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Work / Opinion

Why the Apple Watch cements a new lease of life for logo design

The Apple Watch was officially unveiled yesterday (as was a super-thin 13.1mm new MacBook) and as ever the internet is awash with run-downs and reactions slobbering over the new products. For Wolff Olins design director Jan Eumann though, the imminent arrival of the new timepiece got him thinking about logo design, and in particular how app buttons have rehabilitated the logo. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…

For a long time Wolff Olins was about branding, not corporate identity, especially not corporate design. We practiced and preached that your brand is more than a logo, that there are more design elements that can define your visual language. That the logo is almost secondary.

Let me clarify, I’m not talking about strategy, content or experience here. We ALL know how utterly important all that stuff is. I’m just talking from a pure design point of view.

Long story short: The logo was key in the early days of corporate design and then we talked it away. We had every right to. The world was changing and more flexible design systems were needed and still are in many cases. But nowadays if we look at the Googles of the world, the Airbnbs, the Twitters — what do they all have in common? They are digital; they live on your desktop but also on your tablet, your phone, your glasses and your watch.

And the more we move towards wearables, towards screens that are embedded not in a big piece of technology but in our lives, the more those brands have to blend in. They need to be designed away to allow for learned interactions to reappear across all devices and all brands. You want your Uber App buttons on your Apple Watch to be something you know how to use, not just another branded piece of graphic design. With this inevitable and also very human approach, many brands won’t be able to have their visual expression reflected in their interactions and that’s fine. It’s actually not just fine, it’s awesome. The brand has to deliver content or experience and be as useful as possible to build positive equity — BUT that’s not what I’m focusing on here.

“In the older days of the internet, people might have clicked your logo when they wanted to return to the homepage. Now they click it every time they want to interact with you.”

Jan Eumann

So what am I talking about then? What visual territory is left for a brand? It’s the button. Yes, the app button. It’s important because of where initial interaction starts. Where people touch and click, where people are looking for your brand among all the others. In the older days of the internet, people might have clicked your logo when they wanted to return to the home page. Now they click it every time they want to interact with you. That’s good. It makes everyone learn your logo fast. That’s the reason why Twitter was able to introduce the beautiful drawing of a stylised bird and drop their name altogether from the logo.

The point is: All brands go digital and there’s huge potential for them. But when it comes to corporate design you better make sure your logo kicks ass. Not just animation, not just blown up billboard sized, but on a small screen inside of a rectangle with rounded corners. Because if you suck there, people won’t be compelled to discover all the amazing things you do within your experience.

Basically, it’s the button, stupid.