“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.

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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.

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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).

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Behind the scenes on the Gumtree rebrand
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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.

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The new identity applied to promotional material
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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.

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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.

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