New Firefox Icon: Q&A, Mostly about Orange Juice

Here are some answers to a particular question that came in about how refreshing a brand can be fraught with peril.

So what are people supposed to say if they actually prefer the previous one for aesthetic reasons? Newer is not automatically better. If you are going to dismiss all “I still prefer the original” as being afraid of change, you’ve tilted the playing field rather a lot.

Remember what happened to Orangina [edit: Tropicana]. Are we really going to get more people downloading or using Firefox, or will they really have better feelings towards it, because we’ve refreshed the icon? What are we actually trying to achieve here? The current version is a really nice icon. Changing it just means that some people will go “huh, it’s changed”, and other people will not like the new version. Whether that’s because they are “afraid of change” or not is irrelevant, and doesn’t stop them not liking it. You are going to find it really hard to have an unambiguous win here IMO.

To clarify, while I was saying that similarities to the previous icon were driving positive comments, the implication wasn’t that we were planning on ignoring those comments, but that we were in fact shifting the creative direction for the tail. It was a little ambiguous (since the two variables being discussed were similarity to the old design and if the tail appeared threatening) and I should have written a clearer statement.

To answer some of the other questions specifically:

what are people supposed to say if they actually prefer the previous one for aesthetic reasons?

If people have that opinion then they are absolutely encouraged to comment. We are trying to get a good read on people’s general opinions by engaging on pretty much every communications channel that the Mozilla community uses. We are also looking into running some studies on mechanical turk so that we can get feedback from a mainstream non-self selected audience.

Remember what happened to [Tropicana].

For those not familiar, PepsiCo deployed new packaging for Tropicana orange juice, and then had to reverse the change due to strong public outcry from their most loyal customers. From the public comments, it’s clear that there are some really passionate orange juice drinkers out there.

Tropicana

The new design was done by Arnell, the same firm that created the refreshed Pepsi logo, which for people in the Mozilla community will likely look kind of familiar. Those interested in what a million dollars in brand design literally buys you, should check out the (potentially fictitious) document Breathtaking Design Strategy.

Pepsiangles

But to answer your question: yes, I think a disaster similar to what happened to Tropicana is something we need to be really concerned about. In particular we are finding ourselves in a similar environment, where we both have extremely passionate and loyal members of our community (and users of Firefox), and people clearly have a very strong emotional connection to Firefox. I totally understand that one must wear white gloves before touching the Firefox icon. The icon has become more than just a global brand, but something that our passionate community considers sacred.

So, assuming that we don’t want to just adopt a strategy of being frozen in fear, how do we avoid a Tropicana scenario? I think the only way to make sure we are avoiding that type of situation is to make sure that we have buy in from our community and passionate Firefox fans for the changes we are considering. To that end we’ve been extremely public with posting the creative brief, design iterations, and feedback. Mozilla is in a somewhat unique position to run a completely transparent design project (as opposed to relying on things like focus groups and NDAs, even though those things are really considerably more comfortable for designers).

So far I honestly haven’t seen a massive amount of public outcry (much to my genuine surprise given the subject matter), and my impression is that people generally understand both the direction we want to take the icon, and the reasons we feel refreshing a product brand is important.

You are going to find it really hard to have an unambiguous win here IMO.

Given that I still have people really mad at me for the awesome bar, I’m getting increasingly used to what it feels like to work on deploying an ambiguous win. Personally I’m hoping we have more ambiguous wins in the future, because they are still wins, and being frozen in time really isn’t an option in an extremely competitive marketplace.

17 comments

  1. Something that’s always disturbed me is being so close to a glowing blue earth and none of that reflects off the fox. How about a subtle trace of blue tinge/fuzzy raytracing under the chin/neck :)

  2. Well, I don’t think you can compare the situations here. Revamping the icon is hardly as jarring as a total product makeover. The general shape and color of the Firefox icon remain intact.

    The changes between the first Firefox logo and the current one (http://www.c9dd.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/firefox.jpg) were far more obvious and even then a lot of people did not notice.

  3. The fact that Mozilla is interacting so much with the users would itself make the design a whole lot more acceptable. I for one, was thoroughly against the redesign, but having seen the last few iterations I think this would a definite improvement! Keep up the good work.

  4. Kurt (supernova_00)

    @Jaap

    The first icon in that image is from when Firefox was called Firebird…might have even been from when the project was called Phoenix. I can’t remember which was which though but I know it wasn’t Firefox.

  5. damaged justice

    When someone complains about icons and wallpaper, it’s a sure sign they don’t have anything real and substantial to criticize.

    Appearances are meaningless. What matters is how well a tool performs for a given task.

  6. “Pepsi logo, which for people in the Mozilla community will likely look kind of familiar”
    LMAO!

  7. This is why I hate graphic designers working with marketing people. They always have to mess with things, they can’t just leave stuff alone. There is nothing wrong with the firefox logo, but noo we have to screw with it. Since we can’t totally change it, lets jack up the tail so we can get our recognition that we did something. This is why Vista and Windows 7 is crap. Designers and Marketing people kept screwing with it until it turned into pig swill. Sell sell sell, manipulate lie tell a false story. Lucky for Firefox the whole thing is based on a free model so it can’t totally go down that road.

  8. “being frozen in time really isn’t an option in an extremely competitive marketplace.”

    Funny, isn’t being frozen in time logo-wise the exact strategy of Pepsi’s opponent in the extremely competitive cola marketplace?

  9. @damaged justice

    Appearances matter a lot. Like, a lot a lot. The icon and UI of Firefox are a user’s very first interaction with the software.

    “How well a tool performs for a given task” is completely wrapped up in how it appears. The article “In Defense of Eye Candy” at A List Apart (http://www.alistapart.com/articles/indefenseofeyecandy) mentions a study that demonstrated that users “encountered fewer difficulties” with a pretty ATM than with an ugly one. As the article says: “The attractive machine actually worked better.”

    You might not care about graphic design or aesthetics. Its effects may be subtle and go unnoticed by you and millions of others, but it’s absolutely critical to the success of a thing.

  10. damaged justice

    “Appearances matter a lot. Like, a lot, a lot.”

    Perhaps to you. I take them into account when I’m deciding, say, who to date. But when it comes to what tool to use, I use the one that works best for me and the job at hand, and what it looks like doesn’t matter one bit.

    Appearances are superficial. Content is everything. And the fact that most people believe the opposite is one of the reasons the world sucks so badly, because people prefer style over substance.

  11. Funny, isn’t being frozen in time logo-wise the exact strategy of Pepsi’s opponent in the extremely competitive cola marketplace?

    Interesting point, I’m honestly still looking for more information about the specific importance of keeping a brand stable versus updating it. (Although since we are keeping the Firefox’s iconic form and color, one could argue we are keeping it stable). And while analogies to orange juice and cola are interesting, I’m suddenly being reminded of a famous Steve Jobs quote: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Point being the technology industry is indeed a whole different environment.

  12. “Changing it just means that some people will go “huh, it’s changed”, and other people will not like the new version.”

    You missed addressing the false dichotomy here. The implicit argument in that statement is that “meh” is a weaker upside than “hate”, and so there’s no compelling reason to change. But that ignores that fact that people’s (subconcious?) impressions are relative to the rest of the playing field. And it ignores other impressions, for example the that it’s not new, interesting, or fast because the style is slightly stale and dated. Not to mention that there may be people who *do* really like the new icon better. Maybe more people will really, really like it than will really, really hate it.

  13. Taking advantage of a greener and more concious world, I think a green globe would be great. Or even if it was rather green continents and blue waters.

    :)

  14. @Kurt Yeah I know, that was just the first picture I could find that showed the evolution of the Firefox logo.

  15. Thanks for taking the time to address my points :-) Iteration 7 is the best one yet IMO. I _like_ the fact that the flames look more ordered, and that their coverage of the globe is fairly uniform (no odd gaps). I suspect it’ll also scale down better too.

  16. I have a few comments but first let me start by stating that I’m an engineer so all my design opinions can be taken with a bucket of salt.

    1) Tropicana : I feel like the problem with their redesign isn’t the fact that they changed it, but rather that it went from a distinctive design to a boring “private label” design where it would be indistinguishable from the cheap orange juice on the bottom shelf.

    2) Don’t overestimate the size of a very vocal minority. Someone is always going to complain and in the nerd world we tend to stand on the highest blog and scream our displeasure.

    3) For those complainers out there lets remember that we are trying to recruit more people to the FF cause. If a better icon helps adoption of our precious browser then I’m all for it.

    4) To those who say design is superficial I couldn’t disagree more. Software can have all the features in the world but if they are hard to use or find then they are missing their potential (see: *nix & photoshop). Even an icon affects UI. Is it easy to spot? Does it translate to browser or “Internet”? Is it distinct?

    5) Finally to those who resist all changes I would point out products need to update their design in conjunction with their features. There needs to be a visual representation of new vs. old. A little eye candy as a first impression helps indicate that people are indeed working on and improving the product.

    Lets keep in mind that Firefox is meant for broad adoption. The last thing we need is for it to live it’s life as an incredibly powerful but poorly adopted product (see *nix again).

  17. @ Thomas Paine (#16)

    I agree completely.

    One thing though: I don’t believe *nix is poorly adopted. The free varieties and those meant for special applications probably are poorly adopted. However, OS X is a wildly successful UNIX 03 product.