Updated on August 25, 2016
Mozilla Rebranding – Notes & Raw Thoughts
Disclaimer: Following notes are from my personal perspective/opinion and don’t necessarily reflect the view of others involved.
If you are into open source or design (or both) you might have noticed that Mozilla initiated a redesign on their brand identity. Yes, that means that there will be a new Mozilla logo by next year. Yes, I know that’s a scary thing. And yes, I know you might not like it on the first sight.But contrary to popular belief, design is not exclusively a matter of taste. Many different factors come here into play, ranging from cultural elements to mathematical ones to marketing ones and many more. So while saying “I don’t like it” might be sometimes an indicator, it’s not really helpful and unfortunately not constructive feedback. On the other hand, while it might be charming for the people who worked on it, the opposite “I love it!” falls under the same category. I think we can all agree on this, right?
So there were a lot of people bashing Mozilla for doing such a change. The funny thing is that the change didn’t happen yet, as we at Mozilla Open Design opened up the process exactly for the reason to let people chime in. Remember February, when the news of “Firefox OS is dead” hit rock bottom? That was a reason to be upset. No discussions beforehand with the community was a very valid reason to be upset really. But why are we experiencing a similar thing right now, with Mozilla updating its brand identity? Maybe the community has lost trust in Mozilla’s decision-making ability?
But the fact remains, rebranding works seem to attract many opinions. Some might be from industry professionals, some from supporters, others from part-time enthusiasts. Should we give them the equal chance to voice their feedback, although they come from different backgrounds? Definitely yes. In Free & Open Source communities we praise decentralization. When we cannot showcase it in situations like this, when can we else?
But let me just tell you here that doing design in the open is hard. Like really really hard. I mean it, I’m not saying it to add drama to this post, or emphasize how much work we put into it. Mozilla is the first organization of this scale to have initiated an Open Design process following Open Source principles. While in many Open Source Software projects, the roadmap might be relatively clear, as there already exist a bunch of successful use cases, there is no equivalent in Design. We are learning as we go, and sometimes on the road we will make mistakes, but at the end of the day, the community’s involvement is the fuel of making such a process successful.
Behind the Process
I do realize that the process might look quite centralized if you haven’t followed it. While I think we could have done a better job with communicating our steps (this is mostly my fault, since I fought to get the community involved in the first place), it has been quite transparent as well. Let me guide you through the steps we took (in public of course).
- In early March, the Community was asked to describe Mozilla in their own words. What values they emphasize and basically turn the way the feel towards Mozilla in words. A small but critical step to understand how Mozillians perceived Mozilla in their daily life. People could also contribute with visual ideas, but that was not necessary at this point. This step took around 7 weeks which was more than enough time.
- Later on, end of May, Creative Team Director Tim Murray asked the Community to go a step further by describing Mozilla with photography they relate Mozilla to. Although the feedback was not overwhelming, it wasn’t absent either.
- After these first evaluations, the Creative Team launched an Open Design blog where we would document our journey through the redesign. You can read my blog post regarding my personal journey on there as we. This happened in the early days of the Mozilla All-Hands London, where around 1300 Mozillians met F2F (face to face). It was a great opportunity to get this going in physical space, instead of the usual virtual conversations.
- Again, at the middle of the All-Hands London, we had a great session where we explained why Mozilla needs a visual redesign. Over 200 Mozillians came by through the afternoon and sticked post-its on various topics they feel Mozilla should represent itselt (or not). All these hard copy notes were gathered by the Creative Team and were used by johnson banks (the design agency doing the redesign) to take into account during the process. Great in overall, right? Was a good change to see some notes on paper, rather than an etherpad.
- Of course we wouldn’t limit feedback to people who were at London at that time, so we encouraged everyone to comment on the various directions the Mozilla brand could take on the Open Design blog. Again, we received quite a lot of comments here and great media attention. At this point the news have spread out like wildfire.
- Last week, 11th August, we had the monthly Open Design meeting with community and staff. While the attendance was relatively low, quite a few designers from the contributor side participated and we adjusted the agenda for Tim to present the 7 different design direction proposed for the new Mozilla brand. The great thing about videoconferencing is that no one makes unconstructive comments like “I hate this” without stating a reason. While all designs were received with careful skepticism, the discussion was civil and argumentative. It was scary, of course, but rebranding is always scary. Remember when Google updated their logo? And yes, I hate to make a Google comparison here, but you get my point.
These were all the steps taken until we reached at the point the media wrote about this a week later. I’m sad to see that sometimes people expect to enjoy the advantages of contributing to an open source project without realizing that due to its decentralized nature, responsibility is spread among a greater range of people. What would we accomplish if people would not chime into the discussion?
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Unfortunately it’s easier pointing fingers than working on the issue at hand so it might not be that surprising the new brand proposals were not well received. However, before you accuse me of generalizing, there were indeed a good number of helpful comments (and criticism) which pointed out potential flaws in the designs and comments like these were tremendously helpful. It’s just that I still am a bit angry about the “this sucks” comments which didn’t contribute to the discussion and showed lack of empathy to everyone involved. Welcome to the Internet I suppose. Do I need to grow a thicker skin? Maybe.
At the end of the day this is not about me anyway, but about the community, so getting nervous and spending time to resolve problems like this is something I am happy to do in the long run (I was not planning to write this blog post a few days ago for example). But on the other hand, I’m also really passionate about this and want to cultivate a healthy discussion to take us further, so this is my way to contribute. Also, none of the designs are final, and when there is one good thing which rose to the surface in this situation, it’s the fact that people are becoming aware of it, because exactly those people are those who will be able to shape how the Mozilla brand might look like. If I’d oversimplify, I’d compare the process with crowdsourcing.
Last but not least, I do have an opinion on the design proposals as well of course. Again, excuse me if they are a bit raw, but I don’t think curating my thoughts would be appropriate at this point (and the burning feeling to contribute to the discussion would fade away in a few days time anyway), so I’m going to write down my raw comments here.
For starters, I believe that none of the concepts showed to us right now are ready to represent Mozilla’s identity as they are at this stage. But I don’t think that was planned either as well. I have 2 comments for all proposals right now though:
- The Mozilla wordmark is now written with a capital ‘M‘. While that makes sense for a brand, I’d like to see an explanation of this move, seeing that Mozilla has been visually “mozilla” since the very beginning.
- I’d like to see the proposals with Fira Sans as the main font choice. I understand it might not fit for most, but I think it could do for some. Additionally, I’d like to know what font choices have been used for the proposals. Proprietary licensed fonts would be a no go afterall (that was in fact the reason why we switched from Meta to Fira Sans).
My favorite direction is “The Protocol” as it’s a really clever play on symbols and strengthens Mozilla’s relationship with its most loyal supporters, from the very start. I do believe its colors are not fitting and too saturated, so I’d continue experimenting with some more color choices. The M:// symbol has great potential I believe if used right. It might lack a bit of structure and design language for expanding it furthermore later on however. I’d love to see more explorations in this direction.
That’s for me in a nutshell. I hope this post was helpful to shed some light on the process and also encourage you to get involved in the next stages. No one wants to make a one-man show at the end of the day anyway.