Several years ago I was presenting a new logo design to a medium sized company on the East Coast. The logo was orange. In the meeting the CEO said, "It looks like the Caterpillar Tractor logo!" I pulled that logo up for comparison purposes and noted that there were NO similarities whatsoever. Even the color orange was different. The lesson?; NONE of that mattered! As soon as he saw the similarity between the draft and the Caterpillar logo, he couldn't "unsee" it. In fact, everyone else at the table had now seen the comparison and could no longer unsee it. ARRRGH!!!
The FedEx Icon
To drive this point home, I often point out to people that the FedEx Logo, although it is comprised of just letters, has a built in icon/graphic. At this late date many people have already experienced this but it's always fun to be the one to show this to those who haven't yet seen it. They'll look and look and look... then you get to instruct them to look between the letters. They'll quickly discover the arrow between the 'E' and the 'x.' "OHHH, WOWWW! That's Cool!" is usually the response.
Once you see it, you can't UNsee it!
AirBnB's New Logo
So, the branding world is all abuzz with the launch of the new AirBnB logo. If you Google "Airbnb new logo" you'll find numerous depictions of how this is a combination of several concepts: People, a location icon, an upside down heart and the letter 'A'. And, as I write each of those things, your eyes shoot up to the logo to find them. Am I right?
Here's the challenge with this logo: LOTS (and I mean LOTS AND LOTS) of people are seeing things other than those four concepts. The most commonly claimed are; A paperclip, Female genitalia and Male genitalia. Hmmmmmmm.
Yep, just like before, as soon as you read that, your eyes shot up to the logo and started seeing those things. And, sadly, now that you've seen them, you can't UNsee them. My apologies for being the one to do that to you ... but somebody was going to point it out some day anyway.
The Lesson Learned
If you're in the middle of a logo re-design, or if you're a logo designer (especially), don't rest on obvious questions like, "How do you like this?" (which only evokes a personal opinion based on personal preference.) Instead, ask several people more obscure questions like, "What do you see here?" or "What does this look like to you?" (a la the Rorschach inkblot test) or "What do you think this graphic symbolizes?" By asking questions in this way, you're shifting the viewer's brain into a more analytical mode – one where they're more likely to pick up, and verbally express, these kinds of observations. Another benefit is that shifting the viewers brain away from personal opinion will increase the likely hood of them evaluating the logo for things like; balance, scalability, weight, brand, nuance of meaning, etc. ... instead of things like, "I hate that color of purple" or "I don't like that [fill in the blank]."
Pretty clearly, the logo design team for Airbnb didn't explore enough and we will now forever see those naughty bits (or a paperclip, for some of you.)