Branding & Identity
Seeing as web trends are even more capricious than the weather patterns we've been experiencing here in NYC, the backlash to Squarespace Logo has tapered off by now, but seeing as it launched just two weeks ago, the democratic logo design tool is still worth considering as symptom of how we define design today.
Somehow, I doubt that Squarespace encountered such unanimous antipathy when it debuted as a user-friendly website-building tool, ten years ago; after all, the dog-eat-dog CMS game has come a long way in the past decade, and I've only heard good things about their flagship product. But graphic design, including but not limited to branding/identity/visual communication/etc., is another story. Co.Design rounded up the pithy rejoinders—a few more have trickled in on the de rigueur data exhaust Tumblr—and garnered a slew of comments, as did the Wired post, so I'll concede that someone else has probably already made this point.
Having only dabbled in front-end development and graphic design in my day, I won't pretend to be an expert in either domain. But as a knowledge worker who spends most of my day tending to an at-times fickle CMS, regularly troubleshooting various glitches as they inevitably arise, I know all too well that an intuitive backend is a bridge between the 'dirty work' of coding/scripting and public-facing content.*
Contrary to its name, 'web design' is not design in the same way that graphic design is—a subtle distinction, perhaps, but a critical one. Web design is largely dictated by best practices, at least when it comes to creating a functional, navigable container for content. Which is not to say that web design is not creative, but rather that the hard constraints of HTML/CSS/etc. (not to mention browser/OS compatibility) are precisely why CMS's and templates make sense: Just tweak the font size and column width, add a social media widget, and you're good to go. "Just another Wordpress site," as the saying goes.
Logos, on the other hand, are meant to express an identity—the very heart and soul of a company—in a painstakingly-kerned font and/or ideographic vector illustration. Graphic design is a creative endeavor; as such, it is more than a matter of simply dragging and dropping elements or picking your favorite color. Think about it: Websites hew to a half-dozen standard layouts, where details such as fonts and colors evoke a general look and feel but rarely, if ever, denote a specific brand—which is why you look to the top left corner or center of the page for a logo.
The savvy folks at Squarespace know this as well as anyone, and it's only natural that they would attempt to extend their offering to a more explicitly 'designed' facet of a brand; as such, both the website builder and logo design web app are mass-market services that aim to raise the minimum standard of design (in general) in the digital space. But if the former is successful precisely because the set of tools is limited—i.e. you can't screw it up too badly—the latter is simply a limited set of tools, a proverbial line drawn in the pixels to demarcate the edge of the grid. (To further butcher the metaphor, Squarespace Logo is a sandbox in the sense that there are only so many castles you can build with a plastic shovel and a bucket.)
Which is a long way of saying that the backlash to Squarespace Logo service is rooted in the (perceived) difference between engineering and art/design. Although it's increasingly a gray area these days—credit where due to Noun Project, as well as web developers who are pushing the limits of interaction design—we feel compelled to draw the distinction somewhere. For many designers, Squarespace Logo represents an unjustified leap from the technical side of design to its creative or expressive aspect: Just because coding can be outsourced or automated, the same does not hold true for a visual identity, which must be crafted by a skilled practitioner.
The original press release from Squarespace touts a "Do-It-Yourself logo builder," implying a fundamental congruence to its drag-and-drop flagship product. After all, most of us use a Content Management System—the term itself is rather detached and businesslike—whether yourname.com is powered by Wordpress, Tumblr, About.me, Cargo, Shopify, etc., which simply 1.) allows us post or upload content and 2.) isn't ugly. But it's a different story when it comes to the things we showcase on those sites, and graphic design, with its promise of infinite potential, is best left to the pros.
*For disclosure's sake:
1.) I've logged maybe four hours on Squarespace (the CMS), helping a friend with custom template styles on her website. Seems straightforward enough.
2.) I spent maybe four minutes playing with Squarespace Logo (and probably upwards of twice as long reading about it).