Graphic Design Experts Weigh In on Pandora's New Logo: 'Dynamic' Redesign or 'Skin-Deep' Fix?
"It’s just trying to please too many people."
On Wednesday, Pandora unveiled its newly redesigned logo. In a blog post on the site announcing the change, Tony Calzaretta, VP Creative Services, wrote, "We’ve been with you for years. We’ve adapted to your musical tastes, served up your favorites, and surprised you with unexpected discoveries." So, the post continued, in celebration of the "milestone" that is Pandora Plus -- the new subscription-based option with no ads, unlimited skips and offline listening -- "we’re unveiling a new brand to enhance your Pandora experience and help bring your music to life."
Notwithstanding the substantial improvements in the service itself, how does that new logo stack up? Well, graphic design experts who spoke with Billboard all echoed similar sentiments: It doesn't really do much to propel the streaming radio service forward. Armin Vit, editor of the corporate and brand identity blog Brand New and principal of graphic design firm Under Consideration, penned a review of the new logos, in which he described both the wordmark and monogram as simple and "easy to embrace," if a bit bland and generic.
"It’s not offensive, it’s easy to reproduce, it looks good because it’s so simple and clean, so it’s kind of like a recurring trap," Vit tells Billboard. "It's not a bad trap, it’s just something clients fall into because it looks so effortless." He added that it works well on the end of the designers, too, in that it's both easy to create and easy to sell to a client, as there is a certain comfort that comes with a simple design solution, and he says such logos can often be sold as "a good pair of jeans" because they go well with anything.
John Caserta, department head of graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design, agrees. "In the landscape of music brands, it just doesn’t seem particularly innovative," he says. He adds the redesign isn't particularly in line with the extent of the improvements in the service "because it certainly doesn’t have the weight of some massive overhaul."
Both the new Pandora Plus platform and the new logo arrive less than 12 months after Spotify revealed its own redesign back in summer 2015, which Caserta says isn't uncommon. He says if you look through hundreds of company logos, there will be noticeable trends in certain fields, using the example that once Kmart redesigned, Walmart followed suit 12 months later. "You’ll realize, 'OK, somebody clearly reacted to somebody else,'" he says. Within the music industry in particular, he says, there's so much competition surrounding software, licensing, exclusives and price points that the logo is far from the biggest factor. However, it should still encapsulate and represent a unified and unique vision -- which is where Pandora's redesigned logo falls short.
Both Caserta and Vit point to the visual accompaniment for the new P monogram -- a 30-second clip of flashing colors and concert footage set to electronic beats -- as being reminiscent of the early MTV logo, in the sense that its ever-changing and easily adaptable.
Pandora claims the variations in which the P can exist "embraces the dynamic range of sound and color, visualizing the energy and emotion that artists pour into the creation of music, and that we feel as listeners." The Pandora blog post also placed a heavy burden on the new logo's shoulders, stating it will serve as a "portal into the unique and diverse range of music you love" -- a goal Vit says is too wide-reaching.
"This P can be everything for everyone and it can represent any kind of music genre," he says. "So it’s an easy way of adding visual diversity so that anyone can identify with it and feel that their tastes are being catered to in one way or another." However, he adds, it doesn't make a bold statement. "I think that that’s where this falls short: It’s just trying to please too many people without really having a unique statement."
This is most likely why the space in the P is filled in, he says, which created "one big shape" and allows for more creative freedom since it can be filled in and/or laid over various backgrounds. Such endless adaptability proves to be too much here, though, which is why Vit says Spotify's redesign was generally more successful, since it built a consistent visual language, while Pandora's redesign is more of a free-for-all.
"This is the right time and the right amount of change for Pandora," says Sam Becker, executive creative director, New York, for design agency Brand Union. "Unfortunately, the whole thing feels skin-deep."