This article has been contributed by Janil Jean looking at 10 brands that updated their brand to a simplified flat style in 2014, and the reasons why.
Flat design has spiked significantly in the past few years, not only in UI design but in brand identity redesigns of some of the biggest players in the corporate world.
But is it just a fad like skeuomorphism or is it here to stay? Considering major brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Hershey have gone flat I would say it’s here to stay, at least for a while. It’s a heated debate in graphic design communities, and here’s why.
Minimal but not Boring
In the digital world, user experience is the key element that is considered in design. Minimal design concepts are based on the idea that anything that is ornamental is unnecessary. If a design element doesn’t have any functional purpose, it will steer the user away from the main focus of the design. Moreover, minimalism is not flashy but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It focuses on the content and layout with the use of grids and shapes to create room for scalability.
Ease of Use
Now here comes the interesting part – the user perspective. A simple flat design generally offers ease of use and is perceived as more honest by the visitor. The modern flat appearance can be tailored into an efficient responsive design like in a website design to reduce loading time. This in turn enhances user experience leaving him/her to concentrate on and understand straight forward content and find their way around within the site.
The USP of Flat Design
After discovering that 60 percent (and rising) of web traffic is on mobile devices, only the ignorant wouldn’t ensure their brand was optimized and designed accordingly, to capture this audience.
Back in the days of realistic designs, experts pointed out that realism allows users to identify the purpose of interactive elements, while the detailing in skeuomorphism gives it a more polished look. However, all that cannot beat the simplistic use of form and color in flat designs. Flat, without any bias looks cleaner, crisper and modern, and not to mention looks good in all types of tech devices, large or small.
Here are the rebranding ideas for going flat behind each of these big names:
Perhaps no other brand has undergone a major overhaul like Olive Garden. This seems like a complete transformation from the old-world 3D look to the minimalist flat design. However, the logo still retains a cursive font.
The rebranding idea: It was a total redesign for the Italian restaurant chain. But the fact that the restaurant has been changed to “kitchen” goes unnoticed due to the light olive color theme. The idea is to carry out business transformation without losing customers.
The company’s new visual identity was introduced quietly without creating any stir. The flat, red-on-white logo now negates any shadow but retains the slight curve at the bottom of the text. Surprisingly, the change has been accepted and critics claim that this logo design certainly has a lot of potential.
The rebranding idea: Why the company adopted this tactic is because the Netflix brand is expanding. The company is creating various apps for several internet connected devices like tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles. For each of these device, the previous logo would have been illegible, too bright and jarring. The result is rebranding to a subdued more appealing flat redesign which can stand the test of devices and audience.
Another brand that has chosen to refresh its look! The old logo tried to imitate the look of a movie ticket, not so successfully. In the new logo, the ticket has been refined with the use of the letters F – they are less spaced and the designer has played with an inverted F in the orange space. Plus, the simple choice of color and fonts makes the design much more current.
The rebranding idea: Fandango sells movie tickets online. The updated logo looks more like a ticket stub which conveys the brand promise effectively in all medium of display and devices, as compared to the unobtrusive F in the old logo. Again, the idea is to capture more movie goers rather than a simple redesign.
Hershey presents a classic example of why going flat is good to reflect on a brand’s strategy. The brand has taken an absolute U-turn from the 3-D realistic design to a flat and simplified brand image. Now the logo descriptor is in chocolate color and it appears all in caps.
The rebranding idea: Hershey claims that with this redesign, it intends to offer brand consistency across existing and new product range. Also, notice that it has removed the apostrophe “s” to become The Hershey Company more indicating that it’s more than a chocolate making company. Let’s wait and see how this change works in favor of the company.
Foursquare has come out of its realistic web style to embrace flat for a reason. Foursquare is a mobile app company that guides people to find restaurants, clubs and entertainment places in their vicinity. In the new logo, note that the letter F now looks like a map pin and the rest of the font is simple and in caps. The new logo now aptly reflects the company’s vision and mission.
The rebranding idea: Foursquare rebrands itself to give it’s logo an entirely new look and feel in lieu with its business expansion. Besides the old check-in feature, Foursquare has now launched a new stand-alone app called Swarm with the hope to capture more audiences.
Paypal has also joined the list of latest rebrands that have adopted flat designs. Their old logo shows a shadow under the P but the new design shows two separate “Ps” with a bolder word mark and prominent colors.
The rebranding idea: This new logo imparts a message of human connection that the brand intends to communicate by showing commitment to its customers in more ways than just its service. The brand intends to become more customer-friendly by leaving behind the dorky and geeky look of a startup.
Earlier on, Southwest’s brand symbol had an airplane with the text in caps. The new red, blue and yellow striped heart imparts a subliminal message of warmth and hospitality designed in flat.
The rebranding idea: The idea behind the new flat design follows Southwest’s rebranding strategy which is occurring this year following the acquisition of Air Tran Airways and business expansion to international flights. The airline intends to re-design all its in-flight materials, magazines and roll out a totally new communication campaign for which it requires a simple, dynamic and flat brand design to go with all its marketing efforts.
Airbnb latest logo’s transformation towards minimal design is to go with the trendy crowd, and an ulterior motive. The old one was somewhat close to real but the company thought that it has now outlived its purpose. The latest design features the Belo, a symbol of belonging (among other things).
The rebranding idea: Airbnb’s marketing department has gone out of their way to create hype for this rebranding exercise to kick off the new brand image, and we can’t blame them for it. The reason being that Airbnb wants to expand its business and create awareness among its audience. What better way than rebrand, create buzz and capture them online, on devices and offline?
The realistic old K-Swiss logo of a shield with blue, red and white stripes gives a look of sturdiness and durability of a shield. But now, the new flat logo follows minimalism in prominent red and “Brunner blue” signifying the brand’s heritage in American tennis. The stripes too are at 58 degree angle precisely to show expected growth while the font used in the wordmark is similar to the one used by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to align itself with all that is American pathways and growth.
The rebranding idea: With new management comes a new brand identity – that’s the norm. The K-Swiss new logo has been the result of a take over of an old company which had started in 1966. The new management’s vision is to aggressively jump into the field, get back its old glory and snag a larger market share with innovative directions. Looks like they will succeed.
A drastic transformation from 3D effects to one totally flat, Mack Trucks have really pulled itself out from the old days of 3D graphics. The old liquid metal look is now replaced with a flat black and white logo with a no-nonsense Mack Bulldog symbol.
The rebranding idea: The old logo had been effective in expressing the aggressiveness and tenacity of Mack Trucks but with the new flat logo, the company is now conveying the messsage of forward thinking and being at par with the truck industry trend. But more importantly, the upright bulldog with a confident stance is a showcase of Mack Trucks new marketing strategy to create brand persona, capture customer confidence outside its industry and to boost the reach of its network. Overall, from trucking to relationship building. Nice approach, I must say for a trucking company.
Whatever their rebranding idea, you will have noticed, the refreshed flat logos of these brands provide functionality for all users on all platforms and devices. Moreover, real designs clearly have had their limitations which is why major brands are moving towards flat to have more reach, to appeal to audience aesthetics, and more importantly to convert users into buyers.
What are your views? Should brands move to flat designs?
Janil Jean is a Business Coordination Manager at ZillionDesigns.com, a logo design and web development company. She’s a blogger, social media addict and graphic design enthusiast. She loves to travel and write about brands, graphic design, and startups. Connect with her via Twitter