Criticism of Olive Garden’s New Logo Leaves A Bad Taste In My Mouth

Olive Garden Logo Redesign

“Opinions are like elbows, everybody’s got one or two.” I think this phrase to myself a lot. I find it applies especially well to the realm of design. And it’s certainly true when you’re talking about logo redesigns, the Internet’s favorite subject to shit on. I’ve certainly shared quite a few of my own opinions on the site, though in recent years I’ve tried to bring constructive criticism to my posts so I don’t add to the senseless noise. Last night I started to read about a new logo redesign for Olive Garden by Lipincott, which was generally being panned. Curious I took a look at what all the fuss was about… and honestly couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. And boy was there a lot of fuss.

Since the Gap debacle of 2010 designers and writers alike love to jump on the “new logo sucks WTF” bandwagon, whether it’s rightfully deserved or not. For whatever reason this Olive Garden logo seems to have struck a nerve with several writers who publish on some rather large websites. Unfortunately, their arguments have unanimously been shallow, uneducated, and completely hyperbolic.

 

The first instance comes from Laura Stampler writing for Time Business & Money, who states that the logo “looks like a font that would be found on a fourth grader’s social study report title page.” This astute observation must have been exactly what Lipincott had in mind when they spent the last six to eight months working on the branding. I dunno, wouldn’t it actually be great if elementary school paperwork looked half as good as this?

Next is Hayley Peterson writing for Business Insider, who instead of reaching out to designers who know about topics like lettering, typography, or branding instead decided to paste tweets from a random selection of people bitching about it on Twitter. The insightful commentary includes “wtf is this” and “Whoa wtf Olive Garden why are you getting a new logo no”. Journalism at it’s finest, Business Insider!

It only gets worse from here though, so brace yourself. L.V Anderson, a food and drinks editor at Slate, wrote a spirited design critique titled Olive Garden’s New Logo Looks Like a Second-Grader’s Cursive Practice. Honestly this article inspired equal parts head-scratching accompanied with side-splitting laughter. Let’s take a look why.

Olive Garden’s old logo—which, by virtue of how long it’d been around, had achieved something of an iconic status in the universe of sit-down chains—looked like the signature of a teenager who was cultivating his creative side. Though it resembled cursive, not all the letters were connected to one another, and the end of each word—the “e” and the “n”—were slightly elongated, as though they’d been dashed off quickly. It was a scrawl with self-conscious sophistication, sophistication that was enhanced with a cluster of grapes off to one side, a winking allusion to the vino that could be had with Olive Garden’s meals.

This paragraph should be read several times so that it can really soak in. My favorite parts are the old logo being iconic, it “resembling” cursive, the fact that when you write in cursive all the letters have to connect, the scientific diagnosis of the shapes of the E and N, and the astonishing sophistication that grapes can bring to your logo. Take note designers.

The new logo looks like the homework assignment of a teacher’s pet in second grade. The cursive letters are perfectly formed, circular, evenly sized. Clearly, Olive Garden is aiming for a youthful audience with its “brand renaissance,” but it has aimed far too young—no adult has ever written two words in cursive as perfectly formed as the new wordmark.

Another comparison to the logo being created by a child. Have any of these writers actually witnessed anyone under the age of 13 write like this? I would like to meet these children (and hire them immediately). Also, no adult has ever written in cursive so clearly (now it IS cursive, not just resembling cursive). Did Olive Garden achieve some sort of Guinness World Record for perfect lettering? Perhaps Olive Garden is dabbling in the dark arts to achieve such perfection?

But even if Olive Garden is, with extreme forward thinking, trying to capture the loyalty of the under-8 set, it’s miscalculated. Kids don’t even learn cursive in elementary school anymore! In 20 years young people won’t even be able to decipher Olive Garden’s logo—they’ll need their Google Glass to interpret it for them. And then they’ll probably decide to go to Chipotle, a company with good, clean block letters in its logo.

I get it, you’re trying to be really cute and snarky, that’s great! But this is exactly what diminishes our craft as designers. Anyone can make a logo like this! Children can do it! Google Glass will be our only hope! Unfortunately, this isn’t the worst critique I found.

 

My favorite worst article comes from Fast Co.Design, who always know how to inspire instant regret after reading their site. In a story written by John Brownlee titled Olive Garden’s New Logo Is The Pits (I get it!) John manages to belittle the restaurant, and anyone who likes to eat there. Oh and he talks about the logo some.

But I still find it lacking. Yes, there’s a certain dystopian quality to the new logo’s color scheme, as if 1984′s Ministry of Plenty had opted to open an Italian restaurant. The gray evokes the ashen complexion of someone who has just discovered that he will be having dinner at an Olive Garden, while the green resembles the complexion of that same patron as he nauseously walks out of the restaurant, his meal completed. Other than that, though, this new logo references barely any of the gastronomic horrors or culinary disappointments that await you.

Is that really good design? Give me the old logo any day. It told anyone who saw it, at a glance, that whatever cuisine this Olive Garden served, it would be artificial, inedible, and served to you by corporate cretins. Now that’s truth in branding.

I think more than anything it’s shocking that a blog that’s meant to celebrate design would publish something so condescending, snarky, and downright snobby. What the hell does any of that have to do with design? Isn’t that the entire point of Fast Co.Design? Shouldn’t this have been a thoughtful critique of why John didn’t think it was a successful logo? And lordy, since when are grey, white, and green a “dystopian” color palette? This guy actually got paid to write this.

 

Overall when I look at the new logo I see a clean update to a mainstream brand. It’s safe, it’s simple, and it’s well crafted. The interplay with the letters is nice, like where the I meets the V, or the R tucking under the D just slightly. The addition of the olive branch is a smart choice as well, playing into the name of the restaurant as well as signifying it as a place for people to share a meal, i.e. extend an olive branch.

Have Lipincott and Olive Garden created something that will make you question your very existence? Nope. I bet that Lipincott proposed some rather interesting ideas and this is what the execs at Olive Garden thought would play well with their customers, and I have to agree. It’s safe, but it works. It’s good to remember that Lipincott were the ones to simplify Starbucks brand back in 2011. Funny enough I wrote about that rebrand and commented that it wasn’t a revolutionary mark, but it was a smart evolution. This feels like a similar situation in many ways and I’m sure it’s a part of why Olive Garden hired Lipincott.

These kinds of articles do our industry a disservice and we shouldn’t let people get away with this drivel. We should stand as a community, and even though we may not love what someone does, we shouldn’t let these mindless writers demean what was obviously a lot of hard work.

Bobby Solomon

March 6, 2014 / By

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