Yellow Pages logo refinement part I

In August 2008 I was hired by the Canadian Yellow Pages to refine its “walking fingers” logo.

Previous Yellow Pages logo

old Yellow Pages logo

The mandate for the logo refinement could be summed up in this single statement — “to free the icon from print without losing its essence.”

With priorities having shifted online, the pages of the book (the yellow section in the symbol above) were no longer deemed appropriate enough for such obvious use.

Download the project design brief (36k .doc — as supplied by Yellow Pages).

A logo reference guide was also supplied at the beginning of the project (shown below).

old Yellow Pages logo guide

Prep work

Before addressing the logo I was asked to present the board with successful logo refinements from other studios, detailing why I thought each one worked. A very brief description behind some of my choices can be seen in these successful logo redesigns. Four of the strongest shown through the link are Dolby, Toys R Us, NFL, and MSNBC.

Another task was to compare the in-use logo with those of the Yellow Pages “friends.”

Yellow Pages logos

Although related by name and service, each business operates in a different global location, and is run as an independent organisation (hence the separate logos).

Focusing on the symbol

The “walking fingers” icon was where most of the design change would occur, and it was clear to me that the look of the fingers needed addressing.

Yellow Pages walking fingers

The original bulge (above-left) created a top-heavy look. The pointed thumbnail was overly feminine, too.

Yellow Pages site header

The in-use logo (above-left) was tested with the new hand (above-right). The new icon was tried with and without a border or background colour (below).

Yellow Pages icons

The hand was improved, but the question was posed: “Is there enough of a change to warrant spending $1M?” We were just starting with the experimentation, and worked through options including a dart alongside the “walking fingers” (a request by the board that advised against).

Yellow Pages logo symbols

Yellow Pages logo before and after

In November 2008, after a number of months working with the senior brand manager, I was told the company was undergoing some internal restructuring, and that the project would be placed on hold until the new year. Forward to May 2009 and the project was still on hold, with the entire communications strategy now being reconsidered.

In March 2010 a new logo was unveiled (below), created by Canadian design agency TAXI. Dave Watson, TAXI’s creative director, kindly contacted me showing the work his team carried out. I’ll give an insight into their design process in my next post.

Yellow Pages logo by TAXI

Update: 09 April 2010
You can view part II of the Yellow Pages logo refinement here.

I enjoyed my time working with Yellow Pages, and I wish the company every success with the new brand identity.

32 responses

  1. Wow, your work is much better than Taxi’s. Their logo was feeling outdated though, so I’m glad they realized that and took initiative. Too bad they went with the wrong option though :P

  2. What a *massive* project to work on. I really like the subtle changes that you made to the hand, because they may have been subtle, but they were a huge improvement on the original design.

    I always enjoy the unveiling of an updated logo on well known brands, and it’s always fascinating to see what the end results are!

  3. It’s refreshing to see that, even in this (predominantly) digital age, there are still folks that are committing a good chunk of their resources to print.
    That said, when I looked at TAXI’s “new” logo, I found their hand icon to be strongly reminiscent of one of your refinements (the middle one, to be precise). Maybe it’s just personal bias towards your work on my part. :)

  4. Did the company not communicate to you at all that they were going another direction with logo before they unveiled the new one?

    TAXI seem to have done a pretty good job anyway. But it must be frustrating that they seem to have kept you out of the loop?

  5. Adam, thanks for the props, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind that the Yellow Pages committee had a lot of opinions on how the logo should turn out. TAXI produced between 50 and 60 different logos before the project was completed.

    Vanessa, a project with huge scope, no doubt. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email out-of-the-blue, asking if I wanted to help.

    Rafael, TAXI was supplied with the work I carried out, which might be why you see some resemblance between the two. Thanks very much, by the way, for that personal bias of yours.

    Mark, the last I heard before the new unveiling was in May 2009 when the project was on hold. There are no hard feelings at all, though. Yellow Pages hired me for a job, and paid me on-time. I was very pleased the company deemed my blog and portfolio (nearly two years ago now) strong enough to secure the business.

  6. Well that’s not so bad then, you actually still done quite well out of it. At the same time though, every designer wants to see their work come to life. :-)

    I think that subtle change you made to the fingers (removing the top heavy bit) is a big part of the success of that new logo, so I can’t help but think that you done a lot of the heavy lifting for TAXI. They certainly had a good starting point if you supplied them with your work.

  7. Thanks, David, for sharing this story. Outcomes like this are an unfortunate but interesting part of the designer’s business. It’s good to see your work on the redesigned hand is mostly intact — that IS a big improvement over the old artwork. As for the rest of TAXI’s design, I look forward to reading about the rest of their development on the logo. The gray logotype and hand are certainly in vogue, but I think solid black is stronger — yellow is such a light color to begin with, I don’t think there’s enough contrast with the gray. I’m not sure I get the guitar pick shape of the logo, but will wait for TAXI’s explanation on how they got there.

  8. It would’ve been great to see the project through to completion, Mark. No doubt. Dave Watson, the creative director from TAXI, told me he was given my design presentation files as a FYI-type document, so whilst I wasn’t actively involved in the latter stages, it’s been great to see the developmental work TAXI carried out. More on that soon.

    Neil, my pleasure. I’d been meaning to talk about Yellow Pages for a while, and with the new logo being unveiled, I thought it a good time. Thanks for dropping in again.

  9. Wow. Definitely feel they went in the wrong direction with the “guitar pick” shape. Makes one feel that the icon is off center…and if you stand the ‘pick’ upright, the fingers look more like a family crest. O well. Cheers to continuing some great explanations into the design headaches which we all seem to run into along the way.

  10. I like the type they chose for Yellow and Pages, but not the bevel/emboss look – very dated. However TAXI probably made many options they thought were better, and it was the client that had final choice in the logo (maybe TAXI share many of these opinions but in the end what can they do?).

  11. Being Canadian, I’m very familiar with the Yellow Pages logo. I’ve always liked it’s simplicity and effectiveness. Having said that, your tweaks to the walking fingers were a big improvement! Ones that I didn’t even realized needed tweaking until I saw the side by side comparison.

    I MUCH prefer your “just one potential after” to the eventual final logo chosen. I’m not a fan of the Taxi one.

  12. Very professional of you, David, to respect TAXI and the company in their decision. Too often newer designers like to bash the competition I think. I am curious about TAXI’s process. How did they come to the shape around the fingers? Is it significant? I think it feels like it is pushing forward. Perhaps that was some reasoning behind it. One thing I think could be improved is the contrast; it looks a little washed out with the less bold colors. Alternatively, maybe the thought behind that was that it is less bold and more welcoming? And maybe the back finger could be a little closer to the hand; it’s too separate right now in my opinion.

    I totally agree with the adjustments in the hand that you developed, David (indeed the pointy thumb was rather feminine). Out of the options presented above (the 5 row by 2 column grid), I think last one on the left kept the overall feeling of the original identity best, while updating it and removing the print reference.

  13. Maybe it’s only me, but with all respect to Taxi’s work, I absolutely have no feel of the Yellow Pages… If the icon were shown on its own, my first thought would be – oh, someone stole YP icon, changed it a bit and used for their logo… And that 3D look… Grrr…

  14. Why do some designers think that adding a drop shadow and creating a 3D blob is the essence of creativity, as if its never been thought of before!? The grey and yellow make the whole thing look anaemic. There’s no punch, no drive. The only thing that I do like is the BOLD and Light typography … but that’s it! What a shame that they chose to switch lanes half way to the finishing line. Oh well, chalk it up to experience…

  15. I’m glad to see everyone commenting seems to agree that the bevel and emboss effect only cheapens the brand identity. At the same time, I have to believe that the client was really driving the TAXI–if you know what I mean. A quick glimpse of TAXI’s website and portfolio tells me that they’re also big believers in more timeless logo identities. This seems like a textbook situation where it comes down to the client being a client. As much as TAXI may have tried to impart their creative wisdom, it appears that ultimately the client was convinced that the 3D blob effect was much more “new.” I know; I’m doing a lot of surmising and guessing. It would be really interesting to see TAXI’s creative process just like we get to see David’s.

  16. Learned a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing, David.
    IMHO, I think communicating with the client and imparting one’s knowledge is the key to any design solution. Refinement of the Yellow Pages logo is a huge task considering it already has a very effective mark. I don’t want to be bias but I think your direction was better compared to why and how TAXI went with theirs, and finally this solution? Can’t help but cringe each time I scroll towards it.

    By the way, guitar picks would make a great promo item. ;)

  17. Really respectful thing with Taxi. I love all the iterations. You win some, lose some. One thing i see in the Taxi logo is it seems there’s just a white 20% gradient over the logo. I wonder if it should be a tad darker. Either way. Great thought process with the work :)

  18. During my chats with the client, it became clear some of the committee members were very keen on 3D effects, so I believe my possible outcome above would’ve appeared differently had I continued on the project.

    Nina, you could very well be right about the options TAXI produced.

    Lauren, back in the day I would’ve been quick to bash the competition, but after a few years in the profession it’s easy to understand how big a role the client plays in the design process, and how rather than compete with each other, design studios should think of it more as colleagues learning from each other. If that makes sense — I’ve been awake for quite some time.

    You ask some great questions, and from the quick glimpse I’ve had at TAXI’s work, I think you’ll find they’re answered in my upcoming post.

    Thanks for joining in the chat, folks. Off for some kip.

  19. Awesome work as usual David.

    Your proposal preserves very well the essence of the company.

    Also I think TAXI’s proposal is good, but the colors are a bit disturbing, the bright bright yellow mixed with a shade of grey, I’d prefer if they would use the same colors as yours.

  20. A very interesting read David, and a shame that you weren’t able to work with them through to completion.

    Hats off to TAXI though, like you said, for contacting you and for sharing their design process with you (although they get some free PR from it). Looking forward to reading it.

  21. Your version is much better than Taxi’s if it’s any consolation. Figures they’d go with the “3D” look.

    Also, just read your book. Fantastic job. Congrats on all your success.

  22. Hey David,

    Do you not feel that the idea is lost some what by dropping the little icon of the book below the fingers? I really liked the idea that the fingers were walking through the pages, I always understood that that’s why the fingers were walking in the first place?
    You could argue that the fingers have become iconic enough now to not need the book element to back it up.
    Having said that, your crafting of the hand is very much an improvement, and your concepts are very visually strong.
    I have to say, I am disappointed with the outcome from Taxi, it does nothing for me at all. I would even go as far to say that the typography is a downgrade from the original logo.


  23. Seems like another ‘design by committee’ set of shenanigans. I like the one colour option you presented with the bottom of the rounded rectangle sloping up to the right; on the bottom left of the array of options you’ve included in the post. I was wracking my brains trying to think of where I’d seen the walking fingers in the circle logo before that you were playing with, then it struck that it’s just that it appears quite similar to the Half-Life logo. I think that’s mainly my background as a videogamer talking though.

    The shape of the yellow blob that TAXI came up with reminds me of a little of a mouse, but in that sense it’s going to get outdated quite quickly even without that terrible 3D effect. User interfaces are moving quite rapidly towards touch these days (pushed by the iPhone and the iPad), so in that sense I think the Yellow Pages walking fingers are going to come full circle and be extremely relevant once again.

  24. To update you, part II is now live here, showing much more of TAXI’s work.

    I agree, Ian. TAXI gets a little free PR, but more than that, I was very interested to know how this one panned out.

    Thanks very much, James. I’m curious, was there anything in my book you thought I could improve upon? I’ve been thinking about writing another — one that’s less “logo design,” more “brand identity.”

    Alex, I think you’re right when you say the fingers have become so visible they can stand alone, and I can understand why the organisation wanted to remove the book. Pages are definitely still relevant, though (i.e., web pages), just less-so the book.

    Ian, I quite liked the lower-left option, too, but I felt that including white in the design added an increased level of contrast that really helped the symbol stand-out. Interesting to note you saw a mouse in the TAXI symbol. As you’ll see in part II, it is in fact a pebble.

  25. I worked at the Yellow Pages when the logo was about to get changed. The design team got an overview of the logos before the reveal, Most of us agreed that the logo done by TAXI looks very 1999. I mean, an embossed logo in 2010? Ouch!

    Knowing the work quality from TAXI we were surprised by the end result. Somehow we thought that it was an inside decision that went wrong.

    I believe that soon they will try to redefine the logo and simplify it for the better.

  26. I have to agree, David – Your final solution was and is much better than their current 3D guitar pick, like someone pointed out.
    However, I think an exploration of gray in your design (to replace black) might have helped – although contrasting that shade of yellow with any gray is dangerous and difficult to pull off. I think they wanted a more welcoming logo, with gray and white. However, the 3D just RUINS the design. The shape of the guitar pick is nice, but it’s gonna fade.
    Rounded rectangles on the other hand? Classic. Common, but classic – especially for a company as big as Yellow Pages.

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