This week saw PayPal reveal a redesign of several key brand elements, including their first logo redesign for seven years. The new look is expected to roll out worldwide in the coming weeks.
However, despite PayPal's marketing spin, the new logo bears all of the hallmarks of a design that was arrived at on a whim and rationalised after the fact.
Brand continuity is a big issue for PayPal: significant change would leave thousands of websites bearing the old PayPal branding dated and less trusted. Anyone using PayPal's embed code can relax, the branding will be updated automatically, but the tens of thousands of businesses that use third-party carts may find their checkouts looking outdated.
Broadly speaking the new logo, which consists of a wordmark and monogram, are in keeping with the previous incarnation. The pseudo italic lean is an ill-conceived metaphor for progress and dynamism, and the increased diagonal stress on the 'y' makes the shape tilt drunkenly in the middle, but considering the existing brand recognition—which is PayPal's primary asset if you discount its eBay monopoly—the team at Fuseproject (who designed the new look) were wise to retain the feature.
We want this update to confer a sense of momentum that embodies our vision of optimism, progress and empowerment. For our name, we chose a typeface, colors and shapes that are simpler, richer and more vibrant.
The new logo uses a modified form of Futura, and this is my first issue with the new design: Futura is a geometric sans-serif engineered rather than drawn; it's a fine typeface, but it communicates nothing about human connectivity. PayPal say they want to emphasise the human aspect of their business, but no amount of rounded corners will change the typeface's underlying aesthetics.
The wordmark itself has been poorly executed. It's normal that letterspace varies; kerning can correct some issues, as can ligatures; but the incompatibility of some letter combinations means that variable spacing is inevitable. The only approach is for whitespace to be optically balanced.
The new logo online.
In PayPal's case several combinations are problematic: 'Pa' leaves a hole beneath the 'P', and the angle of the strokes on the 'y' cause excess space between it and both the 'a' and 'P'. In fact the only combination that doesn't present a problem to a designer is the 'al' combination.
It's ironic then, that it's precisely the 'al' characters that cause the problem in the new design. Because extra whitespace leaks into every other letter combination, the correct spacing between the 'a' and the 'l' is optically incorrect. The final letterspace in the word is too tight, and once you've seen it, you can't unsee it.
The new logo in email.
Connecting people to people is what we do. We've redesigned our "double P" monogram to reflect this connection.
The rationale for the monogram is that the 'P's with filled counters will be more recognizable from a distance. Certainly, in combination with the more saturated color palette, the monogram feels more like a financial service than the previous logo; it wouldn't be out of place on an ATM, and there's more than a nod towards the ubiquitous MasterCard/Maestro branding.
A lot of designers are querying the third color generated by the overlapping 'P's, stating that it's too difficult to spot, or that it looks like a printing error. However, it's the one part of the monogram I actually like, it allows the shapes to hint at the missing counters and I think the shape would be considerably less legible without it.
PayPal's logo, old and new.
Where the monogram falls down is depth. The darker 'P's bowl is larger—although strangely the stems are the same size—bringing the shape forward into the foreground ahead of the lighter 'P'. But the darker 'P' is a darker tone, causing it to recede behind the lighter 'P'. But the darker 'P' is closer in tone to the third color so it appears to overlap the lighter 'P'. But the only sharp corner in the outline is the bottom right of the darker 'P's stem, making it appear that the lighter 'P' overlaps the darker.
The overall effect is a logo that is literally fighting with itself; an apt metaphor for anyone who has ever had to wade through PayPal's woeful documentation, but hardly the message the redesign was intended to communicate.
Ultimately, PayPal is a globally successful corporation, with enough money to continue to dominate the market. Most people will simply never notice this change in branding. However, it's disappointing to see yet another large tech firm make basic design errors in a key piece of their visual identity.
Ben Moss is Senior Editor at WebdesignerDepot. He’s designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. One of these days he’ll run a sub-4hr marathon. Say hi on Twitter.