do not step out
18/Sep/2007 | 10:25

The Elements of Identity: How to Fuck Up a Logo

Adobe's John Nack gave us a peek at the new identity for the Adobe® Photoshop™ Line® of Products™ today.

Before we discuss this rather unfortunate combination mark, let's look at the CS3 branding. I consider it a good example of identity design, despite what some people on the Webinet have said.

Learning from History

Prior to CS3, Adobe's product line used a rather nasty set of icons for the different Creative Suite applications. All of the icons' central design elements were plastered randomly on empty, white rounded rectangles, which I'm sure looked really great in the committee meeting that designed them, but in reality signaled to me that the icons required a workaround to be visible in people's Docks and desktops.

The problems with the CS2 icons didn't end there, though. When you have a single application, you only need to differentiate it from other people's icons, which generally isn't a difficult task. Your identity is not someone else's identity, so you only need to coordinate against:

- Yourself
- Everything else

Easy task.

When you have an entire suite of applications, you have to coordinate against:

- Yourself
- Your other crap
- Everything else

It's the middle one that's the hard part. Each product needs to fall in line with the overall identity of the suite, but still stand alone, because they serve different purposes. I can hear how the CS2 icon/identity meeting went:

Bob: Each of our applications needs its own fingerprint.

Bill: Right, Bob. Go on.

(the room nods slowly)

Bob: You know the difference between a feather and a seashell, right?

(more slow head nodding)

Bob: And a flower and a starfish?

Bill: I think I know where you're going with this, Bob, and I like it. What do you see this saying to our customers?

Bob: Butterflies and feathers are creative. "Be Creative!"

Sure, it sounded great in the meeting, but in reality, we got this mess. Sure, you know the difference between a butterfly and a leaf, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to tell them apart in your Dock.

But that isn't the real problem we care about here, is it? Not really. The relevant problem is that they really didn't carry any clear identity. Maybe they looked creative, but that's stretching. What does "look creative" mean? It's an unremarkable throwaway phrase, and these were unremarkable icons that reflected an unremarkable identity.

Sapphire Bullets of Pure Fail

Fast-forward to, uh, several months ago, when Adobe (via John) unveiled the CS3 icons and identity. Some people cried out in horror, but as it turns out, Adobe really cleaned up the house. Not only were the icons very easy to discern in the Dock and on the desktop, but they had very clear identity:

The elements of creativity.

Crisp, clear, clean. You know exactly what message Adobe is tying to send. What is Adobe trying to say with the new Photoshop logo? Nothing, from what I can tell. It's haphazardly designed, an incongruous mix of sharp and round, bad 3-D perspective (take a close look at the cutout on the right side), and TRADEMARKS FUCKING EVERYWHERE. Goddammit, it's like looking at the logo for a company that sells trademarks instead of actual products.

Just how much is wrong with this new logo?

1. The official slogan is in the combination mark. It makes the mark harder to use in layouts, it introduces more type noise, it upsets the balance of the rest of the mark, and it introduces one of the ™ flies buzzing nastily around the identity.

2. The official slogan, now that it's been mentioned, sucks. "See What's Possible™", I guarantee you, was written by committee. So on top of a bad slogan, we have to look at it whenever the logo is used.

3. I get it. The graphic is a stylized letter P with an eye. This is the absolute best anyone at Adobe could come up with? P is for Photoshop, and you can See What's Possible™! (See, it's got these conclusions that you can jump to.)

4. As far as I can tell, the typeface is the same one used in the CS3 branding, but it doesn't match the P-eye graphic at all. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that the graphic doesn't match the typeface, however, and this should really be a mark against ol' P-eye.

5. Why is this giving me the impression of the old PBS logo? OH WAIT

6. And the most important bullet, a direct repeat of what I've been talking about: The logo is part of your overall identity, and this piece of your identity says absolutely nothing to me. Zip. Zero. All I get from this is "corporate committee meeting logo design session", not "we want to empower and inspire you to create beautiful things".

Wait—I like the sound of that.

Create Beautiful Things.