Yahoo is old in Internet time. Founded in 1994, the company that began as "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web" became a traffic behemoth before turning into something of a joke among the sort of geeks that joke about this sort of thing (the rise and fall of web portals). Until very recently, the company was poised to be forgotten.
The thing is, though, the traffic kept coming. Like Aol, Yahoo got into the game early enough that a vast amount of its visitors had become habituated to visiting the site on a daily basis to read news, check email and use other services.
The company, however, had lost its once innovative edge, and brought in former Googler and wunderkind executive Marissa Mayer as its new chief executive in an effort to shake things up in July of 2012.
One year later, Yahoo traffic beat Google for the first time in a long time. But, despite Mayer's well-known obsession with quantifying everything in her field of vision, there is more to rebuilding a company's reputation than raw analytics.
She needed to give Yahoo, recently valued at as much as $10 billion, a new image. She sat down with her design team and started "geeking out" on the new logo.
This isn't standard operating procedure for a design team, particularly the part about working directly with the chief executive of their multi-billion dollar employer.
And design company Information Architects just didn't buy it, saying:
"Redesigning a logo for a $10 billion company that is in deep trouble is not a matter of talented designers and personal preferences for design. It is not about fiddling. Doing it in a weekend is simply unprofessional."
The critical blog post by IA's Oliver Reichenstein goes on to cite Mayer's purported direction in coming up with the new logo:
"Currently, Yahoo is not associated with being whimsical or sophisticated, rather it is mostly boring and dull. It doesn't portray modernity or freshness, it feels obsolete and dated. There is no humanity in the brand identity, it's computed, impersonal, scattered."
I'd have to agree: I just don't "get" Yahoo, and haven't for a long time. It is a strange brand, simultaneously in the worlds of mobile apps, content creation, advertising, and services like email. And it insists on that stupid exclamation mark, which is as silly in a corporate name as it is in an email to business contacts.
And, in case you didn't notice, I refuse to use it. Ever.
Anyway, the reason many seasoned designers like Reichenstein probably have complaints about both the process and outcome of Yahoo's logo redesign is because it was never really about the logo redesign to begin with.
It was Yahoo's attempt to inject into the media narrative the very "whimsy" Mayer claimed it already had.
Sometimes, rebranding is about more than changing a logo. To be sure, such superficial changes can signal deeper shifts in corporate culture and direction, but sometimes a company just needs to get the spotlight back, and for reasons other than its faded glory days.
For Yahoo and its CEO, the new logo, whether you like it or not, isn't about the final product, but the attention it got for the company along the way.
And while it may annoy designers to see their craft co-opted for a bit of shiny marketing, if Yahoo can use their recent 15 minutes of redesign fame to jump-start more successes like their award-winning weather app on iOS, the end just may justify the means.