Zara Rebrands, And Other Scary Stories

If you’re mired in the particularly tiny, shiny bubble of the internet populated by designers, you might have noticed that Zara has rebranded. Rebrands aren’t unusual nowadays, particularly for fashion brands. Instead of taking the usual step of rebranding into a featureless sans-serif, Zara chose instead to move to a more beautiful, taller serif that would reflect an attempt to move towards a more luxury-esque market. The only problem was their apparently inexplicable decision to consider kerning optional. Unsurprisingly, the internet had a field day:

If you’re one of those fashion-unconscious people who read this far without knowing with Zara is, I probably don’t know you. Zara is a Spanish fast-fashion brand, aka one of those cheap-ish brands proliferating everywhere in the world which try to get you to buy cheap-ish clothes that will break apart or discolour in a few years so you’d have to pop by and buy some more. There are lots of other brands in this space, like Uniqlo, Sportsgirl, FCUK, and Giordana, all of which occupy various spots on the sliding scale of cost. Zara is kind of on the higher-ish end of this scale, which is probably why they’ve tried pushing towards a more luxury look. Luxury-ish. Like its other fast-fashion brands, Zara is bad for the environment, bad for people in emerging economies, and they also tend to steal designs from independent artists. If just thinking about all this has started to make you mildly depressed, welcome to late-stage capitalism.

The rebrand was by Baron & Baron, in a “collaboration” between French art director Fabien Baron for the brand’s Spring/Summer campaign. Brand marks don’t live by themselves — they exist to be expressed across collateral and other aspects of brand communication. In this aspect, the branding doesn’t look too bad:

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The serif is graceful and elegant and does look like something that a high fashion brand or magazine would use. It’s still readable. And now it’s memorable… for the wrong/right reasons. It breaks type rules and it’s visually ugly but it works. Is there a problem?

Life is already ugly, why make it uglier

In August, Burberry tapped renowned designer Peter Saville to redesign their logo, giving him a deadline of four weeks despite his protest that the deadline was “crazy” and a project as immense as a rebrand of one of the most iconic British brands in the world would require at least four months. The result was this:

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burberry spread - Starship

Which looked pretty much like what I thought a four-week rebrand would look like. Not sure why they decided to do away with the classic tartan, but a recent Burberry visit indicated that the tartan and tan colours aren’t about to leave their fabric designs anytime soon. Which brings us to the point — why even bother to rebrand? Rebrands should be a considered process. Saville should’ve been given the four months he asked for. Not that all rebrands take that long — it’s entirely possible to create a brand in four weeks — but given the complexity of this particular project, time was necessary. Anything else would’ve looked a bit half-assed. And a half-assed design is one that’s unlikely to last.

People are always angry on the internet

That being said, even if you do come up with a good rebrand, more often than not people are going to hate it anyway. Google’s rebrand, for example, was necessary:

Their old branding was dated, and the new clean sans serif font worked well at small resolutions on screens. It looked sharp and clean and fun. People hated it. Michael Bierut wrote a recent article titled “Design as a Spectator Sport”:

The basic starting point of Graphic Design Criticism as a Spectator Sport is “I could have done better.” And of course you could! But simply having the idea is not enough. Crafting a beautiful solution is not enough. Doing a dramatic presentation is not enough. Convincing all your peers is not enough. Even if you’ve done all that, you still have to go through the hard work of selling it to the client. And like any business situation of any complexity whatsoever, that process may be smothered in politics, handicapped with exigencies, and beset with factors that have nothing to do with design excellence. You know, real life. Creating a beautiful design turns out to be just the first step in a long and perilous process with no guarantee of success. Or, as Christopher Simmons put it more succinctly, “Design is a process, not a product.”

Zara’s new logo isn’t the best solution to its new needs, but it’s a product that suits it well-enough — or at least, well-enough for the client to have bought it from Baron & Baron. We’re curious to see how it was sold through, even as we try not to get a headache from the painfully narrow shunt of space between the Z and the A.

At Starship, our design solutions are worked on in collaboration with the client and with other necessary stakeholders. The end-result isn’t often close to our original concept, but if it works for the client and for the purpose it was made, that’s what we want. We’re here to help, not to take over. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

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