The Open Brand Project is a collaborative effort to evolve our corporate logo and brand system. A cross-functional team of in-house designers collaborating with Pentagram, a well-known international design consultancy, are working together to simplify and modernize our logo.
Red Hat launched the Open Brand Project late in 2017, and 6 months later we ’ve reached a watershed moment. We're wrapping up our first phase of inviting participation, openly debating opinions and ideas and creating prototypes based on our findings. Our designers have drawn hundreds of hats, and their workspace looks like a fedora-crazed hatter’s studio. From here, we're moving on to the selection, testing and refining of final designs. But there is still much work to do.
There are at least three approaches to changing a logo. You can make very small, almost unnoticeable changes to optimize a logo that already works well. You can evolve, making significant changes while retaining most of the personality and character of the original—leaving the logo recognizable but refreshed. Or you can start fresh.
Red Hat chose the middle path—evolution.
A successful evolution often requires some shared understanding of our goals and the problems we need to solve. It’s important to understand what we're doing and why. To guide our work, we started an open discussion within Red Hat and surveyed partners, customers and others with a stake in our identity.
Of the respondents, 67 percent chose the hat as the most important element of our logo, whereas 18 percent picked the color red as the most important. And 81 percent said they thought a fedora is the right hat to represent Red Hat. Nothing else was even close. Most importantly, 40 percent think "open" is the most important quality that people should associate with Red Hat, followed by "trustworthy" at 16 percent.
From this data, a few clear directions emerged.
The new logo will definitely feature a red fedora. And our name will be changed to more accurately reflect our company name -- in title case and as two words: "Red Hat" instead of "redhat."
But what about openness? How do we contend with the fundamental truth that the shadowy figure under the hat in our current logo does not communicate openness or transparency very well? How trustworthy is he? At Red Hat we call him Shadowman, and he is an important symbol for us. Pondering and debating his fate has been emotional and challenging. Should he remain part of our mark, just less? Should Shadowman even be a man? Maybe it’s time for the figure wearing our red fedora to better reflect the diverse communities we serve. Or is it time for Shadowman to take off his red fedora and retire.
To help fully explore every relevant possibility, the design team settled on three directions: a red fedora worn by a figure of some sort; a red fedora alone; and a wordmark in which the red fedora icon would function as a letter or form part of a word.
The hat alone is appealing because it is simple and addresses the issues of gender, race, and shadiness that Shadowman presents. But the hat with a more abstract or universal face would be a more gradual change that keeps the spirit of Shadowman alive. A good wordmark could be ownable and clever, but there are many difficulties to making it work. Not many letters look like hats, and if we don’t get it exactly right, not everyone will understand it.
These three directions yielded hundreds of prototypes in a wild variety of styles. Eventually, 12 designs rose to the top. Those 12 designs were shared with Red Hat executives, a large team of Red Hat influencers (a chosen group of passionate and respected voices from around the company) and the company as a whole in two globally attended Red Hat town hall meetings. That helped us narrow the field of 12 designs to four. Those four designs were taken to the Red Hat Summit in early May and shared with partners, customers and other attendees to gauge their reaction.
Now we are on to phase two. As we work with these four designs, winnowing further to two final designs, our attention will turn to refining the final hats and devising the right type treatment and lettering for the new logo. Then we must stress-test each proposal by building full branding systems around them to see how well they work in practical applications—everything from building and lobby signs to polo shirts and coffee mugs to Twitter avatars.
We’ll have more to report and reveal in the coming weeks, and it’s going to be a very busy summer for the Open Brand Project design team. If you’re curious and would like to learn more, visit us at the Open Brand Project page. Tweet ideas, suggestions or comments to @RedHat and follow along with #openbrandproject.