In April, I read a fascinating article in Fast Company about one of my favorite companies, Airbnb, where CEO Brian Chesky talks a lot about the vision and strategy for the business. In that article, it was hinted that there was great change on the horizon. Fast forward to last week, when I received an email from Airbnb about “an important brand update”, which was vague, elusive and… pink. Their old logo was still at the top but in my heart, I knew that this was the prelude to a rebrand and I saw myself running out into the road in slow motion yelling, "Noooooooooooooooooo, Airbnb don’t do it!"
I love branding, so of course I love a good rebrand. I’d be out of a job if everyone decided now that they were just going to hold course with whatever their brand says to them today, daggumit, come hell or massive shifts in societal tastes! But I’ve also seen so many of these huge, consumer-facing brands try to peacefully unroll a rebrand (see: Gap, Pepsi, JCPenney, the 2012 Olympics,
RadioShack The Shack) only to have the entire internet collectively drop a two ton Acme anvil right on top of their new logo.
And boy have they ever. Practically instantaneously, the citizens of the internet have turned the new Airbnb “Bélo” (???) into everything from a happy dog face, to Peter Griffin’s chin to a whole slew of female and male body parts that veer way into the NSFW category. It’s such an interesting and swift reaction, led by the greater design community, which I suspect uses these rebranding fails as a much needed opportunity to laugh at itself a little bit. Evidently, another company also unveiled a new brandmark recently that is almost identical, which doesn’t really help. Not laughing, surely, is the agency that worked on this for the last year.
I think I fall somewhere in the middle of all this. I have booked five stays at Airbnbs already this year, and will probably double that before 2014 is out. I am the unofficial brand ambassador every company wants: I tell anyone and everyone who still has not used Airbnb that they have to try it, that it’s the only way I travel. I showed my parents how it works. I rave about every apartment I’ve ever stayed in. I also appreciate that brand is not a logo and that Airbnb has developed a new identity around a vision that is moving on from glorified couch surfing to a more complete hospitality experience based on human connection (I think). I love logos that are clean, simplified, sans-serif… and often design them myself.
Still, though Airbnb’s old logo was too bubbly, too immature, too web-2008, I feel this leap was a bit too far and this new guy has lost the happy-go-lucky, free-spirited vibe (one of the most appealing and romanticized aspects of traveling) that their old script had. And ultimately, I come back to that email I received last week and I feel like maybe a flattened, simplified, single-color version of the script was exactly where the Airbnb logo should have gone?
Unlike some of the truly catastrophic rebrand attempts, I don’t think there is anything wrong or totally off base with the new Airbnb. The linework is clean. The typeface is nice. I think the new brandmark will fair just fine once all the fervor dies down. But in the meantime, man oh man, do I feel for that design team.
P.S. Airbnb, the new website is great. Just absolutely fantastic. Nice work!