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