“Slack knew 95% of people would hate the change”

“Slack knew 95% of people would hate the change”

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We speak to New York-based Pentagram partner Bierut about creating a more “consistent” identity for collaborative working tool Slack, retaining the “playfulness” of its beloved hashtag, and why the public loves to hate new logos.

Design Week: Why did you feel Slack needed a rebrand?

Michael Bierut: I’m a Slack user, and I liked the company’s overall design and look. With the hashtag logo and the beloved transparent plaid pattern, which formed when its two colours of four parallel strokes intersected, Slack had managed to retain a quirky look and feel, tone of voice and a conversational relationship with its users. I had never scrutinised the brand identity and I didn’t initially feel like I needed to pick something apart – on the contrary, I asked “Why, what’s the problem?”.

But as the logo was made of eight, transparent colours, that means eight colours needed to be managed every time it was applied to something. It was difficult to superimpose that coloured logo on top of anything else, like a background or a photograph. To mediate this, Slack would revert to a one-colour version; but the problem with this was that it then looked like a generic hashtag that could belong to anyone. There was inconsistency in how it was presented.

Iterations of how Pentagram considered transforming the hashtag shape

DW: How did you retain the “quirky” nature of the brand?

MB: We started by addressing issues that were technical, such as consistency, but that went on to more ephemeral issues – like, how do we retain that inherent playfulness of personality? Collaboratively with the Slack team and founder Stewart Butterfield, we did a whole series of design explorations based on the original geometry of the hashtag; two sets of parallel lines, now dissected at a 90-degree angle rather than a slant. Instead of having the lines overlapping, we looked at a break in the lines, which implied the graphic lines were literally weaving together like fabric.

This had a more metaphorical meaning relating to how Slack works as a platform – the process of weaving is to do with consolidation, and strength gained from mutual interaction, as the pieces of fabric come together. We came up with something that was a bit more formal than the previous symbol but stayed with that intersecting geometry and kept its liveliness and colourfulness.

DW: How did you come to the decision to move away from the hashtag symbol?

MB: Some people would argue that Slack owns the hashtag. Others, like myself, might say that the hashtag really acquired its first live profile on Twitter. Either way, Slack has never claimed the hashtag as a unique invention of the company. We [Pentagram] would consider what we’ve designed as an updated hashtag – though I’m sure not everyone reads it that way.


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