If you haven’t heard, project management and workplace chat tool, Slack, revealed its new logo from graphic design agency Pentagram. We’ve spent quite a bit of time recently discussing brand strategy; and more apropos to this article, when it’s time to refresh your brand. So naturally we have some thoughts.
The new look deconstructed their classic Octothorpe, a.k.a. the hashtag, into something simpler and more abstract featuring pill and droplet (or word bubble) shapes. This move came after folks at Slack felt that their design system lacked cohesion and was difficult to use on more than just white and aubergine backgrounds.When done well, giving your brand a fresh look can breath life back into a company by creating positive energy. But done incorrectly, it can suck the life out of a brand.
Unfortunately for Slack, many on the internet thought this was a step in the wrong direction, abandoning brand equity in the move from the identifiable but cluttered hashtag logo to the more enterprise-y, flattened tech company version. Some had even more pointed opinions on the matter. Most notably, many are calling out the presumably unintended shape it makes: a swastika. It’s not completely obvious at first because it’s in the negative space. However, once you see it… well, you can’t unsee it.
Twitter had a field day in response. Just check out the results when you search “slack logo swastika” on Twitter.
Where did Slack and their agency, Pentagram, go wrong?
Well, they did and they didn’t it seems. The former logo played on the famous Octothorpe (aka a hashtag, the familiar #), which is a ubiquitous shape in today’s age; so perhaps it was time to move away from that. In accordance with the brief and considerations, Pentagram succeeded with the given task—they expanded on an extremely recognizable logo while providing an extended visual language with life across multiple applications. The firm resolved issues of legibility with the mark at a small scale, they simplified the color palette, and maintained the aubergine purple that Slack is known for. Their design brief explored plenty of possibilities, and this is probably the best of their probe. They explain their process quite well in their case study, to boot.
However, one of the biggest concerns when designing an octothorpe, or a four-segment one like Pentagram chose to explore, is that it almost inevitably ends up creating a swastika. And somehow through the multiple iterations and critiques, the team failed to notice that the negative space did just that – leaving the logo with a symbol most commonly associated with Hitler’s Nazi regime.
The clapback on social media has been quick and brutal.
The negative space in the new Slack logo makes it look like a whimsical swastika.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk about how the internet has ruined my brain forever. pic.twitter.com/6Mv1FiuJY4
— Eric Scott Johnson (@HeyHeyESJ) January 16, 2019
What are our thoughts on this?
Kudos to Slack and Pentagram for sticking to their decision amidst the intense backlash. However, this is something that both the teams within Slack and Pentagram should have considered.
It’s hard to see everything from a holistic view when one is so close to the project. But if it wasn’t apparent throughout the design process, they should address the issues now. Admit to the oversight—everyone knows that Pentagram and Slack didn’t intend to hide a swastika within the logo. Own up and address the issue.
No one wants their brand to be associated with white supremacists and antisemitism, no matter how unintentional. The new logo is well-designed, clean and has life in other applications.
It’s a good mark. It’s fun, energetic and grounded in a system that celebrates the platform’s visual vocabulary. But at the end of the day, a logo has applications everywhere and if the perception of your logo is that it contains hateful symbols, it’s something that should be addressed. Slack will likely outlive this controversy, but the Twitter comments will not be forgotten anytime soon.
How can you avoid making a similar mistake?
Do your research. This comes before, during and after a new look has been established. Prior to a redesign, make sure you have the right team in place. During the process, have various team members review and give raw feedback on design options. Make sure to include people who aren’t regular team members on the project.
Lastly, when you’ve settled on what you think the final design will be, consider commissioning a focus group of current customers. While a formal focus group may not be in the budget, we recommend some form of outside feedback because you often get reactions completely different than your internal teams.
It can certainly help avoid PR blunders such as this one.