What Neuroscience Has to Say About Gap's Logo Disaster

By Eliza Strickland | October 26, 2010 11:49 am

GapBy Lena Groeger

The abysmal flop of the Gap logo redesign has prompted a flurry of critique from marketing experts, branding consultants, as well as the inner critic in each of us that wants to explain what, exactly, went so wrong.

Now another group is chiming in: neuroscientists. NeuroFocus, one of the leading neuromarketing firms in the country, just released an analysis of why our deep subconscious rejected the Gap logo with such finality. Here are some of their findings:

1. When words overlap with images, as in the unsuccessful Gap logo, our brain tends to bypass the word and focus on the image. So we ignore the “p” when it’s placed over the blue box (for the Gap name, that’s a big fail).

2. We’re hardwired to avoid sharp edges because in nature they represent a threat. The sharp edge of the box cutting into the curved “p” is unappealing for that reason.

3. Being a little funky appeals to the brain. The original Gap typeface was unusual enough to stand out from the crowd. The new one, on the other hand, is boring old Helvetica (which really is taking over the world).

4. The brain loves high contrast. In the original logo, white letters “pop” against a dark blue background. In the new logo, the blue box weakens the black/white contrast.

Cool, huh? I guess… although neuromarketing is a fledgling science–some would even hesitate to call it a science–and graphic designers could have told you the same thing all along (without all that fancy brain equipment).

Point  number 1 says image and color are supreme. Number 2 says shape and proximity are key. Number 3 says be unique and number 4 says contrast, contrast, contrast. The Nike, Lacoste, and FedEx logos are all great examples of these rules in action. The importance of color, shape, proportion, simplicity, contrast, and uniqueness are some of the foundational principles of graphic design, and clearly the new Gap logo violated many of them.

For the designers who want it, they now have some neuroscience to back them up. But I’m not sure they ever really needed it.

This article is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
  • http://blog.liviablackburne.com Livia Blackburne

    Of course, now some designer will come along and make a logo with those no-nos, and it will be wildly successful.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/ Jason Goldman

    “We’re hardwired to avoid sharp edges because in nature they represent a threat”

    I don’t know about that. We’re innately sensitive to edges, we are innately aware of edges – but are we innately fearful of edges? I don’t think so. The new logo was certainly ugly, but the old logo is full of edges.

    I’m not sure we need to appeal to evolutionary psychology on this one. Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo has an opposite take: http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2010/10/sharp-edges-and-soft-science.html

  • Bigby

    Jason – the old logo is full of edges, yes, but the difference is that the identifier – GAP – is safely esconced within the edges whereas the new Gap is being visually “cut” by an edge. I agree that I’m not convinced of universal “fear” of edges, but I think that’s the difference, the position of the edges.

  • http://sacrit.blogspot.com SaCrIt: Art Science Blog

    As an outsider looking in (Australian) I find it very hard to understand just what’s gone on here. Now i understand a little… well about the science anyway.

  • Brian Too

    We are heavily dependent upon edges and outlines for reading. There’s some research out there (don’t have a reference handy) that says we actually read words by their overall “shape” in order to increase reading and comprehension speed. When you come across an unfamiliar word you have to slow right down and sound it out, but the reader does not do this unless forced to.

    Therefore when we read the new logo, the comprehension process is organized like this:

    Ga…. p? Gap.

    Unfortunately since the box is not a letter, it permanantly impairs the shape of the company name. The reader may eventually memorize this combination but it’s an irritant to the normal rules of reading.

  • Georg

    who or what told the “GAP” people that the old logo had
    to be replaced?
    I know the kind of “top managers” involved.
    All their behaviour tells:
    “I do have more money (to spend) than brain, please help!”
    Kings used to have tenured jesters, poets and painters.
    Today that role is filled by certain “advisors” mostly
    dealing in advertising and public relations.

  • Darius

    Wow, so your saying that I can make millions of dollars just by ‘claiming’ to be a professional ‘neural science and physics marketting dummy’? I should do that. Sure beats actually working for a buck.

  • Russ

    How about this crazy idea: The original logo has become so familiar and iconic, that any alteration of it just screams ‘wrong’ to people?


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