Branding & Identity
Our initial report may have echoed Airbnb's hyperbolic enthusiasm about their new identity, and despite criticism that has metastasized in relevant corners of the web—an equal and opposite reaction, if you will—here is a more nuanced take on Airbnb's new logo, Bélo.
Let's start with an experiment: Grab a piece of paper and try drawing the damn thing freehand. In fact, give it a couple tries. And no cheating—don't try and make it look more butt-like or yonic than it needs to be. Maybe it doesn't look as good as the now-infamous image of the marque drawn on fogged-up window ('fingered,' as one GIF crudely suggested), but it wouldn't be mistaken for genitalia. No one in their right mind would draw a body part like that. (This is why the Tumblr consists not of peoples' drawings of the logo itself but embellished versions of it.) It's arguably just as easy to draw a cock-and-balls, but that's not what it is.
For my part, I didn't see the intended allusions (the person or the location marker) at first; nor did I see any kind genitalia—just a fairly unremarkable logo. The point being that it's a highly abstracted symbol, to the degree that the somewhat regrettable choice of 'vibrant salmon' inextricably influences one's first impression as much as its mildly suggestive shape. As a graphic representation, it certainly invites free association (actually my first thought was rocket ship), but as a glyph, Bélo is one degree removed from the letter "A," itself a grapheme, which is doubly abstracted: a signifier of linguistic import.
But it's not just a matter of semantics. Armin Vit (who, as always, provides unparalleled analysis) notes that "it's a deceivingly simple icon that is easy to reproduce, recognize, and propagate." In this regard, it succeeds where few marques do. Just look at the logos within your field of vision or the icons for the apps on your phone. Could you draw any of them, freehand, with a single stroke? Only the likes of Nike, Chevy and maybe a few others come close. Now, in fairness, 'drawability' is not a criteria for logos these days... but maybe it should be (this is why teenagers of my generation inscribed so many desktops with Stussy and Wu-Tang iconography: ease of approximation). After all, this is true of the most enduring symbols of our time, from Basquiat's iconic three-pointed crown to the @ sign (notably 'acquired' by MoMA) to the anarchy symbol... to a Christian Cross.
Yes, it looks like a lot of other logos, but again that isn't the point: With all due respect to Mr. Spiekermann et al, marques such as Automation Anywhere are static entities. Just as user-generated renditions of the Bélo don't resemble the human anatomy, nor will it be mistaken for any of its carefully radius'd/masked/kerned doppelgangers. Or, for a more avant-garde reference point, take Experimental Jetset's "Responsive W" identity for the Whitney, which is similarly reproducible but originates from the genealogy of conceptual art. Where the Bélo has a kind of sloppy elegance (stop thinking dirty thoughts), the shapeshifting zigzag is dictated by Sol LeWitt-esque rules for drawing what is essentially a "W" letterform. (Conversely, Matthew Barney's "Field Emblem" visual motif for the Cremaster cycle is actually intended to represent sex organs, among other things, but is only be meaningful to a small percentage of the general populace; the Bélo, of course, is intended for a much broader audience.)
As a final experiment, trace the shape with your finger on a smooth surface (as in the common practice, for ideographic languages such as Chinese, of tracing a character on one's palm). Surely a touchscreen could recognize that loop-de-loop gesture with reasonable accuracy; I personally can't predict any use cases besides simply launching the app, but it could well be an option.
It's a grand statement, to cast a logo as a kind of shorthand in the traditional sense: a symbol that can be scribbled on a napkin or, as they say, written on a wall. Like a letterform or numeral—or, perhaps, a heart—anyone can draw a Bélo and it won't be mistaken for anything else. Not a dick. Not a vagina. Just Airbnb.