Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind Firefox, announced its new “brand experience” and visual guidelines. I’m not going to argue that branding doesn’t matter — after all, people love to argue that marketing doesn’t matter, yet decades of research into consumer buying habits and how people respond to advertising have shown that it absolutely does. Mozilla’s share of the browser market has slumped badly since 2010, and the organization’s efforts to fix that problem should touch on every aspect of the Firefox experience. It is therefore absolutely proper to consider how branding impacts people’s perceptions of Mozilla and Firefox, and to make design changes and updates where necessary.
That said, this is not the design I’d have personally gone with. Mozilla’s new logo is written as Moz://a, with the “ill” replaced with a colon and two slashes, just as displayed in a conventional URL. Mozilla’s creative director Tim Murray explained the decision to Wired: “Because it has a portion of URL embedded in the middle of the logo, you know this must be some kind of internet company.”
I genuinely don’t want to sound insulting; I have no doubt that Tim Murray and his team worked hard for months to sort out various logo options and designs. Instead of just unveiling a logo to the world once it had been finalized, Mozilla sought public commentary at every stage of the process. Users weren’t allowed to vote on options, but they were encouraged to comment and leave their thoughts on why the various proposed logos did or did not work. You can read more about this process here, or watch the video below for Mozilla’s own discussion of why it went with this design.
I respect that Mozilla wanted a logo that was easy for people to mash up and use. I appreciate that it’s actually a logo people can type without resorting to non-standard fonts or trying to embed images mid-story. But at the same time, it’s the kind of logo that screams “1990s Internet company,” and hearkens back to an era when people thought AOL was the Internet, rather than a walled garden of content and information that itself relied on the Internet to function. It reminds me of nothing so much as the era when people thought you needed a .com in your brand name to be cool. And the worst excesses of the dot-com era, and its emphasis on brands and clicks at the expense of income and profit, aren’t really something I’d want to associate my brand with, even 20 years after the fact.
What makes the situation slightly more awkward is the fact that Firefox seems to be the only browser left standing that actually displays the http:// in the first place. Edge and Chrome both hide it (at least by default). So does Vivaldi. Given Chrome’s market share, it’s not clear how many people will even associate the :// with a URL. If Mozilla wanted to cater to the faithful, that’s its prerogative, but the new logo may not do much to build recognition of what the foundation is all about.
What Firefox means to me
I use Firefox on a daily basis, along with multiple other browsers, because it plays fairly nice with ExtremeTech’s content management system, or CMS. Unfortunately, my daily experience with Firefox goes something like this:
- Start Firefox
- Open tabs, browse web
- *Time passes*
- Observe that my entire system is lagging
- Open Task Manager
- Note that Firefox is using a constant 5-8% CPU (roughly one core on a six-core / 12 thread system) and 1600 – 2200MB of RAM
- Kill Firefox, restore previous session
- Observe Firefox now using 1-3% CPU and 400-800MB of RAM
Rinse, wash, and repeat, often multiple times a day. I’ve shut off every extension and add-on, including all ad blockers. I’ve used the browser in safe mode. I even tried manually enabling the new multi-threaded engine. Closing all open tabs does not solve the problem; it’s only resolved by a full restart of the browser. I’m aware that the Firefox team has done a great deal of work to firm up the nuts and bolts of their browser, improve its performance, cut its RAM usage, and build a better product. Despite this, it’s the only browser I use that needs multiple full restarts on a daily basis. Heck, I’m willing to believe that some of the reason I run into these issues may be poor coding practices at the sites themselves, but that doesn’t change the fact that Chrome and Chromium-derived browsers like Vivaldi don’t run into problems nearly as often, for me, as Firefox does. (Edge has its own issues and problems, but Edge is also less than two years old).
If Firefox wants to win back users, a new brand may help a little — but what would really help is fixing some of the problems that drove those users away in the first place. Give people like me reasons to write reviews praising Firefox for new features and improvements. I’d take that over a new logo, any day.