In June 2015, Mozilla announced its intention to rebrand with help from London design consultancy johnsonbanks. It also announced that it would be doing so out in the open, inviting discussion and critique from the global Mozilla community along the way.
In the seven months since, Mozilla has documented each stage of the process online – from identifying possible themes for the branding to exploring possible design routes – sharing updates via its open design blog. It has also considered feedback from Mozilla users and a global network of volunteers, coders and developers.
Today – after seven months, thousands of emails, hundreds of meetings and three rounds of research – the company has finally revealed its new logo, along with a proposed colour palette, language architecture and approach to imagery. Mozilla is now inviting feedback on the branding and says it will continue to share updates as final guidelines are developed.
Mozilla’s new logo
The Mozilla logo is based on one of seven options put forward last year. The design reflects the brand’s connection to the world wide web, with a colon and two forward slashes replacing the ‘i’ and two ‘l’s in Mozilla.
Peter Bil’ak of Dutch type foundry Typotheque has created a bespoke font, Zilla, for the wordmark and accompanying copy. The font is reminiscent of Courier – the default font used for coding – and was selected for its “journalistic feel”, reflecting Mozilla’s internet advocacy work. It is open-source and will be available to download for free.
Mozilla creative director Tim Murray says the company chose to work with Typotheque because of the foundry’s expertise in “localisation” and creating fonts in various languages. As Murray points out, the design bucks the current trend for sans serif fonts in favour of something rooted in the visual language of the internet.
The black box surrounding Mozilla’s logo is described as “a key building block of the design” and references the way type is highlighted in toolbars and web programmes. A suggested colour palette draws on accent colours used by Firefox and other browsers and colours will change according to the context in which the logo is used. “As we develop our style guide, we’ll define the colour pairings, intensities, and guidelines,” explains Murray.
Statements explaining Mozilla’s role and purpose – such as the phrase “We stand for the internet” – will appear underneath or to the right of the logo. Programme and event names will also appear in this format to ensure consistency across communications produced by Mozilla’s various teams.
“It will now be easier to know that something is ‘from’ Mozilla and understand how our global initiatives connect and reinforce one another,” says Murray. “The system enables Mozilla volunteer communities across the globe to create their own identity by selecting colour[s] and choosing imagery unique to them. Meanwhile, the core blocks of our system, bounding boxes and typography, will provide the consistency.”
Beyond the wordmark, there will be no one image or icon used to represent Mozilla – instead, the company intends to use a changing set of visuals to reflect the diversity of the web and Mozilla’s activities.
Murray proposes inviting artists, designers and technologists to contribute to “an imagery collective” – providing stills, GIFs and animations that could then be curated by Mozilla and coded “to flow into mozilla.org and other digital experiences”. Static applications of the branding will feature multiple and overlaid images, resembling a still from a digital animation.
A clearer voice
The end result aims to better communicate Mozilla’s role and purpose. Mozilla’s Firefox browser has hundreds of millions of users around the world but its internet advocacy work and educational initiatives are less well-known. In the past, the company has struggled to differentiate itself from its most famous product and reflect the wealth of projects it is involved in.
The new branding is still a work in progress, but the proposed elements give Mozilla a much stronger and clearer voice. The wordmark, colours and Courier-inspired font – along with the idea to create a constantly evolving bank of visual assets – certainly feel more befitting of a web-based company with open-source technology at its heart.
Reflecting on the process, Michael Johnson of johnsonbanks told CR that in many ways, it has been the same as any other rebrand. The project began with a research stage followed by initial concepts, then more detailed ideas and the development of a final route.
“What of course has been the new and unknown variable has been the public airing of each stage – so on top of the feedback of 20 people client-side, we also had the views of another 2,000 or so Mozillians as well.”
Receiving instant feedback has been “brutal” at times, says Johnson – “We have had to become even more thick-skinned about what we do. But usually, we were able to regroup, and go again,” he explains.
“Paradoxically, by airing designs so early we could carry out a kind of informal, live ‘IP’ check because people would quickly post ideas that were too similar – this was initially tough to deal with, but better than going further with a route only for it to fall down later during trademark checks (always embarrassing for all parties).”
Mozilla’s new identity is not a crowdsourced design. Mozilla and johnsonbanks have invited feedback throughout the process but they have maintained a clear vision for the project, developing a clear strategy for the brand and a series of well-considered design options for people to critique. Johnson says the team has resisted listening to “every single comment” and instead, has balanced listening to feedback with the need to produce a coherent design.
Design by committee
“I think what concerned us all about this idea was that this level of group decision making would lead to design-by-committee, to the nth degree. Now, had we listened to every single comment and actioned every suggestion, it would be the proverbial dog’s dinner of a solution. But with some single-minded curation from Mozilla, and a determination from us not to let this slide out of ‘good’ and into ‘good enough’, I think we’ve got to something pretty robust,” he says.
Of course, it’s not an approach that would work for everyone. Global corporations with complex management structures are unlikely to follow suit but the process has allowed Mozilla to engage with its global community and actively involve them in the rebrand.
“I think in Mozilla’s case, with a very engaged online community, it’s been a great way to engage and involve,” says Johnson. “When this launches it should not come as a surprise, no-one in [Mozilla’s] close community will be able to say ‘you didn’t ask me’.
“Would it work for a highly protective, autocratic, top-down style organisation? No. But it’s now not unusual for dozens, sometimes hundreds of staff to be involved in rebrands, so the principle of opening up even further isn’t such a bad idea. Whilst I have a few scars from the last 10 months, the wounds aren’t deep – they’ll heal over!” he says.
“The tech community is much more conservative than we expected”
There’s no way of knowing how the rebrand might have turned out without involvement from Mozilla’s community – but Johnson admits that initial feedback perhaps steered the company away from doing anything “too radical”.
“There were a lot of indignant early comments that some looked ‘too interesting’ or would ‘work better for an art gallery’. We discovered as the project progressed, that the tech community is much more conservative than we expected. I guess we would have found that out anyway though.
“I do think, however, that once the final route of travel was chosen, we could take the idea and give it a strong design ‘push’ that has given Mozilla a really strong verbal and visual toolkit. The ‘://’ is still there, it resonates with their Internet history, yet now they have a completely new way to communicate. Perhaps it was only the highly iterative nature of the project that got us to this endpoint? It’s hard to know,” says Johnson.
The project has been a learning experience for both Mozilla and johnsonbanks. If he were to do it again, Johnson says: “I think we’d work harder on finding a way to share the various stages in a more immersive way. Much of the commentary on the Mozilla Open Design blog tended to be about the logos alone, and many people seemed unwilling to look at complete schemes and judge them one against another. I think we would also have spent more time with Mozilla top brass to get closer to their vision of the organisation, so a little more research, perhaps, which might have helped with the denouement.”
“But these are details – we’ve managed to get through the world’s first genuinely open rebrand with a solution that works pretty well, contains a very nice ‘idea’ and makes Mozilla’s views and mission clear to all. And the core project team is still speaking to one another. I’m seeing that as a result…”
Read more about each stage of the project on Mozilla’s open design blog.