What's Wrong With The Air BnB Logo?

Logo design is one of the first things that any new startup has to address, and one of the key services that Brandsworth delivers. The logo is also the most visible and immediately recognisable element of any brand identity, and therefore it's particularly critical that the logo design sends all the right signals. The design process for a logo is a finely balanced blend of art and science, and every project presents brand new challenges.

For a startup encountering the logo design process for the first time, it's somewhat inevitable that your understanding of what constitutes an effective logo design will be coloured by the brands that you're exposed to in day to day life; Apple, Starbucks, etc. This is natural, and these reference points can help inform the design process for your own logo. However, difficulties can arise when a startup becomes so enamoured with a particular brand that an existing and widely recognised logo comes to dominate the design process. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to logo design imitation is almost always undesirable.

Having worked on countless logo design projects, we've identified two logos in particular that are regularly held up by our clients as examples of effective design that they aspire to emulate; Facebook and Air BnB. There's no denying that these logos are particularly striking and that they have served their respective brands well, but there are a number of important reasons why they should not be allowed to heavily influence the design approach for a new startup's logo.

 This judge is ready to throw the book at you for having a copycat logo. Fear him.

This judge is ready to throw the book at you for having a copycat logo. Fear him.


1. Plagiarism

On a small number of occasions, we've had clients request that we emulate the colour, font and aesthetic of the Air BnB or Facebook logos. When so many elements are directly lifted from an existing brand logo, this ceases to be a case of taking inspiration from an existing design and becomes outright plagiarism. Plagiarism is of course illegal, and for good reason. These brands have spent huge sums of money developing and promoting their logos, and they're willing to spend equally vast sums defending their designs from copycats.

By emulating an existing big brand logo too closely, you leave your startup exposed to the threat of legal action the moment your fledgling business finds itself on the bigger corporation's radar - and with the large legal departments they employ to sniff out precisely this kind of intellectual property infringement, the lawyers could be in touch sooner than you think.


2. You're Not Air BnB

It should go without saying, but your startup is not Air BnB. By that I don't mean that your business shouldn't aspire to the success that Air BnB have enjoyed - it absolutely can and should. I simply mean that the Air BnB logo was developed as an organic extension of that brand's underlying identity, culture and positioning strategy. Your brand's identity is almost certainly very distinct from that of Air BnB, and it therefore follows that a logo designed to emulate Air BnB will fail in representing the unique character of your brand effectively.

Your brand deserves and requires more than a simple copycat logo. Just like Air BnB, it deserves a logo that is developed with the specifics of your brand in mind, one that communicates the character of your brand on its own terms. No matter how much your startup may have in common with Air BnB, even at the deepest conceptual level, a logo modelled on another brand can never represent your business as effectively as a logo that draws organically on all of the factors that make your brand unique.


3. We See What You Did There

Even if you escape the eagle eyes of the Air BnB legal department, a copycat logo won't escape the notice of your customers. The average customer is more brand sensitive than ever, and they're more than capable of picking up on even the most subtle design elements that have been influenced by the aesthetic of another brand. It's important to consider what emulating another brand tells the customer about your business. At best it tells them that your logo designer has a lack of imagination. At worst it tells them that your brand is unoriginal and not confident in its own sense of identity.

We've all seen small fast food businesses that emulate bigger fish like Subway or McDonalds. Every town centre has its KFC copycat. These businesses leverage customer's familiarity with the bigger brand in an attempt to send the implausible message that the customer can expect a similar standard of service and food quality, but this is a weak deception that is easily seen through and often mocked. Just because a startup seeks to emulate an arguably more 'sophisticated' brand like Air BnB, this doesn't mean that the customer will perceive these efforts any differently. You're still sending a signal that your brand is creatively bankrupt and lacks the ambition to forge its own unique identity without using more successful brands as a crutch.

In summary, try to resist the urge to ask for 'something like the Air BnB logo' when commissioning a logo design. Work with a skilled designer that understands the value and meaning of brand identity, and trust them to guide you towards a unique design that truly represents the underlying character and culture of your brand.

What are your thoughts on the Air BnB and Facebook logos? How much influence is too much when using an existing brand logo as a design reference? Have you ever indulged in Rochester Fried Chicken? Comment below.