Command-Z, and Not Knowing Who You Are

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Check your email Gap!

A lot has been written about the Gap logo redesign. Many people thought it was really really bad, and some even tried to reach out and help rectify this. The Gap listened to the online community, made a couple of missteps, and reverted back to the old logo. This wasn’t a PR fiasco, nor was it solely just a bad logo problem, but rather a clear case that the company does not know who it is. And because of that, they not only picked a bad logo, they had no story for the reason for this logo.

Old + New (I mean old)

(re-linked from BrandNew)

When companies rebrand, there often can be a lot of uproar about the change. When companies, newspapers, or magazines redesign, there’s always a lot of grumbling. An art director for The San Francisco Chronicle once told me that they received hate mail for changing the layout of the newspaper. When UPS redesigned its logo, ditching the Paul Rand masterpiece, all of us designers despised it. We didn’t care about the story UPS now wanted to tell its customers, about being more than delivering boxes. We just cared that there was one less Rand mark out there. But UPS knew what it had to do: It needed a reason to get the attention of its customers so that it could ask for permission to reposition itself in their minds. It stayed put. And we now live comfortably with the somewhat inflatable 3D version of the old logo.

The Gap announced its redesign with little explanation other than they’ve had it for 20 years anyway and it’s just one of the things they’re changing. (Vague Huffington Post article here.) With “no more” as a foundation for change, they caved. As Armin put it on Brand New: “It’s a double Command-Z for Gap.” The shame is that this was a big missed opportunity to tell us all about the Gap, whether it was to reinforce who the Gap is, and what it stands for, or what it wants to be and how it will be there for us, its customers. If more change is coming, then this was also a terribly choreographed event for us to experience this change.



When I buy from Rapha, on the other hand, I am happy for them to promote the world of cycling it promotes. In fact, I somewhat subscribe to it and to the brand’s values that are behind the making and craft of its clothing. Similarly, when I purchase something from Howies, I give the company permission to tickle me with its beliefs about the planet at least partly because I share those values. When I buy from Apple, I let it tell me what I need and what I’ll like in new consumer electronics.

Most of the time, they’re right, and they seem to not care when they’re not. All of these brands have a strong sense of who they are, what they do, and how they make meaning for me. If something changes—like they deviate from making desktop computers to making cell phones—I’m happy to accept that. If they extend their product line beyond clothing, I open my mind to that and welcome it. If they run lectures deep in the Welsh countryside, it makes sense. No one is terribly upset with them for doing so.

Howies Store London

(from Howies web site)

The top floors of the Folsom Street Gap HQ here in San Francisco could either be full of noise about this silly fiasco, or the marketing heads could still be as clueless as they were when they embarked on the project. This is not a time to go hire an outside firm to create ineffective internal marketing as they have done so before, but rather a point to figure out the beliefs, values, and reason for being the Gap right now, and most importantly, the Gap’s relationship to the customer. The company was clearly surprised by the online community, that its own customers are obviously more passionate than suspected. This just seems a little odd to overlook in this day and age. As much as the Gap doesn’t know itself and is unable to present that clearly—it doesn’t even know the customer anymore. Is it hiding behind marketing too much?

It’s not as simple to say, “The customer comes first,” because the customer wasn’t first in redesigning the logo — and in some cases, the customer doesn’t need to be first. In the cases of Rapha, Howies, and Apple, who all know they don’t exist without customers — what they believe in comes first, then connecting that to their customers comes next.

Rebranding is a big, bold step for a company that has 3.8bn in sales. Many companies miss the opportunity to tell new stories, reshape new worlds for their customers and ultimately are not nearly as successful as they could be. Moderate success or the absence of failure is the measure that is sought after more often. I wonder if the brand firm Laird + Partners didn’t do enough to steer their client away from this bad decision.

For me, I’m glad the Gap made this double-blunder. I look forward to see how they’ll take this opportunity to resurrect themselves in a stronger way and become a more purposeful organization, rather than looking like they wanted to emulate the cheeky American Apparel with using Helvetica in their word-mark.

(My apologies to any Gap employee who feels unfairly represented here by the obvious decisions of a few at the top, that don’t want or have anything to do with this logo redesign.)