MailChimp had a logo redesign lately.
People were discussing it on Hacker News, r/design, Brand New, everywhere.
I spent quite a few minutes studying and geeking out over it myself. Forumers really dug into the details, getting philosophical about the implications of design. Many agreed that the brand is better off. Some can’t tell the difference and see it as a waste of money. Some suspect that it might all be a psychological trick.
Pictured: Jessica Hische‘s skilful, subtle-but-awesome transformation of MailChimp’s logo.
It’s really interesting stuff. And it’s also a huge waste of time.
Now, it’s perfectly sensible for already-successful brands to hire designers to refine their image.
If you want to build a successful brand yourself though, lengthy discussions about the designs of other brands’ logos don’t help.
They distract you from what you really need to be doing: creating value for your customers.
It’s okay to start with a mediocre logo.
In fact, it seems to be the only way to go. Almost all great brands we take for granted today had inelegant, bloated or ugly logos when they started out.
This happens because businesses are built in the real world, in real time, and are too busy creating value for their customers to worry about unattainable perfection in design. They’d never get started otherwise.
Here’s the before/after of MailChimp’s Chimpy logo:
Once you’ve seen the new logo by professional designer Jon Hicks, the old one by MailChimp cofounder Ben Chestnut looks flat and unprofessional in comparison. Which it was! But it was good enough.
Here’s a relevant snippet of the MailChimp story:
“We limped along with this design for a long time. Then, as our business grew, and our audience spread out from the “Web designers and creative professionals” niche to a more broad “mainstream” audience, we started to get complaints that our chimp was a little “unprofessional.” This was around 2006.” – Ben Chestnut, MailChimp co-founder
Why did MailChimp “limp along” for a long time? If they were aware of the failings of their design, why didn’t they fix it? They were too busy focusing on creating value for their customers. They couldn’t afford to waste time in their earlier, formative stages.
Strong businesses survive weak branding.
At some point around 2008, MailChimp temporarily removed Chimpy altogether and “went corporate”, complete with cheesy copy and stock images. This was generally considered to be a bad move.
Despite this, their business actually improved during that period of time!
“I immediately got some hate mail for removing the chimp, but I also got some praise. Turns out lots of designers and agencies were hesitant about showing MailChimp to their larger clients. After removing the monkey mascot, we apparently looked “less risky” and the could finally switch over their larger accounts. Turns out after launching that new website design, our business grew faster than it ever had before. We got huge spikes in signups.” – Ben
If you asked me, I would’ve told you that removing Chimpy would’ve been a horrible idea. And I would’ve been wrong. Experimentation and reiteration is the only way.
There’s no point having a great logo if your business is dead.
Consider Vine, which has a logo that received mostly negative comments from designers:
Should Vine care? Nah. They’ve got far more important things to worry about. The logo was designed and launched in a day, after all. If their business continues to grow and thrive, we can probably expect a beautiful redesign in a year or two. You’ll hear all about it in the forums.
MailChimp has the luxury of being talked about because they’re great for sending out email newsletters. Nobody would care about their branding decisions if they weren’t useful and valuable to people to begin with.
“When you’re doing awesome stuff you can be bold with your branding, and have some personality.” – Ben Chestnut, MailChimp founder
If you’re running an online store or business, your top priority should always be to “do awesome stuff”. Even the iPod got prettier over time after first enabling you to put your entire music library in your pocket. As Steve Jobs said, design isn’t just how it looks like, design is how it works.
So focus on the “how it works” bit. Get things to work great, and you’ll have great designers banging on your door pleading to let them fix your logo. A much more appealing prospect than a beautiful logo on the door of an empty store.