Monday, April 6, 2009

Geeks hate ugly logos too

The Symbian Foundation has proudly announced its new logo, which is part of the whimsical branding that the foundation has been using for its appearances at Mobile World Congress (in Feb.) and CTIA (last week).

I find myself in an interesting position in commenting on the new branding.

My friend and co-author David Wood — the only Symbian executive to remain from beginning to end — is at the thick of it as the “Catalyst and Futurist” within the Symbian Foundation leadership team. David was (at one point) ecosystem manager for Symbian Ltd. Now that Symbian is open source, he is handing much of their community relations (although that job is far too big for one person to do alone).

Another friend and co-author, Mike Mace, posted an article Saturday about the Symbian logo entitled “The ugliest logo ever.” He worries that the logo will make it difficult to communicate Symbian compatibility if developers don’t want to display this logo. (I disagree with Mike slightly — I think the Symbian logo is uglier than Tux the penguin).

The money quote:

The bottom line is that any logo artless enough to please the open source community would be problematic as a marketing tool. As is often the case in marketing, you can't please all your audiences, so you can either be universally bland or you can optimize for one audience. I think the folks at Symbian decided that open source street cred is the thing they need most.
I don’t see it as either/or — but then Mike’s the mobile/PDA guy and I’m the open source guy.

While ugly might be necessary for free software movement types, it’s clearly a silly idea for the professional open source community. Geeks want to be associated with a winner, not with something that looks like a 2nd grade doodle.

There are many counter examples of projects that have both more professional looking logos and greater “open source street cred,” includingEven some of the older logos, like FreeBSD and Perl are superior to the Symbian Foundation look. Heck, I think my old company’s logo beats that of the MNC-funded nonprofit.

If Symbian were asking me, I’d quietly kill the heart. Keep it on the website, but deprecate any other use, and then retire it at the next major community milestone in Q3 or Q4.

To replace it, I’d design a tight new multi-color (or gradient) logo that evokes the Symbian spaceman, which is friendly, animate, unique and has a vaguely high-tech association. In the meantime, keep the spaceman on business cards and other collateral.

Of course, they’re not asking me. Instead, I’m guessing they’ll continue along, lost in branding space, until the person responsible for the logo leaves and internal politics allow the foundation to gracefully change course and pick something different.

1 comment: said...

Apache? Eclipse? Gnome? Python? Those are some of the ugliest logos ever while the Symbian logo isn't bad by comparison. The singular vision in branding isn't really the expertise of open source. Design by committee rarely works. To be taken seriously, hiring a designer or firm might just be the only way to go. Possibly one would be willing to even do a logo pro-bono if they believe in the project