eBay unveiled their new logo today, 17 years to the month since their launch. The original logo, designed by Bill Clearly of the now defunct CKS Group has been one of those awkward beasts that has, through time and sheer persistence, become embedded in my brain. I’ve even begun to like something about it. One thing I did always find strange is that eBay write their name ‘eBay’, yet the logo is written as ‘ebaY’, apparently this was because the designer felt the capital B would act like a ‘roadblock’ so they arbitrarily capitalised the Y instead. Makes perfect sense I guess, if you happen to be in the business of designing brand identities using magnetic letters on your fridge as your primary tool. Perhaps the truth is that the capital B had fallen under the fridge.
The eBay logo has marched boldly through the years and has stamped its mark in the psyche of millions of users and the company has become a truly global brand. There remains a goofiness to the logo that almost helps me forget their constant fee increases and the fact they bought PayPal in order to add on even more fees. Almost.
Which makes me think that this rather dull redesign is a missed opportunity. Let’s look at the images they use to show application of this new brand:
A logo photoshopped on a phone! A logo photoshopped on an iPad! A logo photoshopped onto some bags! And what’s this — oh it’s only a logo photoshopped onto a billboard with three photographs under it — GENIUS! The shopping bags image is particularly odd considering eBay don’t actually have physical stores, though I do seem to remember seeing an eBay mall in Shenzhen, China, probably a fake. So, are eBay going to be opening stores? Or is this just some weird, abstract representation of online shopping? The point is that unless they’re keeping something up their sleeves, this seems like a surface-deep brand refresh, and one that doesn’t even seem to cover the whole surface very well. Those photoshopped application images are particularly lazy. We’re seeing more and more ads being placed by eBay—even TV spots—and yet this seems (so far) to be simply a logo redesign that doesn’t reach any deeper at all.
So what of the new logo? It retains the alternating colour letters which appear to have been muted, brought up-to-date and more tonally unified, and the letters still touch but no longer overlap. Gone is the jiggly baseline in favour of a clean, stark look. The typeface is Univers Extended, which seems like one of those rather thoughtless choices — “oh… well, the previous logo used a version of Univers quite dissimilar to this but we felt we’d stick with the same font family just because”. All in all It looks… okay. It’s fine. it looks a bit dated and frankly, looks devoid of personality and leaves me a bit “meh”, which I suppose is certainly better than “uugh”.
Perhaps it’s bland enough to last another 17 years but my feeling is that the original logo had been around long enough to have built up status, even the higgledy piggledy, overlapped letters seem like they could have been thrown a life-raft and put to good use. Ultimately it feels like it speaks to mediocrity—which is probably fine, perhaps it very well suits where they are headed; eBay has obviously been changing course for a while now, moving away from its roots as a community based marketplace for individuals and midway into Amazon territory. So, I’m a little torn how I feel about this and I’m fully expecting the story to be played out further once it is officially launched. So far there seems to be no real expansion into a deeper brand experience, which for me is a lost opportunity; I wonder if this just the nature of companies with engineers and tech people at their very core, there seems to be an overwhelmingly flawed attitude amongst tech folk that if the product (the website) is good enough, the brand experience is merely superfluous fluff.