Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Facebook's Logo Gets a Face-Lift

In the 15 years since Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, the platform has undergone more than a few costume changes. It’s grown from dorm room hijinks to measure the relative hotness of Harvard undergraduates to the online pulpit of American politics. When Facebook filed to go public in 2012, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook was never meant to be just an app, or even just a company. Instead, it was built to do something much more ambitious: “to make the world more open and connected.”

The scorecard on that mission is checkered. But, today, at least one thing is clear: Facebook, the company, is much more than just Facebook, the app—and it wants you to know it.

Facebook today introduced a brand redesign that will extend across the company’s many products, like a set of matching outfits for a family portrait. The Facebook logo now shines with new typography and an “empathetic color palette”—pink for Instagram, green for WhatsApp—that features more prominently across Zuckerberg’s vast dominion. Instagram and WhatsApp will now tell you they’re “from FACEBOOK,” newly in all caps, as if shouting to remind you who’s in charge.

“The new branding was designed for clarity,” writes Antonio Lucio, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, in a blog post introducing the new designs. Another blog post on the company’s design hub goes into more detail about how the team used “custom typography, rounded corners, open tracking and capitalization to create visual distinction between the company and the app.” This apparent faith in the world-changing power of a good font will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a design brief. “The subtle softening of corners and diagonals adds a sense of optimism,” the reader is told, although it isn’t specified what we’re to be optimistic about.

All of these design tweaks add up to one clear takeaway: Facebook is more than just Big Blue. It’s the social technology that rules your life, from WhatsApp and Messenger and Instagram and Threads and Oculus and Portal and Workplace. Soon, if the company can navigate its way through a maze of regulatory and public perception challenges, it may also include Calibra, the digital wallet for its new cryptocurrency, Libra; one day, it could even include a Facebook-branded brain-computer interface. In the future, who knows what else Facebook will swallow up. Whatever it does, you won’t forget it was built by Facebook.

Zuckerberg has referred to his empire as a “family” of apps for years, but recently, after a difficult couple of years at the company, those familial ties seems tighter than ever. The rebranding follows Facebook’s plan, from January, to integrate its various messaging services on the backend, which would stitch together communication on Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. This summer, the company furthered this assimilation by adding the Facebook name to more of the products it owns. Instagram became “Instagram from Facebook,” like a designer collection sold exclusively by a big box department store.

It was curious timing for a company that is currently facing several separate antitrust investigations, from the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and 47 attorneys general across the United States. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has made unwinding Facebook’s various acquisitions a major part of her platform. Even Chris Hughes, Facebook’s cofounder, has called for regulators to break up the company, and has launched his own fund to support academic research and policy on antitrust matters.

Labeling the Facebook-owned apps and adding more cross-platform integration doesn’t make Facebook seem like less of a monopoly. It makes Facebook seem bigger than ever—and now with open letterforms and capitalization! But the rebrand also continues a kind of transparency that Facebook hasn’t always prioritized. Consider the push to #deletefacebook earlier this year, after which many migrated their social presence to Instagram, perhaps without realizing that their platform overlords remained the same. Now that connection is being slapped across products in all caps and bright colors. FACEBOOK.

The grand unification of Facebook’s products might serve as a reminder of all the ways it’s lapped up its competition and combined it into one massive communication stew. But it also signals how Facebook is trying to move forward with its family of products, as one company under one design.

That’s especially important as the Facebook app itself stalls in growth and the company struggles with its reputation. Make no mistake, it is still minting money. But Facebook’s future is especially reliant on the likes of Instagram, WhatsApp, and whatever else comes next. Where the new “from Facebook” language once appeared quietly, subtly at the bottom of the Instagram app, it now shows up in all caps, in a font that makes it impossible to ignore—a visual representation of the idea that Facebook, the company, is only getting bigger.

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