Design still has a key role minding the gap

Gap has abandoned its new logo following an online campaign, but, says Ben Stott, the design industry shouldn’t fear social media

Blink and you could have missed it. In fact, I’d imagine the vast majority of people did.

I’m talking about the new Gap logo. It was there one minute and gone the next, as the brand lost its nerve under the weight of mounting online criticism. Within a few days it announced that ’it was listening’ and intending to embark on a ’crowd-sourcing’ project as a solution. This was soon followed by a complete U-turn, as Gap reinstated the original logo.

For the impartial observer the whole affair was pure entertainment. How could it? Who did it? Will it, won’t it? Not to mention the genius of whoever was behind the unofficial @Gaplogo on Twitter. There from the moment of inception, it expressed a sensitive take on the unfolding drama/ ’The marketing team is huddled in a corner eating Ben & Jerry’s and drinking scotch, Jenna the intern is still crying and our ACD is missing.’ It dished out witty retorts to its critics: ’Please send all new logo designs to Chief Oyinbolowo Eko, Lagos, Nigeria along with a Western Union money order for $8500.’ It even took part in live Twitter interviews and engaged in debates with @itunes10icon and @oldgaplogo. Its status now reads, ’I HAD feelings. Jerks. Now I’m just numb – I don’t know who I am anymore!’

On a serious note, there are some obvious questions and lessons to be learned. Was Gap really so ill-prepared for the potential onslaught that such a sudden change often provokes? How should we respond to the new ’power’ that social media commands? Will our hunger for negative commentary always outweigh the positive? Is everyone now a designer? Could your six-year-old really have done better? Is the logo really that important when a company has so many other channels through which to express itself? Or was this all just another example of the emperor’s new clothes?

Put aside personal thoughts about the Gap logo for a second and take a look at the numbers. Some 732 858 people ’like’ Gap on Facebook. How many of these actively interact with Gap is anyone’s guess. At the time of writing, 1094 of them had commented on the new logo – mostly negatively. Twitter responses are more difficult to accurately quantify, as the conversation flows in a surprisingly traditional way, more akin to playground bravado. However, the mood on there was not positive either.

So, taking the Facebook figures, less than 0.2 per cent of people who ’like’ Gap were involved in the campaign against the new logo, which made national headlines and forced a corporate giant to backtrack. That’s a pretty impressive achievement for such a small but vocal minority.

Social media are, of course, still in their infancy, even though they may be behaving more and more like moody teenagers demanding attention. And they are still a form of interaction that does not appeal to the majority. But there’s no denying a proportionally small number of people online are more instantly vocal, entertaining and effective than postbags full of complaining letters or lines jammed with angry phone calls.

What did the design blogerati make of all this? Inevitably, they weighed in with their not unsurprising responses, doing what they see as the decent professional thing and condemning the design. And when Gap floated the idea of ’crowd-sourcing’ as the best way out of this mess, the mood in the design community changed, with the AIGA even going as far as delivering what amounted to an ultimatum to protect the profession’s role in any future plans that Gap might have.

But who are they – and, by extension, we in the design community – to say this is wrong? After all, hadn’t a professional consultancy just produced the work we were all mutually deriding? The irony here is that the more we feel the need to defend the value of ’professional’ design, the more it looks like we have something to hide.

And isn’t the design industry itself partly culpable when it comes to the public’s reaction? All too often, designers wave ’branding’ around like it is something that can be conjured out of thin air, regardless of whether it’s ill-prepared, badly executed and lacking in backbone. ’Branding’ has come to mean everything and nothing, from the ’just right’ – cleverly considered and beautifully delivered – to nothing more than an expensive con.

Clients need to take responsibility, too. Designers require content and self-belief from a client. Let’s talk about your reasons for change. Let’s discuss your purpose (besides profit). Let’s ask what value it adds to people’s lives.

If we do our job properly, the design industry needn’t be scared of the rapid changes taking place. We need to adapt, up our game and believe in what we’re doing. Then the work we do won’t be dismissed as merely a cynical wrapper, and we can safely ride out the shrill witterings and instant discontent of any social media storm.

Power of social media
A proportionally small number of people online are more instantly vocal, entertaining and effective than postbags full of complaining letters or angry phone calls
732 858 people ’like’ Gap on Facebook. At the time of writing, 1094 of them had commented on the new logo
Less than 0.2% of people who ’like’ Gap were involved in the campaign against the new logo
The design blogerati weighed in, doing what they sees as the decent professional thing and condemning the new Gap logo
The AIGA delivered what amounted to an ultimatum to protect the profession’s role in any future plans Gap might have

Ben Stuart is a graphic designer

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