Gapgate: crowd-sourcing design?


What happens when a global brand has a crisis of confidence?

Earlier this week, Gap revealed a new logo:

New Gap logo: really?

The internet, always dependable for a tempered, considered response, promptly went into a state of international brand emergency. Here was a long-standing, and much-loved company eschewing their iconic mark for a combination of Helvetica (which feels soul-sappingly bland when used in a brand mark) and an apparently arbitrarily-located nod to the existing square device (but – hey kids – we’ve put a gradient on it!). Or, as many commenters stated, it looks like it was done in Microsoft Word (increasingly the consumer byword for bad design).

But wait – I say “a” new logo, rather than “their” new logo, because it’s as yet unclear whether they’re serious. On Thursday, Gap’s Facebook status (yes, this really is how the world is now) was changed to:

Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.

The immediate response? Hundreds of entries on sites like ISO50 ranging from the…

... passable ...
... to the Photoshop overkill ...
... to the 'dear God no'

So what’s going on?

Is Gap really opening it’s design doors to all and sundry? Or is this all just an elaborate and devious ‘Cowell-and-Gamugate’-esque ruse to generate enormous volumes of publicity?

If it’s the latter, bravo. Mission accomplished.

Our prayers go out to them if it’s the former. There can be little doubt that crowd-sourcing is amongst the most significant developments in marketing in recent years (for better or worse), but crowd-sourcing design is a recipe for disaster. Good design is an artform which it takes more than a knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator to master. Harder still is the task of encapsulating a brand with history, multiple guises and many nuances in a single, globally-applicable mark.

In short, it’s better to have a handful of considered concepts from talented people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of good design, than thousands, even millions, of designs from aspiring amateurs. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, and from the mire of mediocrity a sparkling design diamond will be plucked. But I doubt it.

Right, now where do I submit my design?

Update: 12th October 2010

Crisis over. One week on from its unveiling, Gap have abandoned the proposed new logo, and reverted back to old faithful.

In a statement, the president of Gap North America said:

Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand. All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on any further.
We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.

Looking back on what must have been quite a week at Gap HQ, it’s a reflection of the instant age we now live in that a brand of this scale can reveal a new direction and have such immediate and widespread feedback that it feels the best way forwards is back, just seven days on.

Ultimately, this was crowd-sourcing used right: connecting a company to its consumers in such a tangible, clear way that it reminds them who really holds the final say in what their brand is: not them, but their customers.