Evolving a Product Brand

We are now in the process of refreshing the Firefox application icon, so I wanted to address some of the initial questions we are getting, and look at some specific examples in the technology industry of product brand evolution.

Questions

Isn’t a .5 release the wrong time to revise the application icon, shouldn’t we wait for Firefox 4?

There aren’t a whole lot of other products out there that issue .5 releases (more on this below), so as a result there isn’t really a lot of precedent for what is normal, and what is surprising. The reason for this is that we’ve been able to work on Firefox in shorter (albeit not as short as everyone would like) iterative development cycles. But I guess the larger issue here is “is Firefox 3.5 a significant enough release to warrant a revised icon?” Looking at the long list of all of amazing things our community has been able to pull off for this release, at least my opinion is: yes, it definitely is.

Is there enough time for an organized deployment of the new icon across all of the places where it needs to be updated?

Not really. Our plan is to get the icon updated in the product itself, and on mozilla.com in places where we are specifically talking about Firefox 3.5 in time for the launch. We’ll of course make images available at a range of resolutions as soon as we finalize them so people can update download buttons and other instances of the Firefox 3.5 icon during the Release Candidate phase, while we are thoroughly testing the application. There admittedly isn’t as much time as everyone would like, but that’s the nature of a very competitive (and exciting) marketplace.

Imagine how many wallpapers and t-shirts will be thrown out!

One doesn’t need to walk more than two feet in the Mountain View office to run into the current Firefox logo, so I have a pretty visceral sense of how disruptive shipping a new icon would be. In fact, we were so worried about the logistics of doing an update around the time of launching Firefox 3 that we ultimately decided to canceled the project entirely. In retrospect, my opinion is that a gradual transition (and the logistical challenges that come with it) is worth not being frozen in time. Also, the most valuable and cherished t-shirts in our community are often the old ones, so if you have a current Firefox t-shirt, a new icon will make it retro, and give it an ever increasing nostalgia value.

Why bother fixing something that isn’t broken?

In a marketplace that is focused on products that are newer, faster, lighter and shinier, design work is inherently perishable. Part of this is larger trends and fashion (for a period of time cars had fins), and part of this is simply ongoing visual change as an indication of overall progress.

The Evolution of Product Brands

Here are some examples of the visual evolution of some other major technology product brands.

Internet Explorer

Ieevolution

The shape remains very consistent, with the evolution occurring with the texture, color and lighting.

Windows

Windowsevolution

OS X

Osxevolution

Here we see an example of new branding for every dot release (10.1 to 10.5). Consistency is achieved primarily with the X. But even the style of the X evolves with each iteration, eventually losing serifs, and transitioning from aqua blue through jaguar spots, to two phases of brushed metal, and most recently obsidian (in space!)

SONY PlayStation

Playstationevolution

Nintendo

Nintendoevolution

The brand starts with divergent Japanese and North American versions, then merges together. Nintendo as a product brand is then largely abandoned in favor of a new simpler brand.

Xbox

Xboxevolution

Brand consistency is achieved primarily with the color green, and an X that breaks through some form of surface. The notion of an inner glowing core is also consistent between versions.

In comparison to these, our strategy is going to be more in line with the more conservative approaches to product brand evolution (IE, OS X, Xbox). In the following post I’ll detail the history and planned evolution of the Firefox icon.

7 comments

  1. I must say I am all ears. Jon Hicks did a great job on the original Firefox icon.

    As you mention, it’s not worth being stuck in time for the sake of keeping t-shirts fresh (exaggerated example). I think Firefox’s brand identity, too, should follow a natural evolution.

    I’ll keep an eye on the blog, Alex :)

  2. …but how many people wear IE t-shirts? ;)

  3. Is 3.5 the right time for a change of the icon? It makes me think of the two car manufacturers of my country.

    Both Volvo and Saab have totally replaced the bodywork of a model series, without changing the model name, and changed name without changing the body of the car. This happened when Volvo 850 became V70/S70, and later totally remade the car; and when Saab 900 became 9-3, again to be replaced with a different car with the same name some years later.

  4. I’ve seen the Prelim and it looks outstanding.

    One question, why is the Globe not recognizably Earth? I’m in North America, but to be honest I don’t care if it shows Europe, Asia, Africa, Austrailia or Antartica for that matter – just not the Pacific ocean please.

    Still, it says Firefox with refinements. A very good start.

  5. I love the idea of something new!

  6. Alex, my thoughts are to always be looking for new, creative, and innovative ways to do things, but any time you evolve a major project, in my opinion, it is always best to provide mechanisms to allow consumers to migrate to the new mechanisms at their own pace, and even stay with an “old way” for extended periods of time. Sometimes the “new ways” end up being improvements, but not everything new is necessarily good. Sometimes we have to scrap ten “new” ideas before we find a new idea that really IS good, and that may come after looking at ten ideas during each of those iterations! Many famous inventors have failed tens of times, but persisted until they found just the right formula, just the right invention.
    In that spirit, though the Mozilla organization has had some really good technologies, it has had some nasty flops along the road. These nasty flops should not be hidden, they should be learned from.
    As Firefox explores what the next generation of technology should be, I think that new things should be tried, but people should not be afraid to shift gears or even change directions. A few more prototype projects would be handy to explore and chart new ground. I think that all of you are doing a great job; continue what you are doing, but do consider these words. I wish everyone the very best; I try to test the technologies as often as possible myself.

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