Quick Takes: Logitech's Misstep, Nokia's New Names and Fonts

Short thoughts on recent tech news...

Logitech strays from the path

I haven't written much about Logitech here, but they've long been one of my favorite tech companies because they have a history of breaking all the rules of Silicon Valley:

--The Valley says you can't make money in commodity hardware, but Logitech makes good profits from the most commoditized bits of the computer industry.

--The Valley says you especially can't make money in low-end consumer hardware, but that's where Logitech thrives.

--The Valley says that if you want to make money in hardware, you need to be based in a low-cost part of the world like China.  But Logitech is Swiss-owned and headquartered in Silicon Valley, two of the highest-cost places to do business in the world.

Logitech succeeded by picking well-established markets like keyboards and webcams where its skills in design, user experience, and added-value features let it charge a bit more than the commodity players.  As the folks at Logitech will tell you, "we're chefs, not farmers."  In other words, we don't create new markets, we come to existing markets and do an especially nice job of rearranging the ingredients.

But Logitech's financial performance hasn't been great for the last two years, and the company's most recent quarter was a loss.  The disappointing earnings report stood out to me because Logitech put much of the blame on its Google TV product, which apparently had apocalyptic negative sales last quarter (more returns from retailers than shipments) (link).  Apparently somebody at Google convinced Logitech to do some farming, and the company is paying dearly for it. 

I'm usually an advocate of companies taking risks and pioneering new markets, and I think that's something Logitech has the skills to do if it's careful.  But in this case, it chose a terrible target: the uncertainties of a new market, but with a user experience constrained by Google's software.  So Logitech took on the risks of farming without the ability to fully apply its own strengths.  Logitech was more or less a passenger on Google's boat.

The lesson, obviously: Be very careful when you step away from your proven strategy.  Oh, and never trust Google to develop a new market for you.

Good luck naming your phones, Nokia (again)

Nokia announced that it has changed the naming system for its phones, going back from letters to numbers (link).  The last time Nokia changed its naming, five years ago, I wrote a piece saying why technology naming schemes eventually break down after about six years.  This morning I thought about updating the post, but actually I think it's still valid as-is, except that naming schemes now apparently last only five years.  Here's a link to the article, so you can judge the rest of it for yourself (link).

Font games

Speaking of Nokia, there are few things more embarrassing for a company than announcing to the world that you have chosen a new font for your corporate communication.  Making font and logo changes is often interpreted as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic -- "we can't fix our fundamental problems but by God at least we'll fix the font!"  That's unfair, of course; Apple changed its logo in the middle of its rebirth, ditching the six colors, and it turned out just fine.  So I didn't blame Nokia when it announced on March 25 that it was moving to a new font (link).

But I'm surprised that more than four months later, Nokia's old font is still splattered all over its web pages.  You can find the new one in some spots, but a lot of website navigation, headlines, and even new product announcements are in the old font.  Here are some examples (click on the images for a larger view):

Nokia Conversations (official company blog), August 2, 2011.  Note the use of the old font to announce the company's newest product.  That means the use of the old font isn't limited to legacy bits of the website that haven't been converted yet.

Nokia Press website, August 2, 2011.  New and old logos together on the same page.  That's got to annoy the corporate branding folks.

Nokia UK home page, August 2, 2011.  New font used for the headline, but the old font is used elsewhere.

Nokia US home page, August 2, 2011.  Old font almost everywhere.  Well, you kind of expect Nokia's US site to be behind the times.

Nokia Finland home page, August 2, 2011.  The greatest use of the new font -- except when they mention Ovi.  Freudian slip?

I feel childish and petty for picking on Nokia about a little detail like this.  Fonts stand out to me because I used to run a font company, but I know most people don't even notice them.  Nokia has much bigger problems to solve. 

However, four months is more than enough time to switch over to a new font, especially in newly-created headlines.  Since the criticisms about Nokia's smartphones often center on inattention to detail and slow execution, you'd think they would want to execute crisply wherever they can.  In its March announcement, Nokia wrote that the new font is important because "the letters flow into each other somewhat, creating the impression of forward movement." Since the old font lingers, does that create the impression that Nokia's not moving forward?


paulmartin42 said...

You are right ... you are nit-picking ,,, I can see the managers at Nokia at the am Hill Street Blues meet: Item 9: Fonts, better be careful out there - you can never be sure who is gonna try and kick sand in your face

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, Paul. I can picture the scene on Hill Street Blues, and I agree with you.

But at the same time, Nokia's a big professional company. And if you're running a big professional company, and you're planning a font change, here's how you prep for it:

1. Choose the font.

2. Offline, rev all your static web graphics with the new font, so you can cut over to it on day one.

3. Instruct all your worldwide marketing folks that as of the effective date, they're to start using the new font.

4. Do the announcement and cut over to the new font all at once.

Apparently, Nokia did the steps in this order: 1, 4, 2, 3.

They're the ones who made a big deal about the font change. If you're going to call attention to something, I think you ought to do it right.

Anonymous said...

I hope Logitech would start to sell a wireless full keyboard with Mac layout, swedish... Can't even find one for the english language. Thanks for a good blog.

greenlander said...

Michael, do you think that Nokia is even a contender going forward? Symbian will lag further and further behind the curve of Android and iOS until it drops off even the low end. Microsoft will do a piss-poor job of their new version of WinCE and there won't be any developers.

I work for a company that makes hardware for cell phones. All the good engineers at Nokia are jumping ship to work at Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia or other companies. In my mind, they're a dead man walking... regardless of which font they use. I'm surprised you even consider them worth mentioning again.

Michael Mace said...

Good question, Greenlander.

There are actually two embedded questions within the question you asked:

1. Can Nokia fix itself?

2. Will Nokia fix itself?

The answer to the first question is definitely yes. When you have a brand as strong as Nokia's, with such a big installed base, you get a huge number of second chances. If Nokia ships a couple of nice products, it'll come roaring back.

As for the second question, I hope they can do it; I think the tech industry will be stronger with them as a player. And I wouldn't pick on them about the fonts if I thought they were out of hope.

It's incredibly hard to do layoffs and stay focused on the key tasks at the same time, so you'd have to say the odds are against them.

However, I know some of the folks who moved to Nokia after Elop came in, and I would never, ever bet against those people.

Heck, did you know that Rob Haitani works at Nokia now? The guy is a UX deity. Give him a year to ship something, and then we can judge the company's chances.

Ralf said...

Does Nokia have bigger issues than changing the corporate font? Probably! But I think that changing this font is long over due. The old font represents the old "dumb phone era", Symbian, weird device designs, etc. The new font will help them to start over. Good luck with it!

Timple said...

Logitech getting on the wrong Google boat - how about Nokia getting on the wrong MS boat?

If Elop is such a smart guy how come he publicly disowns his products 12 months before he has any new products?

Peter Millard said...

"I feel childish and petty for picking on Nokia about a little detail like this..."

Quite, though point taken about it being symptomatic of a general lack of attention to detail. In all honesty though, how many people (that's real people, not tech watchers, bloggers, 'corporate branding' practitioners, designers and font nazis...) even notice the font change, let alone appreciate it??

Rearranging deck chairs, indeed.

Great blog btw - been a reader since the 'infobook' days and just wish you had time to ppst more frequently!

Cheers, Peter