Infographic: Netflix’s New ‘N’ and the State of Logo Design
Netflix unveiled a new app logo this week: a simple “N,” made with a red band that folds over itself like a strip of celluloid film, or maybe a red carpet. However you interpret the new lettermark, it’s going to precede a lot of your Netflixing and chilling in the near future.
To be clear: Netflix didn’t ditch its old logo. It’ll continue using the familiar, arched, seven-letter wordmark. The new N is for things like mobile apps and social media accounts—it’s a “peelable” in design parlance, with elements usable across a brand. It’s also the latest in a spate of redesigns by tech companies looking to update their visual brand for the mobile age. (Last month it was Instagram. Before that it was Uber. And don’t forget about Twitter and Airbnb.)
In fact, these logos, icons, and lettermarks seem to change more and more often. As the devices people use change, and the capabilities of the screens improve, brand experts want the logo to continue to look good and keep up with the changing context. It’s no coincidence that many successful, contemporary logos look more like icons. (Just look at Hillary Clinton’s “H.”) So we figured we’d help you keep track with the infographic above—one that we plan to keep updating.
What’s interesting is how minimal, even abstract, many of these icons have become. Hyper-literal metaphor used to be the cardinal rule of icon design. In the 80s, the icon for the trash folder on a Macintosh was … a trash can. Fast forward a couple decades and Airbnb’s app icon from 2010 was … a suitcase! With destination stickers on it!
Designers call this form of literalism “skeuomorphism.” It started falling out of favor a few years ago, as the visual cues began to feel hand hold-y. Like, remember the “bubble effect” that used to delineate buttons on a touchscreen? Nobody needs it anymore. You know how and when to press, tap, and swipe.
Skeuomorphism has also become less important for logos. The past few years have seen designers eschew realistic visual cues—the silly face on the Snapchat logo, the unabashed camera-ness of the Instagram icon—in favor of more minimal styles. “With wearables and things like that, they have to work on tinier and tinier scales,” says Howard Belk, co-CEO of design agency Siegel + Gale. “Skeuomorphism starts to break down when it gets that small.”
And don’t confuse “minimal” with “flat.” It’s true, a lot of companies pancaked their app icons during The Great Changeover of 2013 (thanks iOS7!); but more recently, some of the most interesting work in mobile interface design has made clever and considered use of the z-axis. Just look at Material Design; Google’s innovative visual design language is beautiful, functional—and modeled after layered sheets of construction paper.
The new Netflix “N” has a similar look, with a drop shadow so pronounced you can practically grab it by the corner and pull it off the screen. (Apple Music’s icons and, hi, our venerable WIRED W share similar design language.) Netflix declined our request for comment, but it looks to us like they’re betting that a bolder, simpler icon on your home screen will do a better job of catching (and keeping) your attention. And fair enough. If a company can successfully claim something as universal as an “N” as its icon, it’s a pretty good sign that people know and care about the app. Twitter has its bird, Facebook has its F, Uber has its…whatever that is, and Instagram has its camera. Simplicity, it seems, is the ultimate status symbol.
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