Is it always about simplification? Always?

I don’t think so. When we re-launch a logo, we do so for a lot of reasons. The current brand identity no longer fits who we’re turning into, perhaps because of new business opportunities or segments we’re getting into, or because it just looks dated and needs an upgrade. Or because we’re bored, new in our job and need to pay off favors. Ahem. Or something.

There are lots of good reasons to look at refreshing, upgrading and re-logo-ing your identity. It should always be done with care. It should always be done for a reason. It should always have enough statistical projection behind it to validate the expense and the trouble you will go through. We discussed that at length during the Gap fiasco.

Look at the new Starbucks logo.

It has lost the “Starbucks” name as well as “coffee.” It’s the green circle and the mermaid now. But look at a few significant others from the past year, from MySpace to Comedy Central to MTV to Seattle’s Best, and we see something common happening across all of them and others, too.

It seems that “new logo” has become synonymous with “simple.” And I don’t think that’s necessarily good.

A brief glance at 2010 (and early 2011) suggests that logos slowly simplify over time into globs of their former selves for the most part.

I’m guessing that we’ll arrive at the logo singularity sometime in 2050, when all logos will essentially all congeal into a colorless cross between the Nike swoosh and the Pop-n Fresh Dough Boy.

Can I present a slightly different case for identity?

Remember the discussion we (some of us discussed it, at least) had on creating self-defining brand elements? In This Sentence Has 5ive Words: Eigen Values, Creating Truisms and the Future of Marketing, we talked about how branding and other outputs not always associated with “marketing stuff” should be self-defining.

The sentence, “This sentence has five words,” is self-defining. You don’t have to explain it. Saying it defines it. When we say, “This sentence has lots of words and plenty of syllables,” our statement is anything but unarguable. It’s subjective, fluffy and ultimately meaningless.

A logo is the very public face of your brand. That’s what its role is. By definition, your logo must be self-defining to your brand. So is your self-defining trajectory, the progression of your relationship with your market, getting simpler?

Should it be getting simpler? Or should it be getting more nuanced, more complex? Should it have more “interestingness” to it?

This isn’t a casual “yes/no” sort of question. Frankly, it depends entirely on the environment in which the brand is experienced as well as the sort of experience one has when interacting with it. Some brands are iconic, grab it off the clip strip and throw it in the shopping cart simple. Others, like the “Third Place,” are not.

They are meant to be pauses between home and work, or a different place altogether, where time can slow down and you can immerse yourself in whatever you need immersing in, be it work, conversation, reading, or coffee.

Is this an “iconic” brand that warrants a logo that you can completely grasp in a fast glance? Or is it an opportunity for visual interest, nuance and complexity?

I go back to the wonderful Designing Brand Identity (3rd edition) by Alina Wheeler to show you the logo designed for The Wild Center, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, to bring this idea to life.

There are brands that are meant to be studied, just as there are certain logos that benefit from time spent looking at them. Patterns emerge that you didn’t see at first and the complexity is part of the beauty of the idea. You’ll see Alina’s write up on the project on page 288 and 289 of her book, which I’d suggest you pick up if you don’t have it already.

So why would a brand dedicated to stopping and being in the moment decide to simplify?

I’m not a designer. I’m not sitting on a pile of research. I just have a point of view, as do you in all probability. Do you think Starbucks could have created a nuanced, self-defining mark that would have invited more introspection, more time spent figuring it all out, one with some opportunity for discovery? Or am I missing something else more powerful?

Is “simple” always better? I don’t think so.

Tell me I’m wrong.