In describing the new Yahoo! logo that launched today, CEO Marissa Mayer said it is based on “a sans serif font with scallops”. That font is Optima. The ‘O’s come straight from Herman Zapf’s typeface, while the other letters are derived from it. Setting aside the question of whether Optima is a good choice for an internet company that wants to be perceived as forward-looking, let’s just take a look at how they used the type.
The logo designers lowered the crossbars on the ‘H’ and ‘A’, and altered the contrast, making all diagonal strokes the same width. (Symmetry is often an undeniable urge in logotype design.) The result of this lettershape mirroring, other than the fact that the typographic styles are incongruent, is that the new monolinear ‘Y’ is heavier and out of sync with the rest of the letters.
The typorati has already made various complaints about the logo, but what distracts me most is how crammed these letters are — and unevenly so. Looking at each of the pairs (‘AH’, ‘HO’, ‘OO’), it’s clear that the designers considered only the extremes of each letter and inserted a mathematically equal space between those extremes, ignoring the holistic space around each letter. It’s a classic mistake made by those who are new to working with type.
For the comparison below, I set the word “YAHOO!” in Optima with the spacing more-or-less as I would have applied it. Kerning (the space between a pair of two specific letters) is subjective, so we could quibble about exact values for each of these pairs, but there is no doubt the tracking should be looser overall. The tighter the letterspacing, the more obvious the inconsistencies become. Making matters worse are the huge interiors of those ‘O’s, inevitably at odds with the cramped spaces around them. Most importantly, logos are usually seen at sizes much smaller than you see them here, further exacerbating the problems of tight spacing.
Taking a step back, the new logo isn’t a tragic failure (not as much as its rationalization, anyway), but some of the decisions made here are quite typical of those cases in which experienced lettering artists or type designers were not involved.