Are brands getting a bit too friendly?

CR investigates whether we’re ready for a backlash to the cold and impersonal branding of the tech world, and asks just how cuddly we want companies to get

Much has been written about the stripping back of branding, particularly in the world of startups and tech companies, where a wave of non-descript sans serifs and identikit design has left many brands feeling clinical. Some companies are trying a different tack as a result, as shown by Johnson Banks’ recent overhaul of language-learning app Duolingo, and DesignStudio’s identity for French healthcare startup Alan. In both cases, there’s been a move to adopt a warmer, friendlier approach, with Duolingo embracing a quirky brand typeface based on its owl’s ‘feathery form’, and Alan overhauling its furry bear mascot.

“Post-iOS 9, when Jonny Ive took all the skeuomorphic design off the buttons and made everything flat, the world has scrambled to be flat and featureless,” says Michael Johnson, founder of Johnson Banks. “And that has had an impact on quite a lot of things, including people wanting character and fluffiness.”

According to Johnson, his studio’s early conversations with Duolingo touched on the tech world’s dependance on minimalism, with the brand assuming that their own starting point would be similarly neutral.