“It isn’t about visual seduction, it’s very functional”: Koto founder James Greenfield on rebranding Gumtree

Listings website Gumtree has launched a new visual identity designed by London studio Koto, which sees its original logo replaced with a simplified tree mark. Koto founder James Greenfield talks us through the process


The new look is the first major redesign of Gumtree‘s identity since it launched in 2000 (the company was acquired by eBay in 2005). Koto was called in to work on the project in response to customer research which revealed negative perceptions of the brand, says Koto founder James Greenfield (formerly of DesignStudio, where he worked on 2014’s Airbnb rebrand).

“Gumtree had done quite a lot of consumer research – they’ve been increasing their profile and marketing spend for quite a while – and one of the things that came out of that was that people had universally negative feelings towards their logo,” he explains.

Gumtree was set up as a classifieds website for Antipodeans living in London – “but over time it has become national and not just London based, so [the old logo] just wasn’t right for the brand,” says Greenfield. “People didn’t understand the significance of it, they didn’t like the design and thought it was cluttered, and they didn’t understand the sun in the background – they just saw it as an orange circle,” he adds.

Gumtree’s original logo

Based on this research, Koto was given a simple brief – to create a new logo – but just three months to do it. The team came up with 11 options (some which featured trees, some which didn’t) and presented 8 of them to Gumtree. The company then selected 4 to test on non-users, lapsed users and existing users of the site in London and Stockport.

“That was quite unusual for us. I’m not always a fan of just putting visuals in front of people but in this case it was valid, because we needed to understand what was stopping people from using the site,” says Greenfield.

The new logo was selected based on users’ feedback, with many describing it as simple, clean and modern in testing. “Our 3 success criteria were modern, simple, digital,” says Greenfield. “80% of Gumtree users visit the site on a mobile, so the mark needed to be simple but it also needed to look great on a billboard. Also, it isn’t a product about visual seduction, it’s very functional. People want to put an ad up quickly, or find a job, then come back the next time they need something,” he adds.

Koto’s new logo for Gumtree features a simplified tree symbol

The new mark is a much-needed improvement on the old, which felt fussy and outdated. The rounded sans type and simplified tree symbol don’t feel particularly exciting or distinctive at first glance but the result is much better suited to a digital company with millions of users (Greenfield says the website hosts around 900,000 pages of listings, and Gumtree says it has 15.3 million unique visitors a month. In a press release announcing the rebrand, the company also announced an ambitious target to have every adult in the UK who uses the internet using Gumtree).

Behind the scenes on the Gumtree rebrand
Koto presented 11 creative options to Gumtree, with 4 logos tested on different user groups

Like its parent company eBay (and many a small start-up turned household brand) Gumtree has grown up, and ditched its quirky mark for a more streamlined and corporate look.

As Patrick Burgoyne noted in this feature on eBay’s 2012 redesign, this often poses a difficult challenge for designers: How do you create an identity that reflects how the brand has evolved, without losing the sense of quirkiness and individuality that made it famous? In such cases, many companies have been criticised for replacing a logo which was met with affection from consumers with a blander, more homogenous mark.

With Gumtree, however, Greenfield says this wasn’t such a concern. “With Airbnb it was, because a lot of people liked the old logo, and it’s been the same with a lot of other projects I’ve worked on but with Gumtree, the logo was generally not liked,” he adds.

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 13.07.01
The new identity applied to promotional material
Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 13.07.23
The new identity applied to promotional material

While a very different project from Airbnb (Koto has been working with Gumtree for just three months, whereas the Airbnb rebrand took around a year), Greenfield says there were similarities in the process and in both clients’ attitudes towards rebranding.

“One of the main similiarities is that Gumtree are really design aware. The only thing we had against us was time – three months to do a rebrand is incredibly high pressured but the good thing was that Gumtree made quick decisions once they knew what was right and what worked. It’s owned by eBay so it’s coming out of that same Silicon Valley area where belief in design is particulartly high at the moment – people know it will make a real difference to brands and the way people perceive them,” he adds.

Koto will also be working with Gumtree to develop photography guidelines, while an ad campaign by Fold7 will launch during Gogglebox next Friday

To coincide with the launch of the new logo, Gumtree’s in-house team has overhauled its digital products for iOS, android and desktops. It is also launching a new campaign by Fold7, which will debut during Gogglebox next Friday.

Other new features include a new 24-hour live chat support feature, a mobile app that lets customers post ads quicker and @helpmegumtree, a Twitter account set up purely to help customers, and Greenfield says the studio will be working with Gumtree to develop the identity and the site throughout the year.

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Koto’s style guide for Gumtree. The new logo was tested on users, who described it as “simple, clean and modern”
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Gumtree’s new colour palette. The tree symbol appears in a bright leaf green, and colours are taken from the rainbow eucalyptus tree, part of the gumtree family. “There’s a lot of pastel, poppy colours in tech at the moment and we wanted an app that sat amongst those but was different. The darker palette is quite unusual,” says Greenfield.

“On the back of that, the digital products are going to change quite a bit, and we’re going to build a photography language and a voice that will allow Gumtree to communicate (with its audience) better,” adds Greenfield.

“The classic feedback [during research] was ‘I want the site to work and look good while I’m using it’. I think brands like Google and Facebook have given users a level of expectation, and they expect every digital product to be at that level. Facebook came up a lot as a benchmark,” he says.

The new site isn’t particularly visually inspiring – though it’s hard to create the same impact as a listings site like Airbnb when faced with photographs of used kettles or armchairs – but it is more contemporary and less clunky. And with more digital updates to come, we’ll likely see a lot more improvements from the brand over the next few months.

  • David Shanks

    1000’s of items… nothing like misplaced apostrophe’s. Apart from that, love it.

    • Jim Smith

      Nothing like misplaced apostrophes.

      • David Shanks

        No s’hit Jim

  • Barry Chills

    Wait, i don’t get it, Airbnb are now selling the contents of the houses?

  • Rob Pratt

    So much better. It’s about time.

    • gradiate


  • Aquamac

    I get it. They want clean and simple. What I don’t get is the loss of the gumtrees colour. The pallet doesn’t match the plant which was unique in a world where everyone wants colour punch. Also the kerning seems a bit off. I get the impression that there’s a lot of emphasis on measurements and showing geometry at the loss of aesthetics? I think it just missed slightly.

    • gradiate

      In the word marque the kerning is designed so it works at tiny sizes, such as mobile. We felt orange and green clashed, felt cheap and didn’t make them stand out.

      • Aquamac

        Thats cool. I didn’t mean using both the green and the orange, just the hue of the green.

        • gradiate

          Ah right, we needed to shift that so it worked with the full palette

  • CG

    Interesting this is being featured given the article uses such terms as “don’t* feel particularly exciting or distinctive” & “isn’t particularly visually inspiring”.

    Whereas I appreciate it being “very functional” the result is “very generic” with many parks, environmental, recycling & Irish companies all using similar iterations.

    Would also be interested to know why they felt it appropriate to present eight options to the client (especially given the timeframe) as this would raise alarm bells to me.

    • gradiate

      We produced a lot of work at the beginning and I/we feel that choice is an interesting discussion point at the beginning of a project such as this. We treat our clients with respect and openess and in this process felt this was the best approach. The results speak for themsleves as they have with all the brands we have made.

  • robin174

    If you ever need to convince a client how important good photography is on your site – this is the perfect example. As an identity I think it works really well.

  • JB

    Its obviously a huge improvement but lets be honest they asked for Airbnb and thats what they got.

  • DRS

    I don’t want this to sound overly harsh but like the Airbnb rebrand, I feel there is a lot of talking about what is actually very little to shout about. It’s simple and effective, and it probably should be… beyond that, what more is there to say about it? As others have said, it’s better but it’s just very generic.

    There is a rhetoric about ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ when showing the process on jobs like this, but alarm bells always go off for me when that’s the case and the job turns out to be so unbelievably simple. Here’s a picture of a meeting taking place, here is another of someone pointing at a wall of print outs, here’s the simple logo made more complicated by showing it’s basically made of circles and the corners move at certain angles… It adds nothing and is unnecessary. It’s not like it’s an overly complicated rebrand or the applications are interesting using unusual materials.

    Like I said this job deserves a simple outcome. I think it’s more how the press or PR side of things is handled which seems a little disingenuous to me.

  • Obviously much better than the existing logo and branding suite, and I must say I like it. The palette is perfect — This isn’t a misstep by making it less vibrant and unobtrusive. Gumtree itself doesn’t sell anything and doesn’t need to be ostentatious. Taking a step back and keeping things relatively muted helps users focus on the things on offer, not the company.

    The kerning is a bit off on the word marque and I feel the “myrtle” colour is a bit too beige; in my opinion it should have been a bit closer to a crisp off-white. Otherwise, the colours are perfect.

    The image-based ads work quite well, bold and get the point across. Not thrilling or new, but then neither are the products on offer.

    The website design is clean and easy to navigate, not much in the way of UX issues. Good job folks!

    My only other critique is that I think the top-right logo shown in the photo of the team taping them to the wall is possibly better. I like the hidden G and that it “starts” from the other side, calling to mind the iconic recycling emblem. Curious what @gradiate:disqus’s rationale for the chosen version is over that one.

    One thing that is either a clever element or a bit of serendipity is the mobile splash images on show there — Having the little tree emblem randomly placed on each mirrors Gumtree’s clientèle — All sorts from all over the place.

    Overall, it’s fitting and attractive, lovely work!

    • gradiate

      Interesting the top right logo was felt to be too close to a news weather cloud by users in testing, it came up again and again. Glad the palette makes sense, your reasons are exactly ours.

      • Hmm, that’s a fair point, I can see how it could be construed that way without the associated name enforcing that it’s a tree.

        Good work!

  • Joe White

    Really nice work, Would love to see a post showing off the other examples that were presented.

    • gradiate

      Video on our site has the thee other routes that went to testing.

  • by_claire

    I love it, great job Koto.

  • hurst365

    Nice work. The logo more immediately recogniseable and, as a whole branding exercise, will surely make Gumtree far more memorable—which is the point of the exercise.
    It’d be nice to read about the design process more, as part of the project. Depending on what was required from the brief, three months sounds a long time. And who did what ‘research’, and what stages were undertaken? Interesting article but CR chould help demystify the process a company like Koto takes, from brief to it’s own research to initial idea, iterative progression, critiquing, short listing, testing (Koto’s or Gumtree’s), selecting and all the same, again, for the logo applied to various contexts, with imagery and text. The article doesn’t explain ‘how’.

  • Patrice

    There is a mistake in this graphic with the biggest 14%. However, I don’t understand the trend of stating mathematics in every rebrand presentation. For guideline purposes it might be useful, but when it’s everywhere around every element it feels a little forced. We assume it’s a well thought design, in my opinion there is no need to prove it with geometry.

  • Where can I buy the Gumtree hoody?

  • Daniel

    This is a great logo mark — subtle but distinctive. Though, I can’t help but think after 3 months of research and sketching they could have landed on something a little more creative.