Designers and consumers hate new Arby's logo

In trying to distract attention from one mishap involving fingers, it looks like Arby’s created another one.

The first mishap involving fingers took place in Michigan last May, when a teenager found a severed fingertip inside a roast beef sandwich.

The second is Arby’s new logo, which involves fingers in that designers and readers Bloomberg Business Week consulted have almost unanimously turned thumbs down on it.

Western heritage from Ohio

Even though its first restaurant opened in Boardman, Ohio, the Arby’s name and logo reflect an American West heritage.  Its founders wanted to call it “Big Tex,” but that was already the name of an Akron business, so they made a name out of their initials – R-B, as in Raffel Brothers.

Their logo’s icon was a stylized ten-gallon hat, with the logotype itself in an Old West font, with the capital “A” and the apostrophe before the “s” very nicely integrated into the hat icon.

Now, in premature celebration of their 2014 fiftieth anniversary, one that the magazine’s Venessa Wong characterizes as “aptly timed as Arby’s recovers from a series of mishaps—most infamously, when a Michigan teen found a worker’s severed finger in a sandwich earlier this year,” Arby’s has changed all that.

“We’ve made small but significant changes designed to contemporize the look without losing what our most devoted customers love—namely the hat,” Russ Klein, Arby’s chief marketing officer, told her. “The most significant elements, the lowercase font and the apostrophe slicer icon, are details that communicate our point of differentiation, that we freshly slice meats daily in our restaurants.”

As you can see from the photo above, what they did was give the hat outline a 3D effect, change the type to a less retro, sans serif, font, separate the apostrophe from the hat and turn it into a slicer blade.

Universally disliked

Bloomberg Business Week asked four professional designers how they liked the new logo. Three of them didn’t. Neither did all but three of the commenters.

Michelle Gamble, of Borrowed Originals, New York, says:

The old logo had charm and familiarity. This lacks charisma. The hat tries too hard to be an app and has no relationship to the logotype, apart from color. Without the name recognition, the logo evokes more of a “tech” feeling.

And tech is definitely not Old West.

Brion Isaacs, creative director of Rivington Design House, agrees, particularly about the 3D hat:

The 3D effect has no place in this logo and looks forced and is executed poorly. Sucks. It seems like Arby’s is trying too hard. The whole glossy thing is so out of touch…

So does Graham Hanson, adjunct professor of the Pratt Institute Graduate Communications Design Department:

The typography of the old logo evoked Western themes and consequently “paid off” the stylized and simplified cowboy hat/lasso. Now you have what are really abstract shapes with typography that provides no visual cues. The unique essence of what set Arby’s apart from other fast food has been lost.

The Pontiac Aztek of logo design?

One commenter calls the new Arby’s design “the Pontiac Aztec [sic] of logos.” Other comments, which look like they came from branding professionals, support this opinion in regard to both the process and the final result.

Time magazine’s compilation of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time says this about the Pontiac Aztek’s design process:

[T]he Aztek design had been fiddled with, fussed over, cost-shaved and otherwise compromised until the tough, cool-looking concept had been reduced to a bulky, plastic-clad mess. A classic case of losing the plot.

This sounds a lot like reader Chicago Dan’s description of the Arby’s logo’s possible origin:

I would bet dollars to doughnuts, that this is a result of one or several people higher in the Arby’s chain of command that fancy themselves people with good taste forcing their changes on whomever originally designed this. This just has so many different notes. Round one of the redesign was probably really nice, well thought out, deliberate. Then round one gets passed around corporate, next thing you know, you have 20 people with poor taste weighing in on the design “Hey people like 3D, 3D is totally in, like that Avatar movie, can you make the hat 3d?” “Hey, we slice meats, how are people going to know we slice meat unless we beat them over the head with some sort of imagery, can you make the apostrophe a meat slicer? That would be nifty!” “Hey I saw a logo once that used all lower case, can we do that? What do you mean what’s the reasoning behind making it lower case? I saw it somewhere, so just do it. It doesn’t have to make sense.” Next thing you know, you have this Frankenstein logo. I deal with this every day.

Ditto for reader Megapotamus’s comment:

Yes, seems to be the product of a committee. Mixing up the 3D and flat text is quite awkward… a word that looks like what it describes.

3D hat falls flat

But whatever the process, probably the most hated element to emerge from it was the 3D hat, according to reader comments like these:

  • “Looks like Logo by Powerpoint. 3D? Seriously? Send it back. It’s a disaster on nearly every level.”
  • “This redesign is not an improvement. It has cheapened the brand identity – especially with the 3D ‘special effect.'”
  • “Looks horrible in so many ways. Using Illustrator’s 3D effect right out of the  box + a gradient on it is just pure amateur. What the shape means visually nobody will know.  Why the apostrophe needs to be given so much importance nobody will now. Why does the logo have so many elements instead of focusing on one key element? Nobody will know. Why was this design selected? Nobody will know.”

“Makes the GAP logo look like the Sistine Chapel.”

Most of the other comments knocked the logo’s construction from visually disparate elements:

  • “It[‘]s absolutely terrible on every level.. I really thought it was a joke at first… When I realized the article wanst [sic] on the [O]nion, I nearly fell out of my chair. It’s like a (poorly executed) high school project. Makes the gap logo look like the [S]istine [C]hapel…”
  • “It could as well be a logo for an auto parts company.  The 3D imagery is fighting with the 2D font, making it quite hard to assimilate.  A good logo should appeal to both the broader public and the logo cognoscenti–this logo doesn’t accomplish that.  Instead, it makes everyone work too hard to read it, and then leaves little or nothing by way of sentiment or cultural memory.  Back to the drawing-board already!”
  • “Aside from the wth-were-they-thinking 3D hat, you have a modern typeface… within a western hat? Total theme mismatch. Either ditch the hat and go with clean/modern (though that would be sad as the hat is classic, and entwined with the Arby’s brand), or at least do something with the typeface to evoke something Western….too many elements at odds with one another.”
  • “Meat-cutting blade? Yeah, that was the *first* thing I thought of. Oh, no, wait: the first thing I thought was WTF happened to the apostrophe.”
  • “It looks like what you can get for that from any number of internet-based logo development services. What’s more, I didn’t guess that the apostrophe was supposed to be some sort of meat cutter. The whole thing just looks weird to me.”
  • “The mixing of 3-D elements and flat type is what I don’t like either. And I’m not real clear on what the new logo “type” is supposed to communicate. It doesn’t seem like an improvement.”

Let the marketplace decide

Commenter Robert Petranek predicts that this “very forced, unoriginal look to the new logo…will cost them huge regarding sales.”

But will it?

As H.L. Mencken once said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the Amnerican public.”