YouTube brandishes new look after 12 years
August 30, 2017 10:56 am
For the last 12 years, YouTube’s logo has been a pair of anachronisms wrapped inside each other. “We have the word tube in a tube,” says Christopher Bettig, the head of YouTube’s art department. “This is weird. No one know what this is.” Tube is slang for a television set, which used to be powered by vacuum tubes. But neither tubes nor TVs are central to the world’s biggest video service, which now reaches over 1.5 billion people each month, streaming to almost any screen with an internet connection.
And so today the brand is getting its biggest aesthetic makeover ever. The YouTube logo is being refreshed, shifting the emphasis away from the word “Tube” and onto the familiar play button which has already become an iconic shorthand for the company. The service is also getting a new typeface, color scheme, and a bunch of major changes to the look, feel, and functionality of its desktop and mobile app.
Though today’s logo change is the most significant in YouTube’s history, it’s not a complete transformation, like the morphing of Uber’s silver U into a backwards C. “It’s an evolution, not a revolution,” says Bettig.
But the company is also using the moment to announce a basket of new features, planned changes, and ongoing experiments. The new look is a ribbon that ties these moves together, highlighting the company’s broader shift from a singular website to a family of different apps that stretch across multiple platforms.
The challenge facing YouTube’s design and interaction team when they launched the redesign two years ago was how to tie together a host of products with very different audiences and uses. What started in 2005 as a singular website built for desktop internet users now exists on phones, tablets, game consoles, and, yes, television sets.
What’s more, YouTube is no longer a single brand. Over the last few years it has spawned a family of services: YouTube Kids, Gaming, Red, TV, and Music. “We felt, because of all that growth, we were missing the mark. We wanted to make something more unified and cohesive, something that really reads as YouTube,” says Bettig. “We were hoping to build a visual language that would make it easy for folks to recognize it.”
Bettig, a Frenchman who joined Google six years ago and has been with YouTube for the past three, led the charge to rethink the logo. Since YouTube was evolving into a whole family of services, and since it had adapted to fit each screen and video format, Bettig and his team experimented with a dynamic brand. “We had a symbol that was loosely reminiscent of a Y, but it would be always changing, animated, and pulling color samples from the video you were watching.
It could potentially pull the profile picture or header art from the channel you were watching. So you have these dynamic elements that would all be intersecting.”
This approach worked well when the designers had it mocked up on a white wall in their studio and in simple prototype apps. “Then as soon as we dropped it in product it was like, oh yeah, that’s not going to work,” said Bettig. “It’s pure chaos.”
In the end, the art department decided to keep things simple. They would put a new spin on the logo, but rely on iconography that had, over the years, already come to signify the brand.
“Over the years, organically, that play button, that UI element that is front and center on every video, became a brand ambassador, an unofficial shorthand.” In consumer research, the team found there was little difference in recognition between that icon and the word YouTube itself. “This thing has taken on a life of its own.”
YouTube is now experimenting with a new approach to mobile browsing. Simply swipe left and the service will cue up a new video based on its recommendation algorithms, offering an infinite smorgasbord of possible entertainment. Skipped something but decide later it actually seemed interesting? Just swipe right to find it again.
Finding gestures that resonate with their audience is the best way for the team to bring cohesion to a service used by 1.5 billion people across hundreds of countries and dozens of languages. “We’re trying to create a common language across all our apps, to use design to give them an element of consistency,” said Bronstein. “We are always striving to make it feel more human.”