Did Airbnb, Medium, Beats, and Flipboard Rip off Their Logos?

Some of the world's most recognizable logos may have come from a 1989 design book. Johnnie Cochran investigates.

May 11, 2016

Very few things in this world are truly original, and there’s no better example of that than logo design.

I mean, think about it. Not only are we all surrounded by similar influences, shapes, and patterns, but there are already tens of millions of logos that have been created. So it’s almost guaranteed that even the most clever design will look eerily similar to one that already exists.

Add in the fact that logos are primarily centered around letters, and you begin to realize just how hard it is to be unique. After all, there are only so many things you can do to the letter “M” to make it distinct and recognizable.

Which would explain why the logos of Motorola and Marmot look so much alike:

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Motorola was founded in 1928, while Marmot was founded in 1974. So, could Marmot have been inspired by Motorola? Perhaps. But then again, it’s an outdoor apparel company and that “M” sure looks a lot like mountains. So I doubt it.

Carrier and Ford have fairly similar logos, too:

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Yet, if I had to guess the most used color in logo design, it’d be blue. Oval shapes and italic text are no strangers to billboards, either.

These are both perfect examples of the limitations that designers face. There are only so many colors, shapes, and patterns to choose from, and that makes these types of similarities inevitable over time. Hopefully we can all agree on that.

But what happens when two logos are essentially identical? That’s a separate issue entirely, and one that people take much more seriously.

Copycats?

Spencer Chen, the VP of Marketing and Business Development for Alibaba, recently took to Twitter to expose the similarities between the logos of some of the world’s biggest tech companies and ones printed in a 1989 design book, Trademarks & Symbols of the World: The Alphabet in Design.

While he acknowledges that almost nothing is original in design, he (and plenty of other people across social media) seems to believe something fishy is going on.

Take a look for yourself:

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Look closely, because those are not the logos for Medium, Airbnb, Flipboard, and Beats. That would be these:

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Hmmmm, very curious. But does anyone actually believe these logos were straight up copied like Chen is insinuating? I mean, the fact that they’re all in the same exact book is absurd. There’s no doubt about that.

But to suggest that the agencies and/or in-house creative teams tasked with developing them simply flipped through an adult picture book until they found a winner is even more absurd. Give these people some credit, guys. Sheesh.

So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon and accusing these tech giants of being copycats, I’ve decided to defend them all. Call me Johnnie Cochran…except my clients are actually innocent.

Metrocraft vs. Medium

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Like most companies, my client has a “Story Behind Our Logo” blog post. In it, they state that they see the four planes of the logo as overlapping strains of a conversation, “whose tone and direction shift as the planes come into contact with each other.”

Do I believe this? No, not for one second. In fact, it might be the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. Legit cringeworthy stuff. I almost didn’t take the case because of it.

With that being said, this design does seem like a pretty logical one to settle on. It is, after all, a three-dimensional “M”. That’s it.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the idea that we would accuse, let alone punish, a company for using the first letter of their name as their logo is preposterous. If any crime has been committed here, it is that Medium has been forced to sacrifice crucial blogging hours in order to be present in this courtroom.

Shame on you.

Azuma Drive-In vs. Airbnb

Do these two logos look identical? Yes. Does my client’s logo also look identical the logistics company, Automation Anywhere’s former design? Absolutely.

And while that is all quite significant, I will still defend Airbnb. Why?

Because I’d much rather believe they royally f*cked up and made a logo resembling a bike seat or one of these other, more inappropriate suggestions. It’s far more amusing that way.

Frisol vs. Flipboard

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Flipboard’s logo was created in collaboration with 1185 Design, one of the most recognizable names in the industry. They have designed iconic logos like SAP, Cisco, and Adobe, and we’re sitting here claiming they copied some picture book from 1989? Puhhhhh-lease!

Stadt Brühl vs. Beats

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My goodness, people. My client’s logo is the letter “b,” from the typeface Bauhaus, inside of a circle. That’s it!

It’s also made to look like headphones, which makes sense, does it not? Listen, I promise you that if you were to put 100 people in a room and tell them to design a logo for a headphones company called “Beats,” at least one of them would produce this very design you see before you today.

Come on now! Innocent.

Closing arguments

Your honor,

Clearly, the line between similar and identical can sometimes become blurred. It was blurred in these cases and it will be blurred again. However, that does not mean my clients copied anyone. No, sir.

As we all know, human beings are subconsciously influenced and inspired by similar things. We’re all so different, yet so much alike. Therefore, overlap in design is inevitable over time. These things happen.

So, let’s not get in a tizzy (love that word) over this. Let’s not make a coincidence seem like a crime. My clients are innocent, and they need to get back to the Valley to continue coding and sitting on exercise ball chairs. Like I’ve told the press covering this case many times:

If it’s in the (1989) book, you must let off the hook.

Cochran out.



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