Gap and the Neuroscience of Logo Design

What neuromarketing can tell us about logos (and why designers already knew it)

October 24, 2010

The abysmal flop of the Gap logo redesign has prompted a flurry of critique from marketing experts, branding consultants, as well as the inner critic in each of us that wants to explain what, exactly, went so wrong. Now another group is chiming in: neuroscientists. NeuroFocus, one of the leading neuromarketing firms in the country, just released an analysis of why our deep subconscious rejected the Gap logo with such finality. Here are some of their findings:

1. When words overlap with images, as in the unsuccessful Gap logo, our brain tends to bypass the word and focus on the image. So we ignore the “p” when it’s placed over the blue box (for the Gap name, that’s a big fail).

2. We’re hardwired to avoid sharp edges because in nature they represent a threat. The sharp edge of the box cutting into the curved “p” is unappealing for that reason.

3. Being a little funky appeals to the brain. The original Gap typeface was unusual enough to stand out from the crowd. The new one, on the other hand, is boring old Helvetica (which really is taking over the world).

4. The brain loves high contrast. In the original logo, white letters “pop” against a dark blue background. In the new logo, the blue box weakens the black/white contrast.

Cool, huh? I guess… although neuromarketing is a fledgling science – some would even hesitate to call it a science – and graphic designers could have told you the same thing all along (without all that fancy brain equipment). #1 says image and color are supreme. #2 says shape and proximity are key. #3 says be unique and #4 says contrast, contrast, contrast. The Nike, Lacoste, and FedEx logos are all great examples of these rules in action. The importance of color, shape, proportion, simplicity, contrast, and uniqueness are some of the foundational principles of graphic design, and clearly the new Gap logo violated many of them. For the designers who want it, they now have some neuroscience to back them up. But I’m not sure they ever really needed it.

About the Author

Lena Groeger

Lena Groeger studied biology and philosophy at Brown University and is especially interested in the intersection of these two fields. After working as a graphic designer for Brown Health Education, she decided to think outside the poster and explore new means of communication, which led her to SHERP. She’s excited to write about the multidisciplinary questions of science and ethics for the general public. Visit her web site at



Andrew Lowe says:

“The importance of color, shape, proportion, simplicity, contrast, and uniqueness are some *OF the foundational principles of graphic design…”

But good article nonetheless!


Katie Palmer says:

I was totally thinking of this when I watched the Helvetica documentary last night. One of their sources actually used Gap as an example of a Helvetica-friendly brand: classic, neutral, clean. I guess he’ll want to retract that statement.

Zen Faulkes says:

“(N)euromarketing is a fledgling science – some would even hesitate to call it a science(.)”

I dislike tarring an entire field of inquiry with a one brush, but some of these claims have no basis that I’m aware of.

Trendslate says:

Instead of a logo redesign they should focus on acquisitions that matter!

I was taken back as to why they would want to change such a universally known logo anyhow. It shows their disconnect with their own brand, which speaks louder to me than the boring helvetica font. I think we all can learn from Coca-Cola’s model for branding (below link). Especially when you’ve been providing a consistently good product. I don’t know many people who don’t own a GAP sweatshirt. Can you imagine it with anything else on their? Their existing logo has almost become iconic.

Bill says:

Looks like an in-house job. The intern, Word, and 30 minutes.

Ombwah says:

The points in the article are both in line with my design classes, and pretty astute overall. Except.

It is worth pointing out that a sans serif font is, in general, easier to parse for a larger slice of the populace than a font along the lines of the original.

Would it have been so bad to use a new font on the well-known “blue square” logo?

(also, they paid someone for that “new look”? I blame a committee.)

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