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The Open Brand Project: What problems do we need to solve?

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, will work together to simplify and modernize our logo.

There are a lot of good things about the Red Hat logo: It clearly identifies our company; it’s simple and clean; at most sizes, it reproduces well; it stands out from our competitors in a crowded category; and we’ve been able to use it consistently for 17 years.

Most importantly, it is well-loved. Some Red Hatters and our supporters even have Shadowman tattoos. Our logo is more than an identifier; it has meaning derived from a powerful story. For many, Shadowman is an icon of the open source movement and a personification of Red Hat’s culture. Ask anyone in branding—this is an enviable position for us to be in.

So, why on earth would we change it?

There are many reasons. Any single reason may not seem as important as maintaining a beloved symbol of open source and innovation, but in aggregate, they make a compelling case for change.

Red Hat is growing. Our portfolio has expanded well beyond Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Fixing some of the technical quirks of our current logo will make it easier to work with in a variety of applications that did not exist when our logo was originally conceived.

So, what are some of the issues we need to address?

Shadowy figure or symbol of openness?

For a logo to be successful it should tell people something about the company. It should reinforce what the brand—and the community around it— is already known, trusted and loved for. In our case, our current symbol is not aligned with our brand values. Red Hat strives to be the trusted leader in open source. We default to open. Our goal is to be transparent, helpful and brave.

But someone new to the Red Hat brand wouldn’t learn any of that from looking at our logo. At first glance they may see a secret agent, a shadowy figure, someone they’re not sure they can trust. Our research bears this out: Shadowman is seen as more secretive than open, and more villainous than heroic.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Back in 1997, the idea of a “secret agent” sneaking the beneficial power of open source into the datacenter made sense for our brand. A logo inspired by 1930’s Dick Tracy cartoons was a good fit for scrappy underdogs with a revolutionary approach to developing software.

Today, we’re the first open source software company to hit a number of milestones: We’re trusted by more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies; we’ve broken $2 billion in revenue in a fiscal year; and we’re ranked among the world’s most innovative companies. We’ve built our credibility and reputation while operating as an open organization. We need a logo that reflects this reality now and in the future.

Details, details

Apart from big questions about how well it resonates with our brand values, there are functional issues with our current logo. They may seem small, but they make it increasingly difficult to use our logo effectively.

The most obvious difficulty we face is that the way we spell our name in our logo (redhat) doesn’t match how we actually spell it (Red Hat). For a logo to take liberties with spacing and capitalization isn’t that unusual but we know this inconsistency confuses our associates, community members and the press.

The next problem is something designers hear a lot: “Make the logo bigger.” We’ve realized the way our logo is constructed means it always looks smaller than our partners’ and competitors’ logos, even when they’re technically the same size. All the white space above and below “redhat” means our name looks smaller than it should. It’s a small thing—just the relative size of a couple of design elements—but the impact on how our brand looks is huge.

And then there are all the little quirks. The logo is difficult to get right when it appears in one color. There are two registration marks to deal with. Sometimes Shadowman’s face disappears, or just his nose. It’s a problem, especially as we grow and our logo is used by Red Hatters, partners, swag vendors and community members around the world. We need to make it easier for them to get our logo right.

A flexible system

When our current logo was designed, Red Hat sold one product—Red Hat Linux. The corporate logo was the product logo.

Today we have a broad portfolio of products and services, not to mention a host of events, programs and internal groups. Because our logo was never designed to handle that much diversity on its own, we’ve had to develop a range of additional logos—but none of them can be used alone. They all have to be accompanied by the Red Hat logo.

This means that almost everything we do has two logos on it, from stickers to polo shirts. Add in logos for a partner or community project, and things get cluttered in a hurry.

A related problem, though it might not seem like it at first, is that there’s only one approved way to use our logo—horizontal, with the Shadowman icon on the left and our name on the right. That leaves us without a good way to handle a number of situations, from favicons and app icons to event swag and logos on our buildings—anything that’s not a horizontal rectangle.

In the absence of an “approved” logo that works, people tend to take matters into their own hands and invent their own versions of our logo. From the perspective of consistency and trademark defense, that’s a problem.

The solution is to have not just a single logo, but a system of logos that work together and adapt to different applications and contexts. This system should solve today’s problems and set us up to grow in the future.

Moving forward

Our challenge is to take recognizable aspects of our logo that are rooted in our history and distill them into a new logo that resonates with who we are today. Our new logo should represent us well in any medium or context and help people identify, recognize and understand who we are today.

We have a lot of work to do and we need your help. There are several ways to participate. Start by taking our survey. Learn more about the details of the project and follow our progress via our blog. And, if you have ideas, suggestions or comments, tweet them to us @RedHatWay. Follow along with #openbrandproject.

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