IDENTITYWORKS.COM Reviews NotedProBonoIssuesArticlesToolsIdentity ForumSpaethContact
Home > Reviews > 2010 Programs > Gap


2013 Programs

2012 Programs

2011 Programs

2010 Programs

2009 Programs

2008 Programs

2007 Programs

2006 Programs

2005 Programs

2004 Programs

2003 Programs

2002 Programs

2001 Programs

2000 Programs

1999 Programs

1998 Programs



















[ Site Map ]


New:  Logo

Launched:  October 4, 2010

Reviewed by guest critic David Cundy*

Story in brief:
My how the world has changed. This week, Gap (not “the Gap”) updated its square identity online in a jaw-dropping ten-giant-steps-backward event that demonstrates multiple worst design practices, not to mention a major missed strategic rebranding opportunity. And everyone – from Adweek to Agency Spy to the San Francisco Chronicle to the design community's Brand New, it seems, not only noticed but wallpapered the Internet with condemnations. On top of this, Gap spokespersons stuck their feet even deeper into their corporate mouths by activating a crowdsourcing invitation to provide free speculative work (and we are not amused) on the company’s Facebook page.

The crowd's consensus is that the new mark is (as Alvaro Acevedo put it on Facebook) an “epic fail.”


C.E.O. - Glenn Murphy
Identity design - Laird and Partners

First impressions, by David Cundy:

Looked at from a business perspective, the new Gap identity is perplexing. It was introduced with almost no executive fanfare, no press release, and minimalistic after-the-fact rationales. Gap did not respond to a media inquiry, and one might be forgiven for concluding that Gap’s CEO Glenn Murphy and his executive team haven’t mastered the basics of identity update and rollout, let alone the update process. (I’ll get to the agency later.) Executives at Gap who should have these competencies are Arthur Peck, EVP Strategy and Operations, and Marka Hansen, President, Gap North America. Here’s Ms. Hansen’s rationale for the new mark in the Huffington Post:  

“We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.”

Hansen follows with a cryptic statement implying that the new design isn’t permanent, and that customer-submitted designs will be considered too:  

“Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we've decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap. 

“From this online dialogue, it's clear that Gap still has a close connection to our customers, so tapping into this energy is right. We've posted a message on the Gap Facebook Page that says we plan to ask people to share their designs with us as well. We welcome the participation we've seen so far.

“We'll explain specifics on how everyone can share designs in a few days.”

What she means by “passionate outpouring” is closer to “merciless dismissal.” HuffPo commenters, among others,  have been brutal. Here’s one, at random:  

“It's too late to ask for people's opinions when you already created the new logo. I say this crappy logo (seriously, it looks like it was made by a 13-year-old) needs to go the way of 'new Coke' and just disappear. Maybe they can revisit in a few years.”

Additional Gap reaction came from Bill Chandler, Vice President of Corporate Communications, who told Fast Company magazine’s Co.Design blog (“Gap On Disastrous New Logo: We’re Open to Other Ideas”) that Gap is targeting 28-year-olds. Judging from Facebook comments, there was neither any market research nor customer input to support this assertion. In other words, the “strategy” behind the update was a subjective belief, as Mr. Chandler put it, that

“This is a more contemporary, modern expression. The only nod to the past is that there's still a blue box, but it looks forward."

Today (10 October), yet another spokesperson (Louise Callagy, Senior Director, Global External Affairs) was quoted in the  San Francisco Chronicle :

"If you've been watching Gap over the past year, our customers have seen how we've been evolving our brand identity. Our brand and clothes are changing, so we want our logo to reflect that change.” 

To their credit, these Gap messages are nebulously consistent, as far as they go. But an identity update is serious business for a public company for which sales are based on image, goodwill is a balance sheet line item, and the cost of enterprise implementation will be financially material.

Reviewing Gap’s identity from a strategic perspective, it’s also important to survey the competitive landscape. Gap competes with H&M, TJ Maxx, American Eagle Outfitters, and Abercrombie & Fitch, among others. For Gap and its competitors, careful calculation and cultivation of brand image are critical in today’s ultracompetitive, ultrathin-margined physical and online retail venues. In this environment, to make a misstep of this magnitude is truly unfortunate. To say that the new Gap identity is at least competitively differentiated is not a compliment.  

The new mark is the word “Gap” in unaltered upper- and lowercase Helvetica Medium (Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann, Haas Foundry, 1957) in black, with a non-quite x-height diagonally gradated blue square in cap-aligned superscript position underlapping the p. Although it’s only been out for a few days, critical commentary is already ubiquitous. It’s surprising, upon reflection, that there is so much not to like in such a simple mark, containing only a simple word and a simple graphic.

The word: While Helvetica has its adherents, and Gap has used various weights of Helvetica – especially Helvetica Thin – to memorable advertising and retail effect (although -- hint to agency, when using Helvetica Medium/Bold, tint to 15 percent black on light ground or 30 percent white superimposed on photos to mitigate the clunk), in this logo context Helvetica Medium can only be described, charitably, as ugly: desktop publishing generic. It recalls nothing more than a first-step typographic sketch to assess the word in “title case” variation. The fact is that Gap is in the fashion industry, which demands the dynamic new. Notably, there have been at least several interesting sans serif fonts developed since Chevrolet put fins on the Bel Air and Buddy Holly released “Peggy Sue.” Mr. Chandler’s assertion that this will play to 28-year-olds born in 1982, the very generation that came of age with the Internet, seems indefensible and counterintuitive. The defense that Helvetica Medium was being used in the brand's advertising is especially weak: all the more reason to have a logo that stands apart, as the old one did, from advertising typography, to maximize its visibility and uniqueness. 

The choice of graphic symbol (if one can call it that) is even worse. The underlapped square is, from an apparently universal perspective, pathetic (compare Stephen Doyle’s recent, excellent 150th Anniversary Cooper Union identity). As a container for the condensed serif  “GAP,” it worked perfectly, and we understood the blue square as denim. Unfortunately, as a floating element, the square says nothing more clearly than “PowerPoint” (Microsoft now officially owning the decidedly non-intellectual property library of regular geometric shapes® that define graphic mediocrity™ ...see the New York Times article on PowerPoint in military applications – “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”). This, by the way, is why Lippincott’s Samsung’s off-kilter oval identity is so excellent.

The superimposed p / square combination obviously won’t work in monotone – a violation of the Identity Design 101 law, to avoid color-differentiated superimpositions. If the defense is that the gradation will separate the square and the p, or that nothing today is presented in monotone, good luck. Neither is valid: the gradation may be readable, but this is a three-letter word, for heaven's sake, the point being that this configuration is unimaginative. And monotone applications abound in signage, store tags and local advertising/print publications: substance on surface isn’t dead yet. Good news for knock-off producers around the world: Your child can create an exact-replica Gap logo for your labels. In fact, there already is a credible online version that reads (pardon our French) “Crap,” and a spoof site in which one can “Enter Text to be Crap Logo’d.”

 Maybe the designer's intention was to be clever: to create a Gap Squared rebus, or to subliminally suggest a business graphic of an upward-pointing arrow. Sorry, Gap, I’ve met the Senator, and your arrow is no Fedex.  

Last, the mark violates the most basic designer principles (are you taking notes?): One, always be cooler than what came before; Two, always be cooler than everyone else; and Three, always be über-ęsthetic. This mark hurts the eyes, and activates murderous instincts in the lower brain. Even more important than formal considerations is the prime intellectual identity design directive: to have affect and meaning, emotional and literal. This mark’s most damning feature is its total lack of any possible aspirational associations (Landor’s H&R Block square is at least a rebus).

 In final analysis, here’s the most probable scenario: No thinking whatsoever went into this identity, and any analysis gives putative intention, meaning and credibility to something that merits none of the above.

Not suprisingly, the new Gap identity was created not by a professional identity firm but by Gap's advertising agency, New York-based Laird+Partners, whose clients include Calvin Klein Underwear, DKNY, Ermenegildo Zegna, Juicy Couture and Tommy Hilfiger. Gap personnel responsible for the update will no doubt point to Laird’s services listings of  “Brand Identity” and “Brand Strategy.” The mark has not been uploaded as yet to the firm’s Gap portfolio presentation.

The bottom line:
This is a textbook case on how not to develop, or launch, a rebranding. There will be a takeback -- but don’t expect the process to be pretty, or for Gap to do the right thing and bring in the pros.  


* David Cundy is principal of Design Trust, an integrated branding consultancy established in 1982. The firm provides strategic analysis, positioning, messaging, naming, visual identity development and implementation services, and markets the online brand management application BrandCanopy®.

Spaeth comments:

Obviously, David cares.  Millions care: a street-side rebranding like this is a community event.  I would hope the Gap team (and other marketers) learn from this episode that:

-  You can't sneak in a logo change. It's an event that will draw eyes and   minds; use that to your advantage, or it will bite you.

-  When it is time to rebrand, engage identity experts. They are unlikely to be working for advertising agencies, who you employ for campaign competence; the campaign and the identity are very different things, played out in differing dimensions of time and space and in our minds.

In an October 11 release,  Gap concedes. Says Marka Hansen:

"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.

“There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way. “

Congratulations, Gap, on a wise and gracious concession.


                                           Replacing ..






CEO Glenn Murphy


the corporate brand, such as it is,
 remains unchanged:






























































^ top of page