We revisit the highs, the lows, the most-Tweeted about. Here are our picks for the best and worst identity design this year.
It has never been harder to design a good visual identity. Brands live on dozens of platforms, so they have to look as good on a billboard as they do on a phone screen. Armchair critics emboldened by the ease of the web attack change no matter how necessary, skewing clients toward less ambitious work. And yet the companies below managed to eke out thoughtful, even occasionally daring, new visual identities this year. Of course not everyone hit the mark. Here, we take you through a year of branding—the good, the bad, and the most controversial.
Grubhub may have started out as a small startup, but in 2016, the 12-year-old company services 7 million people and 44,000 restaurants. It needed a grown-up redesign: a look that was authentic yet polished and one that would work on both a national and hyper-local level. Wolff Olins took on the task and rebranded the company, populating ads with lifestyle photos (think Airbnb ads and Apple commercials) and hand-drawn lettering, and adding chef highlights, animated food items, and a custom keyboard of GrubHub “mmmojis” to the site. Overall, the new look is fresh and professional, but retained some of the scrappy personality of its earlier paper cut-out illustrations. The hope is that it will persuade the shrinking, but still sizable population of people who still prefer placing delivery orders over the phone to switch to the web.
Before this year the MasterCard logo hadn’t changed significantly in 20 years, but the way that we buy and pay for things certainly had. Tasked with the company’s first major redesign in two decades, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and designer Hamish Smyth refrained from making drastic changes to the familiar overlapping yellow and red circles in the logo—instead opting to modernize it by removing the comb effect in the center and placing the wordmark outside of the symbol. With the option to just use the familiar symbol without the wordmark, the system is flexible enough to work across multiple products and platforms, like the MasterPass digital payments and Priceless rewards program. The logo is also optimized to work well on mobile, the direction here most of our bank transactions have been going.
In May, Instagram shocked the internet when it unveiled a pared-down, rainbow-gradient upgrade to its Polaroid icon. But the new icon contained some clever details: an image that referenced photography’s evolution away from film-based cameras to phones, and a rainbow gradient that made the icon pop in a sea of other icons (and subtly referenced the rainbow stripes of the old icon). Not surprisingly, the fervor quickly subsided. Now your thumb gravitates instinctively toward the icon on your phone dashboard without a passing thought given to the skeuomorphic old one (there’s no need to reference analog cameras in an app for your iPhone cam).
When Uber’s new icon came out in February, it was widely ridiculed. It looked like PacMan. An asshole. A “little kind of bluish sideways ass.” Wired dedicated considerably more words to the icon with a behind-the-scenes look, during which Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he kept the design in-house because he didn’t trust anyone else to do it for him. Bad call, Kalanick. The icon managed to look both soullessly corporate and overworked. It was also poorly executed. Yet, just like the (better, more thoughtful) Instagram redesign, the Uber icon shows how quickly these controversial rebrandings are normalized—particularly with apps we interact with so much that their use becomes almost subconscious.
Well, here we are: the absolute worst brand design of the year. We wish we didn’t have to bring this pair up, but there’s no getting around the fact that the Trump-Pence logo takes the prize. The animation above says it all, but Twitter said it pretty well, too. The campaign buckled under the online mockery, pulled the logo, and replaced it with something less suggestive, but it was too late. The image is seared into our minds forever. With Trumpistan looming, you’ll want to keep this GIF close—a memento from simpler times.