Throughout the previous 12 years, YouTube’s logo has been a couple of erroneous dates wrapped inside each other. “We have the word tube in a tube,” says Christopher Bettig, the leader of YouTube’s craft office. “This is strange. Nobody comprehend what this is.” Tube is slang for a TV, which used to be controlled by vacuum tubes. In any case, neither tubes nor TVs are vital to the world’s greatest video benefit, which now comes to more than 1.5 billion individuals every month, spilling to any screen with a web association.
And so today the brand is getting its biggest aesthetic makeover ever. The YouTube logo is being refreshed, shifting the emphasis away from the word “Tube” and onto the familiar play button which has already become an iconic shorthand for the company. The service is also getting a new typeface, color scheme, and a bunch of major changes to the look, feel, and functionality of its desktop and mobile app.
Though today’s logo change is the most significant in YouTube’s history, it’s not a complete transformation, like the morphing of Uber’s silver U into a backwards C. “It’s an evolution, not a revolution,” says Bettig. But the company is also using the moment to announce a basket of new features, planned changes, and ongoing experiments. The new look is a ribbon that ties these moves together, highlighting the company’s broader shift from a singular website to a family of different apps that stretch across multiple platforms.
The challenge facing YouTube’s design and interaction team when they launched the redesign two years ago was how to tie together a host of products with very different audiences and uses. What started in 2005 as a singular website built for desktop internet users now exists on phones, tablets, game consoles, and, yes, television sets. What’s more, YouTube is no longer a single brand. Over the last few years it has spawned a family of services: YouTube Kids, Gaming, Red, TV, and Music. “We felt, because of all that growth, we were missing the mark. We wanted to make something more unified and cohesive, something that really reads as YouTube,” says Bettig. “We were hoping to build a visual language that would make it easy for folks to recognize it.”
Bettig, a Frenchman who joined Google six years ago and has been with YouTube for the past three, led the charge to rethink the logo. Since YouTube was evolving into a whole family of services, and since it had adapted to fit each screen and video format, Bettig and his team experimented with a dynamic brand. “We had a symbol that was loosely reminiscent of a Y, but it would be always changing, animated, and pulling color samples from the video you were watching. It could potentially pull the profile picture or header art from the channel you were watching. So you have these dynamic elements that would all be intersecting.”
This approach worked well when the designers had it mocked up on a white wall in their studio and in simple prototype apps. “Then as soon as we dropped it in product it was like, oh yeah, that’s not going to work,” said Bettig. “It’s pure chaos.”