that they're not even trying to play the same game as the lifeless immaculately marketeer-built brands in the same space..."

I would argue that that's exactly what they're doing. This is the latest marketing trend, similar to the splats, ovals, and swooshes before them. When this trend passes, the logo runs the risk of looking tired and dated rather than fresh and hip.

How tired does the Boeing logo look now that that trend has long passed?

Hiram.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous wrote:

>>25-year old designers freshly out of design schools all across Europe are producing work like this

Yikes. I'll stick with DeviantArt.


>>Maybe you're too old and too American for this style?

More likely just too tasteless.

But here's the problem. Because the open source folks hate marketing, they are looking for something that doesn't appear artistic. If the new Symbian logo actually does look, as you say, trendy to a fault, it'll alienate the open source developers.

The really ironic situation would be if the logo is too unconventional for the handset companies and at the same time too trendy for the open source folks.

That sort of thing is why logo-creation is such a thankless task.

Nicolas Sauvage said...

This is the best marketing move I have seen since the best job of the world (www.islandreefjob.com)

Very clever. And actually, this will help in corporate presentation too because that will keep everyone talking, joking and comparing - what we have not done for a long time for Symbian.

Nicolas

Rich Harris said...

All I can say is...wow CorelDraw circa '97...that looks great....

;-/

PFFFFT. Lame.

Tzer2 said...

"OS logos are generally used as compatibility marks. In that role they need to be displayed on screen, and preferably printed on the back of the phone, to let the user know that he or she can run Symbian applications on the device."

The Symbian name and logo have NEVER been used as a compatibility mark, they have never been displayed on the screen or anywhere else on Symbian phones or their manuals. Symbian is just not intended to be a consumer brand.

As the article notes, if there is an on-phone app store there is no need for users to know what OS they are running, because the store will automatically only display compatible software. Even if you did tell people the OS, that wouldn't help much because phones run a lot of platform-independent software such as Java, Flash Lite, WRT and other stuff.

For various reasons most phone manufacturers aren't particularly interested in telling anyone which OS is running on their phone.

Also, AFAIK this logo isn't actually for the Symbian OS, it's for the Symbian Foundation. Only programmers would have any interest in the Symbian Foundation so the logo is irrelevant to typical users of Symbian devices.

Cheap Mobile said...

That logo gives hope to those with less than great graphic design talents, I mean if someone could seriously get away with that first grader effort than hand me photoshop and call me an expert.

Anonymous said...

"""
So Symbian app developers should ask how they'll be able to market their applications when Symbian OS users don't even know what their OS is. Symbian has never had a good answer to that, and I think the new logo doesn't move them any closer to solving that problem.
"""

Great post, thank you.