Why are big brands proud to skimp on design?

While it’s commonly accepted that many companies see design work as an unnecessary cost, it’s relatively rare to see big brands openly admit to this.

But these last few weeks have not only seen Yahoo’s drawn-out rebrand process culminating in a new identity created by chief executive Marissa Mayer, but now holiday giant Thomas Cook’s admission that it ‘has not paid expensive consultants or spent lots of money’ on its rebrand.

The new Thomas Cook identity - 'refined in-house'
The new Thomas Cook identity – ‘refined in-house’

In Yahoo’s case, the project can be seen in part as CEO Mayer trying to put her personal stamp on the company.

This is understandable, but her admission that she created the logo over a weekend, adding ‘I’m not a pro [at Adobe Illustrator], but I know enough to be dangerous’ will have had corporate identity professionals grinding their teeth.

Or maybe the Yahoo rebrand is simply Mayer trying to wind up designers? Her rationale for the logo design certainly reads like an attempt to satirise the type of design jargon rubbish spouted by the worst kind of branding consultancies.

‘We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo’, she opines. ‘Straight lines don’t exist in the human form and are extremely rare in nature, so the human touch in the logo is that all the lines and forms all have at least a slight curve.’

Yahoo's identity, created by chief executive Marissa Mayer and team
Yahoo’s identity, created by chief executive Marissa Mayer and team

While Mayer’s musings can be left open to interpretation, Thomas Cook’s statements are pretty clear.

The holiday company’s rebrand has seen a heart logo, created last year by Swedish consultancy Happy for Thomas Cook’s northern European businesses, rolled out across the whole group after being ‘refined’.

‘We have not… spent lots of money on this brand unification… we did the majority of this ourselves as we strive to develop the company into what we want it to be,’ reads a company statement.

Admirable attempt to control the company’s fortunes, or shameless sop to cost-conscious shareholders? You be the judge.

What is interesting about both these rebrands is not just that the companies involved see design as a needless expenditure, but that they are so open about it – proud to have avoided splashing the cash on professional consultancy.

Designers have always faced a battle to convince potential clients of their worth, and case studies like these will only serve to make their job even harder.

That said, it will be interesting to see what Yahoo and Thomas Cook do when they next rebrand…

Hide Comments (9)Show Comments (9)
  • Stephanie Brown November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s not necessarily that they’re proud of declaring that they’re doing it on the cheap, but more that they’re so terrified of consumer backlash that they have to declare it.

  • Peter Hathaway November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s a fair cop I suppose. How many creative people use a travel agent to arrange their holiday these days?

  • Gareth Jenkins November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    You mention that they worked these jobs in-house, so to say they bypassed design completely is to ignore/insult those who work within these companies as designers? (Saying this being pretty sure Mayer’s comments were a little tongue-in-cheek and that she wasn’t solely responsible for the new logo)

    Yes, most likely these were budget-led decisions & they clearly didn’t feel it was the time for all the bells & whistles that come with a big agency, but if you’ve got the tools, why not fix it yourself?

    Many companies have used this route in the past, there are brands assured enough in knowing who they are that they put trust in those who work for them to do what is needed. Maybe it isn’t going to win any awards within the design press but I don’t think that’s what they’re aiming for, just a little publicity. So, job done.

  • Paul Machin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Simple case of refreshing the brand without upsetting the shareholders with a big spend (it was touch and go earlier this year). Plus the new chairman looks twice as good for pulling it off.

  • Jez Cook November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    +1 for Gareth’s comments.
    -1 for Design Week belittling the abilities of inhouse creatives.
    I know it has never been the done thing to use inhouse teams, but some great identities (and subsequent rollouts) have been created in this way in the past. In more recent times, Apple, Nokia and Microsoft (to name but a few) have established highly creative, boundary pushing inhouse teams.

  • Jez Cook November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I guess as creatives, reading a website catering for creatives, we are bound to get upset at the thought that the necessary time/budget/resources/thought processes etc, etc, etc haven’t been given over to these projects.
    Other stakeholders in these companies may want to hear that money was spent frugally on the brand-as part of the bigger picture of what makes a company successful in their eyes.

    I still feel the article has a slight ‘them and us’ bias and lines such as ‘proud to have avoided splashing the cash on professional consultancy.’ certainly don’t help. This is purely the opinion of the author.
    Thomas Cook state ‘we did the majority of this ourselves as we strive to develop the company into what we want it to be’-perhaps using a specialist inhouse team dedicated to this task?

  • Deborah Budd November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    My greatest concern with corporations shifting big (critical) design projects in-house, is that they’re less likely accord a budget to researching customer perceptions… so they end up with what the board likes, rather than something that truly reflects customer views, wants and needs. The “heart” says nothing to me about Thomas Cook’s core business. I concur that abandoning the Cook’s blue and opting for the ordinary “Let’s go” over the older slogan are errors. And the image looks out-dated already, given today’s rapid shift to “flat” design. I wonder how long it will be before Thomas Cook has to revamp their new logo?

  • Jez Cook November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’m dismayed at your sweeping generalisations and assumptions Deborah.
    In my experience, in several inhouse creative departments within both the third sector and private sector, customer perceptions have been taken incredibly seriously-and budget attributed accordingly. I’m afraid your vision of inwardly facing companies, producing brands to please the board is cliched and outdated.

    Also, I’m sure that if Thomas Cook hang on to their folded, 3D rendered, new logo for long enough, then today’s rapid shift to flat design will quickly become yesterday’s news and it will become contemporary cool again. Such is the fickle nature of our profession.

  • Simon Deutsch November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Angus, I don’t think your article is having any kind of dig at in-house teams so I don’t know why Jez and Gareth are getting so uptight about this.

    Meyer’s statement is clearly having a go at creative fees being a waste of money in her opinion, because she’s managed to create her own solution.

    No-one’s saying anything about the quality of in-house creative teams. You point out, quite clearly, her attitude and the end result of a leader who takes it upon themselves to be experts in fields they don’t specialise in. Had both these two leaders let proper creative consultants advise and direct them properly I’m sure they wouldn’t have ended up with such non-effective solutions. But then in their eyes they’re happy with their efforts.

    Good luck to them.

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