A brand’s logo is, in many ways, its face — it’s the visual representation of a brand. As people, we’re emotional beings: drawn to the curve of a loved one’s smile or the color yellow for its happy hue. The right logo design encapsulates how you want someone to feel about your brand in one simple yet effective image.
When you think of the most popular brands that have stood the test of time, chances are you first visualize their logo. When you crave McDonald’s, you turn to the Golden Arches. When you set the mood with the perfect playlist, you look for the sound waves of Spotify.
Logos are all around us, but not all of them have the same lasting impact. Thanks to the emotional attachment customers build with brands over time, changes can be unwelcome. We’ll explore some logo refreshes that will live in brand infamy, and what you can learn from these famous logo mistakes when designing your own logo.
Now, we’ve established the importance of a logo, and you’ve probably already conjured images of several brands with impactful icons. Let’s explore some instances where brands, even well-known ones, went awry in their logo evolution process.
This worldwide clothing retailer is a mall staple. It’s closely associated with its trademark navy and white logo displaying the brand name in elongated capital letters. Gap proudly highlights its logo on popular apparel like sweatshirts and T-shirts, but when sales were down in 2010, the company decided to shake things up with a logo refresh. Seemingly overnight, their logo went from timeless and sleek to clunky and corporate.
And let’s just say the public didn’t like the new look. In less than a week, the old logo reappeared after consumers took to social media to express their dislike for the design change. The nearly immediate backtrack shows that this was indeed a logo design mistake. Always remember: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … with a bad design.”
Animal Planet’s original logo had an elephant and an image of the earth. It was well known and perfectly appropriate for the brand. Then in 2008, the TV network removed the graphics in favor of bold typeface and a sideways “M.” This change appeared nonsensical to many fans of the channel, with some feeling like it added no tangible value or identity to the brand.
Despite some vocal dislike of the brand redesign, in 2018, Animal Planet introduced a new logo that brought back the elephant into the design and a readable typeface. The approach was still modern but more meaningful — a welcome change after the 2008 shift without going backward. In the new logo, the elephant appears to be moving from the left to the right into tomorrow, symbolizing progress and development.
This Uber logo design mistake is another famous example of overthinking design elements. The popular transport company has played around with a few iterations of their logo, but arguably, the consensus is that the 2016 version garnered the worst reaction. In an attempt to gear the brand away from bad press, it went from a stylized “U” to an abstract design that the company said was inspired by the bit and the atom.
The design remained still sleek and futuristic, but it didn’t land in the way the company had hoped. Ultimately, it was a very high-level concept that really meant nothing to the average consumer, so now the logo is simply the name - sleek and elegant.
The Sherwin Williams “Cover the Earth” logo is an example of a logo design mistake that gets a lot of criticism but still lives on despite it. The logo features a globe covered in Sherwin Williams paint. Now, this isn’t bad on its own, but in light of accusations of lead poisoning and contamination from its products, that imagery carries some negative meaning. It doesn’t help that the paint is red, which is associated with blood.
Although the logo is still in use today, the design has had to survive some harsh critique. This design highlights the importance of knowing your brand’s pain points. Your logo has weight and emotion behind it — you want it to tell a story, so make sure you’re telling the right one.
Pepsi is yet another brand which survived the pushback against its perceived logo design mistake. Because Pepsi has been around for so long, its logo has naturally changed over the years. Somewhere along the way, they introduced their signature red, white, and blue circle. Then in 2008, the brand famously paid $1 million for a redesign that many felt was less than stellar, and to some, even devoid of emotion. Instead of having the white wave separating its symmetrical red and blue counterparts, Pepsi tilted the stripe upward to convey a smile. While this is conceptually clever, color psychology plays a big role in providing the emotional weight of logo design.
Overall, the public found this design change irrelevant, an idea only reinforced when the briefing behind the brand redesign leaked on the internet. It’s another example of a brand overthinking and overreaching instead of letting the simplicity of a design speak for its brand values.
It’s no secret that Microsoft isn’t exactly known for sleek logo designs, and their search engine is no exception. Bing, the search engine owned by Microsoft, received the title “worst-designed logo of 2009.” With Bing, there’s nothing about the typeface or the colors that are particularly memorable. The design is widely considered to be forgettable — the exact opposite of what most brands aim for.
Now, we’ve covered some pretty big brands and their logos, but some brands gain notoriety thanks to the internet. One example is Sun Rise Sushi, which made a different type of logo mistake. When your logo accidentally depicts something obscene, it becomes less of a matter of the nuances of good marketing and more an issue of a complete design oversight.
The logo is supposed to depict a sun rising behind a Japanese teahouse, but you can be the judge of that.
This Vermont Maple Syrup “logo fail” follows Sun Rise Sushi in that it gained attention for all the wrong reasons. In the logo, the image features the state of Vermont with a tap attached to it and a bucket underneath to catch the “syrup.” But due to the leg-like shape of the state, another not-so-sweet visual comes to mind.
Sure, the way things spread rapid-fire on the internet could be a good way for a brand to gain short-lived attention with an intended laugh. Ultimately, though, it won’t have the same lasting impact as a genuinely good logo design.
The logo for the Olympics is universally recognized. In implementing effective yet simple design elements, the logo evokes a feeling of unity, strength, and interconnectedness. However, the logo for the 2012 London Olympic Games did not garner the same reaction. The public saw a few interesting “hidden messages” in this logo design mistake. To some, the logo featured an unsightly act between Simpsons characters. To others, it spelled out words that had nothing to do with the games.
Since the 2012 Olympics was held only once, the committees in charge did not change the logo. However, it stands the test of time as an example of a logo gone wrong, and a lesson in the importance of legibility.
When companies commit to a rebrand, they’re often doing so because their logo looks a bit out of date. Capital One famously went the opposite direction in 2008, embracing an outdated curve atop its wordmark. Although banks are known to be conservative in their branding, some noted that the new swoosh supposedly did not have a concrete purpose.
There’s an important lesson in this rebrand: Be intentional about every element in your logo design, and be prepared to explain why it matters for your company.
These 10 logo mistakes offer plenty for new businesses to learn as they begin their own branding and logo development process. Here’s what you can take away from the mistakes that these famous — or infamous — brands made. If you’re looking to create your own logo, try Namecheaps’ Free Logo Maker to produce a high-quality design for your brand.
When you have a brand, you want to put your best face forward. A lot of branding is visual and calls on the power of storytelling. Your logo is the visual representation of your brand. It should be the first thing that comes to mind when a consumer thinks of your business. Most brands don’t have the universal recognition of Google or Microsoft, but smaller brands can learn a lot from their mistakes.