Trust issues? Let’s dig into Facebook’s latest branding Band-Aid.
Facebook’s new parent company logotype. Approachable faces, impenetrable typography.
Releasing a new logo is one way to clean up a brand — just like every public appearance, “it’s on us!” mea culpa, or interface redesign. All these acts try to shift our beliefs. In launching a new logotype, Facebook differentiates the parent company from its child brands. It’s good business — with bad timing. Against criticism for their treatment of political speech and user data, redesign looks like a flailing and crass attempt at misdirection.
But I don’t think Facebook is trying to use brand design as misdirection, as many people have criticized. We know the work takes too long to dash off in reaction to the latest news cycle. Even seemingly simple and obvious results usually belie weeks of iteration and review. Design by committee is the familiar hell in companies both grand and growing.
“Typography experts say it’s about convincing users it can be trusted,” leads the Washington Post. It’s a good goal for any brand. If brands don’t cultivate trust first and continuously, they can’t maintain growth or loyalty. Trust is the currency between brands and consumers, citizens, voters, readers; to earn their attention, dollars, or votes, first you need to gain and maintain their trust. Facebook’s been losing trust.
Trust is the currency between brands and consumers, citizens, voters, readers; to earn their attention, dollars, or votes, first you need to gain and maintain their trust.
But the nature of trust has changed. In the ’80s, brands earned trust through “fake it ’til you make it” design and communication. Small companies tried to seem bigger and more established than they were. A fax number made you real. Shoulder pads made you larger than life. Today, smart brands realize there’s no value in appearing larger than life. Shouting? OLD. Humbling your communication? Bold. Know those small organic food upstarts like Annie’s, EPIC, Small Planet? All owned by giant General Mills — which keeps familiar branding after acquisition.
Little homegrown Annie’s, now — quietly! — offering more through the might of General Mills.
When Facebook says they’re “inspired by people” and “empathetic to context,” I applaud the goal! And question the execution. To build trust, you must be trustworthy. But also, design for vulnerability and humanity — not all-caps gothic typeface rigidity. Meet your audience where they are. Empathy means short, accessible guidance, not walls of legalese. Empathy means not requiring users to acclimate in new contexts — not using an “empathetic color palette” that constantly changes.
Facebook, you’re a company, not a chameleon.
To build trust, brands must empower people through familiar touchpoints and vulnerable communication. Visually and verbally, in word and deed.
Facebook rebranded with a goal of greater clarity. We gained clarity, but they (again) sacrifice the chance to build trust.