When Mark Zuckerberg announced last month that Facebook was changing its name, the company released an elegant animation online showing the logos of all of its apps and products merging into a shimmering vision of the future: a two-tone blue infinity symbol next to the word “meta”.
The new icon and name change were a nod to Mr. Zuckerberg’s plans to realign the Silicon Valley giant to what he sees as the unification of disparate digital worlds into what is known as the Metaverse, the immersive, interconnected online space that is largely made up of Augmented and virtual reality is made possible. “The Metaverse is the next frontier to connect people,” he said in an announcement.
For design professionals, the change from a scandal-ridden company was the latest example of Corporate America’s efforts to create brands that are less unique and ultimately less offensive. It was also a reflection of the growing challenge for corporate identities to coexist in many different sizes and digital environments, from VR headsets to smartwatches – a challenge that becomes even bigger for Meta as it tries to build an identity for something That largely doesn’t exist yet.
“It checks a lot of boxes,” said Michael Evamy, author of Logo, an anthology of corporate brands and logos. “It’s very simple. It’s very visible on all scales. It’s blue.” (Blue, he noted, is historically a color associated with security and trustworthiness. The infinity symbol with no corners or jagged edges can be considered non-threatening.)
“But in a way it looks exactly as you would expect,” added Mr. Evamy. “A bit overwhelming and risk averse.”
Users and legislators around the world are increasingly questioning the wide reach of Facebook, whose products – including Instagram and WhatsApp – are used by more than 3.6 billion people every month. As Facebook became one of the most valuable companies in the world, it has moved from one embarrassing scandal to the next in recent years. Recently, a former employee turned whistleblower published a huge amount of internal documents, arguing that Mr Zuckerberg and Facebook routinely put profit above people’s welfare.
Mr Zuckerberg said last month that the name change is a reflection of how Facebook is evolving. “Right now, our brand is so closely associated with a product that it cannot possibly represent everything we do today, let alone in the future,” he said.
Facebook has long been associated with its lowercase “f” logo – a simple brand but one that has become recognizable around the world as Facebook grew. The company’s other apps also have eye-catching and colorful logos that will be retained as part of the rebranding.
Since Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision for the future is based on virtual reality, the company wanted a new logo that felt more dynamic and haunting. In March, the company began developing a logo by “focusing exclusively on exploring concepts with movement, dimensionality and perspective”, Zach Stubenvoll, Sam Halle and Marian Chiao, Members of his in-house design team said in an email.
When using a VR headset, users often use a controller to draw boundaries of their virtual experience. Meta’s designers said that the color loop in the new logo, which eventually twists into the infinity symbol, was inspired by these boundary lines.
The design community’s response to the Facebook change has been largely subdued.
“This symbol just doesn’t upset you for the metaverse,” said Mr. Evamy. “The opportunity they missed is to produce something really exciting and transforming in their own way.”
Many other brands have very similar logos with infinity symbols, including those used by Microsoft’s web development software, a model of Top Flite golf balls, an asset management company, and the rock band Hoobastank. A service from Meta called Boomerang also uses an infinity symbol.
Understand the Facebook Papers
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A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has given an intimate glimpse into the operations of the secret social media company and has again made calls for better regulation of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.
The whistleblower. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” which aired on October 3, Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager who left the company in May, announced that she was responsible for the leakage of these internal documents.
Statement by Ms. Haugen in Congress. On October 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, saying that Facebook was ready to use hateful and harmful content on its website to get users to come back. Facebook managers, including Mark Zuckerberg, called their allegations untrue.
The Facebook papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and made the documents available to Congress in edited form. A member of Congress then delivered the documents known as the Facebook Papers to several news organizations, including the New York Times.
“An infinity loop isn’t very unique,” says Jessica Walsh, founder and creative director of design studio & Walsh. “However, unlike many brands, they are in a privileged position where they don’t have to rely on their logo to be distinctive to make it memorable.”
Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram, a design consultancy whose clients include Bloomberg, Citibank and Tiffany, said she saw growing pressure for company logos to be animated and multidimensional. A few years ago, for example, Google provided its logo with animations. Ms. Scher pointed out, however, that making a logo more flexible runs the risk of making it less recognizable.
Rodrigo Corral, a book cover designer who has also worked with rapper Jay-Z and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, often includes animation in his design work for clients. “But the logo has to stand on its own,” he warned. “First of all, it has to work without movement.”
In recent years, brands have had to adapt their logos and identities to a wider range of digital platforms. As websites that were once only viewed on desktop computers gave way to smartphone apps, logos had to work in ever smaller contexts – tiny squares and circles in social media feeds or miniature dots on smartwatches. Virtual Reality provides another platform for brands to adapt to, which is inherently defined by motion and 3D.
Mr. Evamy noted that the new meta logo was a departure from an era when corporate branding was much more atmospheric. “Big companies used to make very bold, exciting, eye-catching symbols to keep you on track,” he said, pointing to the iconic stripes from IBM or the arrow hidden in the name of FedEx.
But while a company like FedEx traditionally had to deal with branding on the side of a delivery truck and in TV spots, Meta lives across different platforms predominantly in the digital world.
It’s relatively unfamiliar territory. There is little precedent for company logos to exist in 3D in a virtual space where they can interact with and be manipulated by a user.
“Our meta design system is designed to grow and change with the company as the metaverse is created,” Meta’s design team said in the email. “We had to make the symbol future-proof.”