With Yahoo!’s dramatic new corporate branding, the company’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, is yanking us from the familiar. Her company’s previous visual language was all about the hokey. Slab serifs spoke to the hillbilly, the hick, the country bumpkin in all of us. It was clean, in a farmyard sort of way, and honest.
The new direction is stunningly different: a mash-up of thick vertical strokes, exaggerated kerning and outrageous misalignment. To appreciate just how shocking the new concept is, just look at the apex of that bulbous exclamation mark.
Orthographically speaking, Yahoo!’s logo has always been about the exclamation mark – or exclamation point, if you’re reading from across the way. It is a wondrous but transgressive object. And here, in Yahoo!’s recently released new branding, we see it in all its forbidden glory: an orgiastic, expectorating member baptising itself over two succulent orbs.
Retaining the purple of the previous design is a more radical move than it first appears. Purple is the colour of royalty and sophistication, but it is also dangerous, for it contains not only blue, but red. This conscious acknowledgment of the financial precariousness of Yahoo! is a defiant decision – the sort of thing we’ve come to expect during Mayer’s tenure. As if to underline her ferocity, Mayer has slightly darkened the hue.
Such perilousness as it suggests is mitigated by the clean lines of the logo’s new architecture. Recalling the haphazard agelessness of Frank Gehry’s greatest designs, the type has been drawn not only to reassure, with jagged lines enforcing youthful exuberance but with a respect to proportion last seen in the 1990s – when Yahoo! was still a going concern.
The bevel inside the wordmark will be controversial, but it should be viewed with the same appreciation of history and perspective. It comes from a time of optimism in the internet’s history, a period in which Yahoo! reigned supreme and during which denizens of the net felt that the technological and creative possibilities of the web were limitless.
Yahoo! says that the new logo is intended to stay true to the brand’s heady sense of whimsy, yet acknowledge the evolution of the company’s products. In that it has been successful.
It speaks to those of us who grew up on MySpace and Geocities, whose tastes are unfussy and uncomplicated and whose aesthetics are emotional and personal, rather than egoistic and demonstrative. Though clearly drawn freehand, the new mark feels glued to tradition while at the same time, in the words of the Valley from which the company hearkens, “disruptive”. It is a triumph.