New Shell for AOL

imageIn advance of being spun off from Time Warner next month, AOL debuted new corporate branding yesterday, rolling out not just a revised logo but a visual system with a bit of a twist to it. Using a modicum of cleverness, the company’s new look is in fact a kind of visual randomizer in which a new, mixed-case typographic mark “Aol” (instead of the previous initialism “AOL”) is superimposed on top of various whimsical, silhouetted images.


Two at a Time

Even if it’s not particularly brilliant, the typographic/photographic juxtaposition achieves a nicely contemporary effect. The various images — a goldfish, a hand, a swirl of paint, among others — are cleanly shot, and the typography is mercifully free of the sort of drop shadows, gradients or textures that AOL has freely and egregiously abused in the past. Overall, the branding is certainly an upgrade from any of the company’s previous logos, most of which are about as painful to look back on as old prom photos.

Aol.

Aesthetic merits aside, what I find altogether wrong about this new branding is the very fact that it’s happening at all while the company prepares to separate from its parent. Why distract from the event of a corporate separation with something as relatively inessential to the proceedings as a new logo? Don’t shareholders want management to focus on getting the details of this new world order right, instead of spending even part of their time worrying about color, imagery and typography?

Far be it from me to suggest that branding is a trivial matter, though. Which is why I think you can also look at it from the other perspective and suggest that this simultaneity is doing a disservice to the brand itself. Why let a huge accounting event dilute the effort and attention necessary to launch a truly successful new branding campaign? They’re two very different challenges, each deserving of their own attention. Doing both at the same time is practically begging to get at least one of them wrong.

Like many companies before it, AOL seems to both overestimate and underestimate the nature of good design. First, it’s very difficult for even the best designs to meaningfully impact the success of something as huge as a corporate spin-off. And second, it’s very difficult to get design right, even when you’re not undergoing a major organizational upheaval. Which explains, I suppose, why this new brand identity is so insubstantial.

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12 Comments

  1. I’m sorta torn on this new brand. I enjoy the whimsical, almost non-sequitor approach to the background images, but it sorta doesn’t make sense to me. To me, AOL will be forever ingrained in our minds as a dial-up ISP that struggled in its adaptation to broadband. My family never subscribed to to AOL’s dial-up service namely because it was something ridiculous like $25 a month when we got the same 56k connection from AT&T for $8 a month. Once cable became widespread in my area, we went with that from the cable company and have been with them since.

    Back to the brand before my tangent drives you crazy. I think AOL is trying to catch up and be cool again, except it completely overdid it. The thing is younger people who grew up with AOL are kinda over it, it seems. And when you try too hard to be cool, it doesn’t work. I think that is the core problem with this new brand, and it will be interesting to see how AOL’s new-media transformation turns out.

  2. Is the bottom middle one Scratchy with his brain exploding? That’s got to be the craziest corporate logo I ever did see.

  3. It looks like AOL has tried to take a modern young approach to their branding… Which i think looks good, but doesn’t suit Aol purely because the old logo has been around for years.

  4. Is this a joke? AOL, now as Aol with a ‘.’ at the end, over the top of stock images??

    I’ve just done a search, and it is :P

    What I did find was a video sneak preview of the brand in which, in moving media, the concept works well.

    But isn’t the strength of a brand its ability to work well when applied in all possible ways?

    I feel in its most native form, as shown above, it feels weak and unsure of itself.

  5. I don’t get the change from AOL to Aol. We’re still supposed to call it A-O-L, and not aowl, right (I mean, they are still America Online, no?)? It’s a silly trendy move if you ask me. And the stock photos they chose are atrocious. Ew.

  6. This is Wolff Olins playing its trump card again. Just like they did with the London 2012 Olympics logo, they have created something so startling (though this time startling in its mundanity) that everyone talks about it.

    A quick Google Blog Search for “AOL” or “AOL logo” soon shows you how many people are talking about it this week.

    They have wholly achieved what they set out to. Everyone is talking about AOL.

  7. Glad to hear someone else likes the work. I think corporate identity design has had all the life, thrill and creativity sucked out of it (it wasn’t bursting at the seams to begin with). It’s nice to see WO providing a needed kick in the pants!

  8. This is the kind of exercise you can do with a really big company OR a really small company, and not with what AOL has become: a middling provider.

    In true WolfOllins fashion it is a very weak design. No clear relation in size between type and image. No consistency in use of symbols. No back story. No nothing.

    But it is smart in the way it will get everybody excited. My prediction: after half a year of use it will be overhauled to make it viable for everyday use.

    Make that three months.

  9. Seemed like the designers of this were super lazy. Typesetting on images, really? I agree that it was a good concept overall, but the execution didn’t match up. Anyways, as for the new brand, the “.” at the end represents the end of Aol.

  10. From a historical perspective, if you can remember when AOL first introduced a revised logo it was back a few years in the newspaper – a logo optimization. Since then, there’s been a slow dissolve of the formal AOL mark over the years with progressive inclusion of contemporary style. For this, I give AOL credit in introducing steady change. The examples above, however, take a peculiar bold leap. One has to know certainly, now more than ever, this is about timing. I agree the latest work appears random. But I wonder if it is AOLs clear intention is to provide a decoy. Link