Polar Users Have a Favorite Yahoo Logo. Will Marissa Mayer Agree?

9/4/13Follow @wroush

At midnight Eastern time tonight, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) will announce which of the 30 logo variations it has previewed over the past month will become its new, permanent trademark.

The veteran Internet company hasn’t said how it plans to choose the final logo. Given the lead time that goes into changing all the marketing materials for a $5 billion company, it seems likely that Yahoo made its decision even before its 30 Days of Change marketing stunt began on August 7. Or perhaps CEO Marissa Mayer will throw darts at a wall.

But if she were listening to users of Polar, a new social polling app for smartphones, there would already be a clear winner. It’s the Day 10 logo—a slick sans-serif version of the familiar original, which the company has been using since 1995.

More than 100,000 people have voted on side-by-side comparisons of the alternate logos on Polar. The version from Day 10 is the only one with a clear mandate: Polar users prefer it to the original by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent.

“Most people hate change, so any new design that even gets close to the original is a pretty good outcome,” says Luke Wroblewski, a designer and serial entrepreneur who co-founded Input Factory, the Los Gatos, CA, startup behind Polar. “But this one is soundly beating the original.”

The Day 10 logo in Yahoo's 30 Days of Change Campaign

The Day 10 logo in Yahoo’s 30 Days of Change Campaign

Scrapping the old logo is probably the least substantive of the many changes CEO Mayer has implemented at Yahoo since taking over in July 2012. She famously abolished the company’s work-from-home policy, revived Flickr, and acquired Tumblr. The logo switch is, however, a badge of the online media giant’s evolution. So the choice of logo style (straightforward or goofy? linear or curly? retro or hyper-modern?) will say something about the kind of company Mayer wants Yahoo to be.

And judging from Polar users’ preferences, the plain and modern approach is smartest right now. “They do not want a retro, off-the-wall logo. All those are doing really bad in the polls,” says Input Factory spokesman Dmitry Dragilev. “People want an aesthetically sound and up-to-date take on Yahoo brand.”

Wroblewski has more than a passing interest in the new logo. He spent nearly five years as a designer at Yahoo, and was involved in the last redesign of the logo, back in 2009. After debating dozens of different logo treatments, some of which are among this month’s 30, the company decided then to stick with the original, changing only the color—to today’s signature purple. Wroblewski says he created the logo polls on Polar because “this thing is near and dear to my heart. After working through about 40 versions of the logo, I personally am interested in hearing people’s opinions about which ones are working.”

Yahoo versus Yahoo: Luke Wroblewski's poll on Polar

Yahoo versus Yahoo: Luke Wroblewski’s poll on Polar

But the Yahoo polls are purely an Input Factory project, similar to popular polls earlier this year about iOS6 vs. i0S7 app icon design or Xbox One vs. Playstation 4. Yahoo itself hasn’t been soliciting public feedback about the logo options—which Wroblewski sees as an oversight.

“Yahoo is just putting the logos up on a blog and bam, they’re done,” he says. “Even if you care, you don’t have an opportunity to participate. But the Web is an interactive medium. From our perspective, Yahoo is missing a bit of an opportunity for engagement.”

Engagement, as it happens, is the whole point of Polar, an addictive “Hot or Not”-style app that’s been winning design plaudits ever since its release last November. The Polar app, available only for iPhones so far, shows a scrolling list of survey questions contributed by users, each with just two possible answers, illustrated with big pictures. Which is better: the Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf? (The Volt had more juice with voters when I checked the app on Tuesday.) Who should replace Bruce Willis in the rumored Die Hard remake: Ben Affleck or Gerard Butler? (Butler, obviously—he was leading 10 to 0 when I checked.)

Wroblewski started Input Factory after he sold his previous startup, Bagcheck, to Twitter in 2011. He says the company’s origins lay in one of his earliest obsessions as a designer: Web forms and their shortcomings.

“Everyone has an opinion, and every brand is out there collecting opinions, but the tools online are just terrible,” Wroblewski says. “If I say the words ‘online survey’ you want to run away screaming. So we said, let’s make the process of collecting feedback fun and engaging, so that people want to do it.”

Wroblewski and his co-founder Jeff Cole, who had previously helped to start the crowdsourced medical research platform PatientsLikeMe, decided they would take a mobile-first approach to rethinking surveys. That meant building an app with controls so big and obvious that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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