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Let's talk about X

David Alexander

Curiosity killed the cat. Elon Musk killed the bird.

As a designer who has spent the past 19 years trying to build brands as successful as Twitter, I am more than a little annoyed by the whole charade. 

The new brand identity, and the way it’s being introduced, is the complete opposite of what Twitter originally stood for. The welcoming, cheery bird on a sky blue background symbolised friendliness, inclusivity, conversation and community. The new logo is more akin to a gentlemen’s club or even a pornography site. X.com has been banned in Indonesia for that very reason.

Gone too is a whole vocabulary. 

“Tweet” is a verb that has transcended the brand that spawned it. It’s used and understood around the world, even by people who’ve never signed up to Twitter. How many other social networks or brands can boast that? Google (as a lower-case verb) has made it into the dictionary, and I suppose – at a pinch – you might “Link in” with someone. But that’s about it. Throwing the tweet away and replacing it with “Xs” or a generic “post” seems foolhardy. Maybe they’ll be called something else in time. We have no idea. Far from being exciting, this uncertainty is confusing and makes it difficult to engage with the brand. 

It’s a shame to lose clever touches that made Twitter endearing. The quill icon representing a new Tweet and the birdhouse icon representing home were both great examples of how to embed a brand style. 

The half-baked way this is all happening, played out in real-time to the public, seemingly without any logical strategy is fast becoming a marketer’s 101 on how not to handle a rebrand. And it’s not like Twitter users have nowhere else to go. It’s the likes of Mastodon, Bluesky and particularly Threads who are benefiting most from this mess.

But, maybe it’s not all bad? 

People famously don’t like change and rebrands certainly don’t always land well. I struggled with the Formula 1 rebrand when it first came out – now I love it. So perhaps when the shock has worn off we’ll be saying, “X has grown on me.”

I’m a huge proponent of looking at things from all angles, so with that in mind let’s try and find some positives to the X rebrand. 

Bye bye birdie 

The X logo appears to closely resemble the Unicode 𝕏 symbol, meaning that it can be universally typed on any device and used natively on any website anywhere on the internet. It’s built right into every device, almost like an emoji. Brand recognition doesn’t get much better.

It might be a harsh, masculine-looking – even ugly – logo, but it stands out. Especially in contrast to the beautiful, soft logos we see everywhere: Airbnb’s friendly logo, Instagram’s rainbow gradient and Nike’s elegant swoosh. 

X is different. Dynamic. Daring. An act of rebellion that reminds me of when Prince changed his name to a symbol. When many companies are beginning to look the same, enter X with its bold, brash anti-design, shouting quite literally from the rooftops.

Black sky thinking 

X has switched from Twitter blue to black. Is it harsh or, is it classy? It suits the simplicity of a one-character brand. Black is also en vogue in digital design because of the rise in popularity of dark mode

Dark mode is gentler on the eyes, making those late night posting (X-ing?) sessions when you should be sleeping a whole lot easier. And it’s better for the environment. Black screens (especially OLED) consume much less power: a reduction of as much as 42% when a phone screen is at 100% brightness. Elon Musk has already said the website and app will be defaulting to permanent dark mode. With 206 million daily active users, X could actually be helping to fight global warming.

Short and snappy 

While sending an X is unlikely to be as linguistically satisfying as sending a tweet, the overall brand name is as simple as you can get. Less is more. The name is the logo, the logo is the name – it’s actually quite satisfying. The name is so simple, Apple had to bend its App Store naming policy, allowing X to become the first one-letter iPhone app.

X is also familiar to anyone who uses the Latin alphabet and, as a symbol, it’s universally familiar. After a kiss it’s mostly used as a symbol for no, cancel, close and prohibition. It’s an anarchic symbol that represents Musk’s new vision for Twitter.

All publicity is good publicity 

Jane Russell famously said, “Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don’t have any.” Everyone is talking about the switch to X. Tech blogs and global news outlets are hanging on every twist and turn of the rebrand saga. The internet is buzzing with “before and after” images of people’s home screens showing the new X app icon. People are even selling phones with the original Twitter-branded app installed for thousands of pounds. And this publicity is all free.

So, is this an act of marketing genius? Or will it go down in history as one of the biggest rebrand failures, taking the platform Formally Known As Twitter with it? 

Time will tell. One thing’s for sure – it will be very interesting watching this saga continue to play out in real time, from both a brand and pop culture perspective. Could this be the first of many explosive rebrands? I’ll grab the popcorn.