Opinion: Yahoo's new logo reveals the worst aspects of engineering mindset

Absolutely, she’s no Steve Jobs.

Am I the only one to find that commentary painful-to-read due to the font choice?

I mean, it’s not as bad as many web sites where the letters are too thin to focus on, or are in dark text on dark backgrounds, but it is bad.


From the article:

Engineers, software or otherwise, use an enormous amount of abstract thinking, but also often appear rooted in the concrete for everything but math and science. Their visual and literary aesthetic involves a literal reading: if you say one thing but mean the other, you’re not making sense to them. The idea of gray areas, shading, or things that they can’t immediately grasp fully are rejected.

Way to stereotype engineers as being obtuse. I would suggest that engineers tend to have a better than average take on the myriad meanings that can be read into, simply because it’s their job to account for all the various what-ifs.


In her defense, it worked for Steve Jobs.

Honestly, I wish companies would stop trying to emulate Apple. Jobs was an anomaly. A brilliant anomaly.


Aw, she thinks the “C” in a Pantone color is actually part of the color. How cute.
I’m indifferent to the new logo, but then, I’m a crap graphic designer. (I went into printing. C’s and U’s are my territory.) I do think it looks amateurish, but I’ve seen plenty of stuff like that come out of expensive agencies. Speaking of expensive agencies and crap logos, I am happy to see that this incident can provide another end point on the graphic design payment scale. Everyone complains about how much someone or other paid for an awful design job. Now we have the opposite. The lesson: You don’t have to spend a lot, but spend SOMETHING.

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Yeah, there is a lot of stereotyping here. Engineers aren’t this mythical left-brain only person who thinks like a machine. Most engineers are people who have talent for lots of things including visual design, the arts, literature, etc. There seems to be this myth as if the so-called left-brain and right-brain types of thinking are mutually exclusive. They aren’t. They are complimentary. And if you look at the greatest scientists and engineers you will find that they had a wide variety of interests. And it works in reverse as well. Heck, just look at Terry Pratchett and Robert Jordan, former nuclear engineers.

Edit: Pratchett wasn’t a nuclear engineer, he was a press officer for nuclear plants. Nonetheless, there are lots of other examples of people who trained in traditional left-brain topics and when on to accomplish great things. Alfred Hitchcock is another example.

Too many people think graphic design is not a specialty, but something anyone can do, because the tools to make decent-looking Web pages, newsletters, books, and the like are readily available.

THIS! I swear to god, this is the very reason I’ve stopped doing graphic design and only do illustration now. I got so sick and tired of trying to do work I had carefully trained and researched for only to have some boss or committee completely ignoring every single word I say and go “I just want Papyrus and drop-shadows okay?”. A lot of people would say just take the money and do whatever they ask, how hard can it be? They don’t seem to understand that if you actually care about your craft and your output, you won’t put a shitty, mutilated design on your portfolio. Yeah, you get a few bucks, but you get no pride, no growth, no evolution from it. If you’re a designer, but everyone else and their dog actually designed your output, you just become a glorified computer mouse.

It’s funny that illustration, although so close as a medium, doesn’t suffer nearly as much from this issue (in my own experience anyway). Somehow, everybody thinks they can do typo and layout and colour schemes like it’s second nature. But when it’s time to draw something, most people emphatically insist that they can’t hold a pencil. Heck, they’ll talk at lenght and chuckle about how uncreative they are and how they can’t even draw a stick figure. What I hear often as an illustrator is “You’re the artist; you know this stuff…”. How refreshing!

I don’t understand why designers aren’t extended the same deference and respect (actually I do; it’s the mysticism of the tools used by the ‘artist’ v.s. the ‘designer’, which is BS). I just know what to put on my business card now.


I didn’t say anything you’re saying here, bzishi. I didn’t mention left-brain/right-brain or say that engineers lack visual abilities. If you read only the headline, which I hope isn’t the case, you’ll see I said “worst aspects of the engineering mindset”; not of all engineers nor of their full approach to the world.

In fact, I wasn’t criticizing Mayer’s aesthetics at all; rather, the amount of training and thinking she had done about design relative to her statements in the blog post. The engineering traits I describe are the ones that you have surely seen in colleagues, as I have across decades of working with engineers in all fields, which is reductionism. “I can learn all these tasks in a short time and master them, because I can master complex tasks in my field quickly.”

The best traits are to be able to see around corners, think creatively in a combination of technical, aesthetic, and intuitive ways, and actually build and ship stuff.

I celebrate all that.

Worst traits, kmoser; worst traits. It’s in the headline.

The best traits are the ones you describe.

In general, I see more of the reductionist and concrete traits than the creative ones across 30 years of interacting with programmers, civil engineers, hardware designers, and so forth. I’ve been programming since I was 11. I’m one of you/them.

It is pretty obvious why designers don’t get deference and respect. If an engineer fucks up, it is going to be obvious. Your widget is going to catch on fire and explode. The difference between a poor engineer and a great engineer is clear to anyone. Sure, there is some subtly that might be missed by the uneducated, but for the most part, faster, cheaper, better, is obvious to everyone with a pulse. The CEO isn’t going to give you engineering advice because it will be found to be obviously stupid advice by even people who know nothing of engineering.

The talent of a designer on the other hand is not obvious. Sure, most people can point to horrible design, but leave the realm of finger paintings and it just sort of grays out. If Yahoo had hired the greatest designer in existence to do the logo and put it side by side with the new one, most people would have no opinion, or only a vague sense of the better design. I think any talent where only people within the industry are able to judge it is going to suffer from this. The CEO can walk in and give design advice because to people who know nothing of design, it isn’t obviously stupid.


Is it just me? Am I the only one? WTF?

Does Yahoo DO anything? Maybe the problem isn’t an ugly logo. Maybe the problem is a bunch of people employed to do nothing and serve no purpose. The logo has always been a reflection of the desperation of Yahoo to mean something. ( a fucking exclamation point? )

The new logo speaks of a slightly more subtle desperation with a dash of hopeful pseudo-sophistication to make up for years of nothing but exclamation points.

It is perfect.


This definitely accounts for the difference in deference between an engineer and a designer (and that last sentence: Yes!!). However I was referring to the difference between an illustrator and a designer, two very closely related disciplines. It’s that much more strange and arbitrary a difference between those two because they are so similar.

As I briefly mentioned above, I think that has to do with people thinking that ‘artists’ have some special talent or gift that magically allow them to do wonders with pencils and paintbrushes. There is almost a sacredness imparted to the artist and his tools. What people call ‘artistic talent’ really come down to patience, a knack for observation and attention to detail, the desire to practice with a pencil or brush for hours on end, day after day, for years. It’s gleaning knowledge of anatomy, perspective, psychology, culture, etc, along the way… It’s mostly the exact same abilities a graphic designer uses, only with slightly different tools for slightly different purposes.

Yet the attitude towards both is quite different. When I worked as a ‘designer’, it seemed clients often saw me as a tool, as a machine to produce the vision in their heads, not as much a source of knowledge and savoir-faire. As an illustrator, people look at my work with wonder and amusement. They often are eager to discover what images I will create for them and what my process and inspiration is. It could simply be that the type of client an illustrator get is very different from the clients a designer gets. But either way, it still sucks for designers…

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Oh man - where to start? I read three reviews and Marissa’s write up on the process of making the new logo. Yeesh. The fact that Marissa wasn’t found in an empty conference room with a bloody T-Square sticking out of her chest, means she owes Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and intern Max Ma some big bonuses this year.

If I had a tech company come to me, and the president insisted they were going to help create (not review and approve, but create) the logo, incorporate the input from a company poll, and use ethereal guidelines such as having “a mathematical consistency to the logo” (dear god, what does that even MEAN?) - I would be running for the hills. The PITA tax on the estimate would either drive them away or allow me to retire at the end of it.

First off her guidelines are utter bullshit. Oliver is right when he said, “It is more likely she’s reverse-engineering and rationalizing the logo than describing the design brief.” What she wrote sounds like the bullshit I would try to come up with when presenting my work in school because the truth, that I haven’t slept in 48 hours and this was the best I could come up with, was a shit excuse.

The logo itself is just weak. I do not consider myself a good designer. I will never be featured in Communication Arts (well, I did get a letter printed in it once). It honestly looks like something I would have presented in the first or second round of mockups. Better and more articulate designers have explained why it comes up short.

I am all for a DIY attitude, and non-professionals can come up with some decent work from time to time, or at least something adequate. But what works for your new landscaping business shouldn’t be the same thing that a $10 billion company uses.

Of course there is also the flip side of the coin, when some one you hire takes a year and $750K and you end up with the abortion that was the London 2012 Olympics logo. But usually if you pay professionals, you will get professional results.

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(a) Yahoo’s logo looks perfectly fine to me. And

(b) I’ve got vanishingly small respect for a criticism of a design that includes no images of the design being criticized whatsoever. Is he trying to force me to flip back and forth between his page and Yahoo’s just so he won’t pollute his page with the swampish design? That’s taking the subject entirely too seriously. Design is marketing. It didn’t descend from the mount with Moses.

Don’t feed the trolls! He senses blood!

The critique is of the process and the reasoning. I link to a more extensive critique of the logo design elsewhere, as my concern is how it reveals Mayer’s approach to problems, seemingly at odds with her previous good decisionmaking.


It’s just a damn logo. Critiquing the process and reasoning that leads to a damn logo still counts as taking design entirely too seriously. A logo doesn’t really count as a problem. And even if it did, the important metric is improvement, and ditching the hillbilly letters counts as an improvement.

Sorry, don’t see the point here. Apparently, design has become a subset of Scholasticsm.

Well, we’re all talking about Yahoo, aren’t we?


A logo is like a brands face. Botch that up and no one will take you to the prom.

And design should be taken seriously. Design is basically using the right tools to get information across in an efficient, effective manner. Done right, you will have a pleasant experience and probably not notice anything. Done wrong and you will want to know who the fuck designed this stupid piece of shit.

I don’t know what you do for a living or are passionate about, but odds are you take it more seriously than I do. It doesn’t mean I think you take it too seriously.


Give me administrative assistants instead of executives any day. There’s a sickness that many people at the “top” of their game can catch, where they get high from risk taking, believe in their own success, and develop an arrogance that they can do anything, including the jobs of everyone that works “beneath” them. I’ve seen it in executives, physicians, and university administrators. They eventually develop a blind spot that is exploited, either by a rival in-house, or by an outside company, and down they go, sometimes taking the company with them. One of the most frustrating times in my 30+ year career was building web-based medical research applications for a group of physicians that insisted on treating me like a typist they hired from a temp agency.

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