Established in 2000 through the merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp, Verizon is a broadband and telecommunications company and largest wireless communications provider in the U.S.. Between its TV, residential, business, and cellular products, Verizon has over 109.5 million customers and 178,500 employees, generating more than $127 billion in 2014 revenues. More impressive than any of those numbers is the apocryphal amount of designers who name the old Verizon logo as one of the worst, one of the most despised, one of the biggest affronts to our visual culture. Citing a “renewed purpose at Verizon” — instead of “because designers think our logo is shit, we’ve changed…” — Verizon introduced yesterday (after a leak the day before) a new logo designed by New York, NY-based Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Pentagram launched a new website yesterday too). Also on the account developing further work is Wieden+Kennedy on advertising, Siegel+Gale on implementation, and AKQA on digital.
The old logo was truly a bad one. Its main italic wordmark would have survived on its own but the addition of the giant checkmark with gradient and the zooming “z” with gradient turned it into a parody of what a corporate logo could be. Add to its visual misgivings that people hate — hate — Verizon as an entity and you have an instantly doomed logo. Nothing represented Verizon better (or worse) than its previous habitat in lower Manhattan with a logo large enough to be seen from the Bronx. On top of that, Verizon gave us the “Can You Hear me Now?” guy. So where do you go from such gloomy realities? Not that far.
The new brand identity takes the best elements of Verizon’s heritage, represented by its colors and the Verizon “checkmark,” and transforms them for a new era. At its most basic level, the new logo is a visual statement that honors our history and reflects an identity that stands for simplicity, honesty and joy in a category rife with confusion, disclaimers and frustration. It’s a cleaner, more human design and the checkmark, the universal symbol for getting things done, uniquely expresses the reliability of Verizon.
This is a difficult review for me as the conflict of interest here is as thick as seal blubber — which is very thick, that’s why they can swim next to icebergs and stuff. Michael was my former boss, current friend, and ally in obsessing-leading-to-writing about design. So it’s hard to publicly state that I don’t like the new logo but… BUT. But there is a series of interesting aspects to it that I’ll get to shortly.
My main problem with the logo is the same as most people have expressed: it’s boring. There is nothing to it. It’s the cultured-man’s Helvetica, Christian Schwartz’s Neue Haas Grotesk, set in lowercase with an extremely minimalist checkmark. It’s a real-life, client-approved version of this parody Tumblr account that applied the same approach — minus the gradient — of the 2010 Gap fiasco to other logos. Verizon needed a major change and while this is indeed major I think it needed something much more approachable and consumer-friendly while having some more visual exuberance. It would have then probably looked like a dozen other big mobile carriers and have a me-too approach but this chosen solution feels antiquated. Because I want to be a glass-half-full kind of guy I am going to turn my review into a positive light and suggest that, perhaps, this antiquated approach could actually be very positive down the road and why every designer hating on it could be a little bit of a hypocrite.
Earlier this year Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth — who happen to be designers on Michael’s team — raised $802,812 through Kickstarter for a full-size reissue of the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual. This is a document designed in 1970 by Unimark and it’s an Eyes Wide Shut-level orgy of Helvetica. 6,718 people backed this project. I would wager a large percentage of those people were designers. Designers who idolize Helvetica and the no-bullshit approach of Unimark’s corporate identity exploits that were basically different servings of Helvetica, whether it was for Target, JCPenney, or the New York subway. Had this new Verizon logo been created by Unimark during their heyday we would be collectively ponying up almost a million dollars for its guidelines and we would hail it as a classic. Seriously, take your fingers off of your keyboard for a minute before you type “this sucks” and think about it. Isn’t this the wet dream of every designer who praises the neutrality and perfectness of Helvetica? It’s one of the largest corporations in the world and it’s going the full Swiss style and y’all are complaining? That’s where my hypocrisy comment comes in. Me? My conscience is clear: I’ve hated Helvetica forever.
So, yes, the logo on its own is barely a logo but look at Verizon’s new website with all that Neue Haas Grotesk — which is the only usable version of Helvetica — and how well the logo sits among it. It’s actually not bad. Or look at the ending animation of the video above and how the checkmark does a visual ding at the end — that simplicity starts to get me excited about the potential of this logo. You can build anything you want around it and it will take it because, after all, that’s what the neutrality of Helvetica offers. So, no, I don’t like the logo but I appreciate it as an antidote to the friendlier sans serifs we’ve been seeing. There is also a certain confidence (tinted with a slight edge of arrogance) from Verizon that conveys that they don’t need to have large spinning globes, or bouncing yellow stripes, or try to own the magenta color like its competitors. It’s just a tiny, simple, fuck-you checkmark. There is something to admire about it. I predict that two or three years from now it will be a very well implemented identity and that 10 or 15 years from now this logo will be seen quite favorably by designers. That is, as long as Verizon gets its act straight and makes customers happy.