Some brand agencies have started to use emerging scientific disciplines to perfect rebranding.


Generally people don’t like change.

Take for example when Snap, parent of teen photo-sharing app Snapchat, recently made a change to their ghost logo by just one point. A seemingly minor tweak which should have passed users by unnoticed.

Instead Snap was criticised and its users threatened to leave the app for good, shocked and appalled at the altering of a few pixels. Trivial as it may seem from the outside, do they have a point?

Evolving a brand’s visual identity is a routine and periodic exercise, which maintains the logos relevance and adapts if for use on new platforms and new purposes. Logos are the first point of contact with a brand, making a company recognisable without its name. Think of the Swoosh or Golden Arches – even if you couldn’t read, you’d know who we were talking about.


It’s what consumers have grown used to

Any update to a brand’s identity – whether a new logo, a piece of packaging or even a branded experience – must therefore consider both the conscious and subconscious ways in which people decode these changes. Using neuroscientific principles can allow us to understand how seemingly insignificant updates like Snap’s can be met with such disapproval.



People make sense of the world around them using two distinct but related ways of processing information, for our purposes we’ll call them System 1 and System 2. Most brand purchase decisions take place in the rapidly-processing, unconscious part of our brain, using System 1.

System 2 on the other hand, is where most of our more demanding processing and learning takes place. Once we’ve fully processed information in System 2, it becomes encoded and added into our System 1 way of thinking – creating instantaneous, automatic and subconscious decisions from familiar stimuli.

Much like learning to drive, it first takes effort and considerable concentration to begin with, but after time we encode all we’ve learn’t to the point where driving becomes an effortless action which does not require active thought.

The same applies to purchase decisions. Picking a brand repeatedly encodes the identity within our mind, creating a system 1 shortcut which, over time, makes the decision to pick that brand virtually automatic. When that identity changes, for whatever reason, it is as if that shortcut is circumvented.


Successful and unsuccessful rebranding

There’s a myriad of examples that display this purchasing process. Take Mastercard, who recently updated their instantly-recognisable interlocking circles logo. They’ve been incredibly consistent using a harmonious red and yellow design for so long that it has achieved recognition (a shortcut) within the System 1 thinking of its consumers. Utilising principles of reductive design, Mastercard removed entirely its name from its logo. Its 52-year relevance means that the loss of a name is of far less significance and disruption than a younger, lesser-known brand.

In essence, Mastercard has earnt the right to move to a more simplified logo. The neuroscientific principle is ‘gestalt,’ a German term interpreted in English as ‘pattern’ or ‘configuration’. According to gestaltism, the human brain instinctively disassembles logos into constituent parts, and puts them back together. By removing the word ‘Mastercard,’ we still recognise the Mastercard brand because its heritage and equity are so strong. As such, the redesign was heralded a success.

Conversely, a logo redesign that wasn’t so well-received was that of Spanish fashion retailer, Zara. Its second redesign in a decade was met with derision and a slew of memes from across the design world. For a brand that’s been so consistent for so long, you have to ask yourself the question: Why change? Moving to a taller, more contemporary typeface with such remarkably tight leading made the logo over-complex in its construction. It was too drastic a departure from what its customers were used to.

The emerging discipline of neuroesthetics takes a scientific approach to the study of aesthetic perceptions of art, music, and any object that can give rise to aesthetic judgments, like a logo. As a rule of thumb, System 1 interprets beauty as investment, care, and self-belief – and hence value.

The Zara redesign immediately feels like less care, effort and detail has gone into creating it, which, for a fashion brand whose products are entirely aesthetic, is not a good look.


Snap Decisions

This brings us back to Snap, whose logo redesign was hardly a drastic redesign by any measure. So what explains the outrage?

The issue is not that people no longer recognise the brand; the logo is still manifestly Snap, after all. Rather, users experienced a visceral and immediate reaction to the change. It’s due to what neuroscientists term ‘thin slicing’, the process of finding patterns in events and interactions based only on thin slices of experience.

The human brain is capable of decoding huge amounts of information from very small slivers of detail. Jumping to conclusions, for want of a better term.

But herein lies a lesson. A seemingly harmless update can be a giant leap for the unconscious minds of consumers used to digesting your brand in a certain way. Essentially, people don’t like change – whether they realise it or not.


Original story by Vicky Bullen – Coley Porter Bell on Digital Arts Online