Analysis: Why you shouldn't just dismiss Xiaomi's (very) subtle logo rebrand

Last week, a day ahead of April Fool's Day, Xiaomi decided to release its news regarding its slight logo tweak, where it adopted a softer, rounder contour on the corners compared to its previous square, sharp-edged logo. Despite the change, its iconic orange colour was retained to convey the brand's the liveliness and youthfulness. While generally rebranding of a logo typically involves a conspicuous change, in Xiaomi's case, it is safe to say that the change is not as noticeable at first glance.

The brand worked with world-renowned designer, professor of Musashino Art University and the president of the Nippon Design Center, Kenya Hara, for the rebranding. According to the brand, the designer achieved a visually optimal dynamic balance by adjusting the variables in the formula. After going through various options between a square and a perfect circle, the team decided to settle on n=3 as it struck the perfect balance between a square and a circle, epitomising the core aspect of "Alive". Compared with a right-angled object, Xiaomi said a circle is a shape that is more agile, which is the perfect representation of the company's flexibility, relentlessness and its will to move forward.

xiaomi n3

Hara also said in a separate video that his team spent the past three years communicating with Xiaomi designers and professionals in various fields. "We have designed a new brand image with Xiaomi's future development in mind hoping that Xiaomi can grow into an enterprise that continues to benefit mankind and society," he added.

Immediately after unveiling the new logo at its recent product launch, Xiaomi's founder, chairman and CEO Lei Jun (pictured) also addressed a confused crowd, saying: "Are you disappointed at this logo? We just made our original logo rounder." He added that instead of a simple shape change from square to round, the internal spirit and the brand's mentality will change as well. 

Statistics from Meltwater from 31 March to 6 April showed that there were 534 mentions of Xiaomi's rebranding, marking a 761% increase compared to the same period last year. Most of the conversations were on Twitter (327), followed by news sites (99) and forums (76). Some of the top entities mentioned were "Xiaomi", "Apple", "Amazon", and "Musashino". Majority of the sentiments online were neutral (72%), while 20% were negative.

In a poll on MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Telegram channel, 54% of subscribers said that they were rather unimpressed with the rebranding. They were not alone. Sedgwick Richardson's Southeast Asia MD Dominic Mason said he struggles with the word "new" when it comes to the term "new logo" for the revamp. Instead, the new look initially struck him as an April Fool's joke, he explained. "The video suggests that it has taken three years to get to this solution. That would make it a very elaborate April Fool’s joke or a very protracted and expensive ‘rebranding’ exercise," he added.

Xiaomi explained that its "Alive" concept is in response to the era of intelligent interconnectivity, as it aims to bring more innovations around the world and grow along with its users. The company explained that people are alive and since technology is created by people, technology is also alive and will serve the needs of life. 

At the same time, the new logo is not fixed at the four corners of the square. Instead, it adapts to content and is placed at the most suitable position. According to Xiaomi, this further embraces the philosophical thinking, making the logo truly come “Alive”.

To this, Mason said the idea of "Alive" to mean the logo can be placed on different points of a layout is a bit weak. According to him, there are other more powerful design techniques of creating a dynamic brand identity and telling the story of technology and life. When asked if consumers would be concerned about such factors such as the deeper meaning behind a brand's logo, Mason said: "Not much. Do consumers buy a product because they like the logo?"

While the new logo was launched just a tad too close to April Fool's, CEO of crombie.design Andrew Crombie felt that the logo update itself is fine because it follows the generally accepted best practice for logo refreshes which include continuance of the brand’s colour.

No changes in design too radical that may appear schizophrenic; a clear evolution not revolution of the basic brand ID elements.

He added that the logotype restyling is in line with the logo update, so there is nothing unexpected and it works. The main issue he has with the design, however, is that it resembles the iOS App icon. "Xiaomi has clearly erred on the side of safety by adopting the well-recognised superellipse shape of the iOS App icon which has been in play since iOS7. Some say 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' and in this case, Xiaomi's new design does give a bit of a nod to Apple’s UI and product designers," Crombie explained.

apple ios icons

While much deeper thought has been put into the logo, such as adjusting the "n" value in the superellipse equation to achieve the visually optimal balance between a square and a perfect circle, Crombie said this was "some of the most over-thought justification" for what Xiaomi's founder Lei depicted as having "just made [its] logo rounder". 

"When I read the PR blurb and listened to the post-rationalisation of the designer, I could not help but think that I should be hiring the PR company for my clients," he said, adding:

I do not think the consumer will be thinking this when they see the new logo. They sense that something has happened but I doubt they will ponder the deeper meanings of the convergence of humanity with tech and the role of superellipses as the ultimate depiction of being ‘Alive’.

"If I was scoring the new logo launch, I would score 6/10 for the logo and logotype redesign and 11/10 for the PR content to elucidate the design approach taken," Crombie said.

On the other hand, Sambal Lab's partner Jodh Dheensay said the original was "quite uninspiring to begin with" and any change to it is a sign of progression, not necessarily groundbreaking or disruptive. 

"Think of it this way – your hair is black when you are in your 20s but it turns grey in your 40s. That is expected not disruptive. The strength of the new logo as a complement to Xiaomi's new direction can only be gauged when it starts using it across different media and collaterals," he explained.

Agreeing with him was MD of Labbrand Singapore Jessalynn Chen, who explained that as a brand that grew from a smartphone business to one that co-creates the learning and usage experience with consumers, and now presenting an evolution of the elements in the brand identity, this indicates a mark of progress for the business. Whether appealing or not, from a visual perspective, Chen said rounded corners in general are arguably much easier for one's eyes to process, whereas processing sharper edges involve more neural image tools in the mind.

"Xiaomi’s winning formula has been around building and improving upon a constantly growing ecosystem of lifestyle products, where they have also demonstrated clever and seamless connectivity with their apps. With that, and as a user of theirs, it is noticeable that a number of their products have traces of curvier lines and rounded corners," she said. Hence, Chen echoes what Xiaomi's Lei said, that it is "reassuring" to observe that the new brand identity shows a relationship between the brand expression and the product design.

According to designer Hara in the video, the team completely redesigned the logotype to match the new look. He added that using the logomark and the logotype separately is optimal, with the former to be used when promoting the brand and its services. Meanwhile, the latter will look best on Xiaomi devices.

Rebranding might not be as easy as it seems but brands still need to understand that a brand is more than a logo. Sedgwick Richardson's Mason said any rebrand that signals an improved value proposition or change in consumer benefits should be evidenced by a meaningful and enhanced brand experience.

Meanwhile, Sambal Lab's Dheensay said a new logo should represent a direction or philosophy change or evolution. In fact, subtle changes work too, such as MGM, 20th Century Fox, Apple, and Starbucks. "It's an evolution, not a revolution. An extreme change visually is great when the company is doing the same, otherwise it is not really needed," he added.

Also weighing in on the issue was Emily Kousah, founder and CEO of KOUSAH&CO, who said sn exercise like this is more about minor shifts to ensure the brand works how the business needs it to. The fact that the holding device is the key change and is designed to flex according to the context it needs to live within is proof of this.  

"By the sounds of it Xiaomi was not looking for a big visible change externally, their news is more focused on the shifts the business is making," she added.

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