Our recent hackathons have yielded quite a few gems: a gong that rings itself, eCommerce benchmarks, a github-powered roadmapping tool, and countless product enhancements.

Last spring our designer, Zach, unveiled a hackathon project that would end up impacting our entire organization: a new visual identity. New colors, new fonts, and, most importantly, a new logo: the dodecahedron.

This rebranding came with a great origin story that fit well with our company’s mission and world view. After getting some positive feedback from colleagues, peers, friends, and family, we pulled the trigger.

In July, we launched a new website that incorporated the rebranding and celebrated.

A Brief Problem

A few weeks later, I saw the first tweet like this:

I had never heard of Y-Fronts, so I wrote it off and scrolled right past. But they kept coming…

And coming…

And coming…

“OK fine,” I thought. “I’ll bite.” I googled “y-fronts”…

Uh-oh. Our promoted tweets were exposing the new logo to thousands of new people per day. And some percentage of them were seeing underpants. Bright orange tighty whities to be exact:

I kind of see it now, but it’s a bit of a stretch. The lingering question, though, is why no one on our team or in our pre-launch focus groups saw that. What is it about these tweeters that makes their mind jump to y-fronts? And, while I’m at it, who on earth uses the term y-fronts?

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Getting to the Bottom of This

A quick look at the profiles of these tweeters showed a distinct pattern: London, Aylesbury, Gloucestershire, East Sussex… Without exception, every tweet that ever suggested that our logo looks like underpants had come from the United Kingdom.

Since we promote our tweets globally, it seemed odd that only people from the UK would make these comments. I needed more data, so I built two Google Consumer Surveys, one targeted at the US and another at the UK. They each asked a single question to 1,000 random participants:

googleSurvey

In both countries, the most popular response was “soccer ball” (which showed up as “football” in the UK, of course). “Dodecahedron” took second place in both countries (people really know their geometry!), followed by a laundry list of other geometric shapes.

The long tail of responses was quite long in both regions, but there was only one response that was substantially different between the two populations: y-fronts.

US UK
Soccer Ball/Football 28.9% 35.7%
Geometric Shapes 22.4% 24.5%
Underwear/Y-Fronts 0.2% 2.6%

Out of a thousand respondents in the US, only two of them saw underpants. In the UK, that number was 26. For what it’s worth, we could now say with 99.9% confidence that people in the UK are more likely to see underpants when they look at our logo than people from the US.

But Y?

We were faced with an interesting anthropological question: where does this difference come from? What is it about Brits that causes them to see underpants in our logo?

I read up on the history of y-fronts and called everyone I know who grew up in the UK. I walked away with a few anecdotes that seem to tell the story:

  • The prominent upside-down “Y” made up by our logo’s edges is reminiscent of the same “y” from which y-fronts get their name.
  • The white background of our Twitter logo makes these transparent edges look like elastic bands.
  • The term “y-fronts” never caught on the US because American underwear maker Jockey convinced the buying public to use the term “Jockeys” instead.
  • Y-fronts/briefs/etc are substantially more popular in the UK than the US
  • UK schoolchildren sometimes tease each other with insults like “I bet you wear y-fronts.” One Englishman I spoke with suggested that this might etch y-fronts more deeply into the psyche of the British.

It appears that y-fronts are a uniquely British phenomenon whose popularity doesn’t extend far past their borders. When we were testing our new logo, our focus groups didn’t include a single Brit, causing us to miss this complication outright.

Professional Alterations

Our team quickly embraced the alter-ego of our logo as an inside joke—it’s now an unspoken rule that orange underwear is the secret uniform of RJMetrics enthusiasts…

(one of many Photoshop jobs posted to our company Yammer)

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the most desirable marketing situation. Among other things, we didn’t want potential customers to see an endless stream of underwear jokes when they searched for our Twitter handle.

Our graphics team proposed a simple fix: change the angle at which the dodecahedron is being viewed and shrink the white lines that separate its edges so they look less like elastic bands. The result:

We launched another UK Google Consumer Survey with these changes. The results allowed us to breathe a sigh of relief: out of 1,000 respondents, only 4 saw y-fronts or underwear.

As an added bonus, geometric shapes actually overtook “football” as the top answer. Over half of respondents saw some kind of geometric shape, with dodecahedron/dodecagon as the most popular answer. Not only had our logo revision eliminated the y-fronts issue, it had actually increased recognition of the actual shape!

The Ending

Here are a few lessons I’m taking away from this experience:

  • Running a business with an international audience means internationally testing all new imagery and terminology.
  • Success brings visibility. Thousands of new people are exposed to our business every month, and strangers will not be shy about pointing out mistakes.
  • Hackathons are an amazing resource for kick-starting new ideas and proving out concepts. However, they should never be used to circumvent due diligence on big business decisions.
  • There is no excuse for not testing something as significant as a new logo on a large, global audience. Google Consumer Surveys made this possible with a few clicks.

I try to learn something new every day—this experience didn’t disappoint. I hope you learned something too.

  • Michael Bolton

    Robert – Fantastic piece and I love your research – Red underpants worked for Superman so I’m sure orange will serve you well – well done for taking the comments in good humour I wish RJ every success!

  • http://www.ticketleap.com/ Allison at TicketLeap

    Ha! This is great.

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  • Andrea D.

    Good catch.

    However, it’s not always possible to change the angle of our underwear to make it recognized as something else ;)

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  • mrtortoise

    this is a load of pants.

  • fluxwerk

    Oh noes, what was seen cannot be unseen….

  • http://www.longren.org/ Tyler Longren

    Y-fronts, I’ve never heard that before. Kinda funny.

  • Michael Senkow

    Yes, but the new shape just looks..bad?….It looks like a 3D rendered shape, not a logo. Your current logo, even if it looks like underwear to a small number of people, looks like a logo.

  • r00t

    WE call it a “D12″ ;)

    Most D&D player will know dodec though!

    • Sawyer Hildebrandt

      That was my first thought as well!

  • hellomonster

    The ‘Underpants’ logo looks better than the new one. You now have what looks like a badly rendered 3D shape from some 1980s TV show.

  • Xavier Haniquaut

    Not as bad as Yatedo.com :)

    • LisaLaMagna

      An unfortunate choice for Yatedo

  • theJML

    It looks more like Y-fronts to me with the new one than the old one…

    • wordgirl52

      I agree, the interpretation of the first logo as Y-fronts surprised me, but with the second version of the logo that was actually what sprang to mind.
      I also think that a logo should be in some way pertinent to the company it represents, while this geometrical shape (and the horrible colour) doesn’t really represent anything in particular.

  • eddie

    I would just like to add that Y-front is not necessarily uniquely British. We have that word in Sweden as well. The only place I saw them was when I was in the army, though.

  • http://brandfolder.com/ Paul Arterburn

    All I see is underwear now. Either way, you guys still do a great job at branding and keeping your brand consistent. We’ve got a startup based out of Denver at Brandfolder.com and would love to invite you guys to come on board (or at least understand where your current brand assets live).

  • Liana Lütz

    “Running a business with an international audience means internationally testing all new imagery and terminology.” – this reminds me what happened to Rego (regoapp.com) in Brazil. “Rego” in Brazilian Portuguese means “buttcrack”, which obviously yielded tons of jokes there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sskFi2OQz6I

  • darrylj

    I see a simplified representation of the lower portion of Anakin Skywalker’s helmet/breath mask. I also see a 3-dimensional representation of the Mercedes Benz 3-point star symbol.

  • Josh Sanders

    In my opinion…you should have stuck with the original logo. Just because a small—TINY for that matter—focus group percentage perceives it as underwear (which is a HUUUUUGE strecth), doesn’t mean you should cave to them. :) The new, offset and 3-D like logo looks and feels awkward.

  • Yasha Podeswa

    Awesome :) FYI, your shortcut icon still links to the underpants logo:

    https://dashboard.rjmetrics.com/v2/favicon.ico

  • David

    step 1. make up a bunch of twitter accounts
    step 2. get those twitter accounts to say your logo looks like something (semi-)NSFW (it doesn’t, but okay)
    step 3. make up a survey with results confirming that a few people think it looks like underpants
    step 4. write up a story on it.
    step 5. put on hacker news with a title to make people curious.
    step 6: sit back and monitor the pageviews!

  • Cream5

    You just made it worse for yourself by announcing this all over the place. The fact that the underpants notion didn’t cross people’s minds will completely change now that you’ve mentioned it. The white on orange in the header makes it more prominent.

  • Turing

    Interestingly, my brain refuses to see underwear on the old logo unless I tilt my head to the left about 20°. The new one, however, does not look like anything other than tightie-whities (tightie-orangies?).

  • Chris Lomax

    I think the silly thing is you concentrate on the branding problem then when you implement the branding on the main website in the header you have chopped off the “S” to the right when you chopped up the SVG.

  • Treehead Woodfist

    So, you’re saying that you changed a funny iconic logo that gave you free PR for a bad 3d model? oookay…

  • Colin E.

    I love the way you turned a (minor) branding fail into an interesting story, and took positive action.

    (By the way, your favicon is still pants!)

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  • LisaLaMagna

    Things can not be unseen. Once you see the Yfronts, it is with you forever. Sometimes showing the branding concepts to a critical 12 year old is a good test.

  • Justin Finkelstein

    It’s still a bit pants… ;o)

  • deveng

    I give you kudos for the research but I have to agree with the majority and say that I like the orange draws better then the new design.

  • http://foomandoonian.net/ Foomandoonian

    I would guess that 2.6% is a lower than actual figure too, because even if EVERYONE in the UK first thought of Y-fronts, most would recognise that it wasn’t actually supposed to be pants and would identify what they saw rather than what it made them think of.

  • D B

    Use it as a customer qualification tool. You have a range of highly technical products: Anyone who saw Y-fronts in your original logo design was clearly not thinking rationally; that design was obviously a dodecahedron (though I could see how some sports-minded people, at first glance, might mistake it for a truncated icosahedron). Those people whose minds immediately jumped to underwear would make unsuitable customers for a product that involves creating and understanding metrics – not to mention the SQL connector to a DW – they would certainly drive up your support costs with questions of the “I broke the cupholder on the front of my PC, what do I do now?” variety.

    • D B

      Actually … though snarky, I’m half serious. I don’t know much about marketing at all. But in this particular case you’re selling highly technical products to … I imagine, business executives. They may not be engineers, but they’re certainly numbers oriented.
      Why does it matter what 1000 random people think of your logo? Wouldn’t it be better to test 1000 “qualified” people where the qualification is along the lines of “those who would be potential customers for this product” expressed in some way?
      (For example: What if you were selling a data visualization product that made charts, like Powerpoint (or the old Harvard Graphics). And your logo was a nice circle with a wide wedge cut out of it, on the right side. Your target audience would think “pie chart”, your typical 1000 random people would think “Pacman”. But would that matter to you?)

    • Maff

      I strongly disagree – it’s wrong to assume that because someone sees their original logo as resembling a pair of pants, they’re bound to be less intelligent/technical and submit terribly simple support requests.
      Source: I’m a highly technical person from Scotland, saw pants.

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  • Randall Bart

    The header of this page now shows the off center d12 rendered in white with orange lines. That looks more like underwear than any version in orange.

    Also the old logo looks like a logo. The off-center does not look like a logo.

  • http://twitter.com/mitali Mitali Pattnaik

    wait – is the new one what you have on the site now? it looks worse to me… the straight angle and the fact that its WHITE (on orange background) instead of being orange makes it way more reminiscent of tightie whities. am i the only one who thinks this?

  • Jason Cochrane

    I agree, the original logo certainly sits better and ‘Y’ the hell not look like a pair of Y-fronts. Great PR and a fantastic talking point. The original logo was designed for a reason, not to be replaced with second best.

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  • hugo

    This is mild compared with car models: Laputa, Moco and Pajero, the Japanese auto makers could’ve done some research and checked what this means in the Spanish speaking markets

  • Kevin Denny

    Captain Underpants, We use Y -Fronts in Ireland too.

  • David Schloss

    I think the better question might just be… why the hell would you pick a geometric shape as an icon in the first place? It transmits nothing about what you do, it doesn’t convey a sense of branding… Of course most people think that it’s a geometric shape in your survey. What you’ve done is simply chosen a geometric shape to represent you. Might as well have just gone with an orange triangle or a rhombus.

    Yes, congrats, you have a new logo. No, it’s not good.

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  • john

    Did a Dutch and German/India test. German/Indian: saw underwear immediately, in India Y-fronts are standard. Dutch knew what article was about, so that was not fair. But: the new logo looks like underwear. Old one: dodecahedron.

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  • Max Hodges

    >only one response that was substantially different between the two populations: y-fronts.

    Isn’t a 6.8% difference more than a 2.4% difference?

  • Max Hodges

    >There is no excuse for not testing something as significant as a new logo on a large, global audience.

    sure there is! In the case of start-ups, there are often way too many higher priority tasks. A logo can always be tweaked later. But if you have enough time to write articles about your logo, I guess you can afford such luxuries.

  • Max Hodges

    >Thousands of new people are exposed to our business every month, and strangers will not be shy about pointing out mistakes.

    Trying to please everyone is a mistake.

  • Michael Christopher Frazier IV

    WHY DOES UR LOGO LOOK LIKE Y FRONTS? *TROLL*

  • Alex F

    Great work – this should be used as a model for how to accept and use criticism!

  • ryansoldout

    I absolutely love that you turned the conversation from a negative to a positive, just by using the very thing your business does. More companies need to learn from this!

    I used to work for an internet service provider whose logo bore a striking resemblance to the ‘goatse’ (don’t google it if you dont know it, just understand it’s definitely not something you want associated with your logo). They’d even been warned before launching that it looked like it.

    Within an hour of the logo being rolled out, people started making the association. Luckily it sort of just quietly gone away. Some people still email in thinking they’re the first to say something, but if you don’t make a big thing about it sometimes it’s ok. Luckily your association was way more PG than goatse.

  • http://benjaminbeck.com/ Benjamin Beck

    Talk about transparency! I’ll spare you the underwear puns and just say I really enjoyed the post!

  • Clarence Mason

    Great read, but I like the original logo better. The new one is an odd rendering.