Evolution of a Brand Logo: Unveiling Outbrain’s Amelia

If you are among the 1 billion people in over 55 countries who have seen an online ad via the Outbrain discovery feed, then you may remember this gal:

It’s Amelia, Outbrain’s loyal logo for the past decade.

If you look closely, she’s actually rather simple. Cartoonish curves and lines, with relatable human-like features in bright, recognizable orange.

But if you think that creating Amelia was a fast and easy process, well, you’re wrong! The Outbrain logo took years to evolve, and Amelia was named quite by happenstance. Which just goes to show that logos aren’t born in one eventful moment. Rather, they are the result of an ongoing process that often reflects the company’s evolution as it matures and grows. 

So let’s go on a journey behind the scenes and see how Outbrain’s logo – and brand – progressed over the course of a few years to become the iconic Amelia, the ever-present guardian of high-quality native ads. It’s an interesting study of the stages a logo may need to go through in order to emerge as an icon.

Here goes!

Back to the Beginning: The Outbrain Logo in 2006

During Outbrain’s early years, the original logo was in fact created by CEO Yaron Galai. Although a man of many talents, Yaron is not a professional graphic designer, and the logo is a pretty good reflection of the scrappy startup nature of the company way back in 2006, the Middle Ages of the Internet era:

The logo sometimes incorporated the 5-star ratings, Outbrain’s initial product where readers would rate stories in order to get more great content recommendations:

Although Yaron was quite fond of his creations, he admits he was among a tiny minority. 

Then, when Outbrain was around 3 years old, the marketing manager approached Yaron with an ultimatum: “Either the logo goes, or I go!”

It was not a difficult decision, and so Outbrain entered the next phase of the logo’s evolution.

Time to Call in the Big Guns: The Graphic Designer

It was time for Outbrain to have a meaningful, expressive logo, so the company engaged the services of one of their favorite graphic designers – Dan Cederholm. The initial working concept was the ‘brain’, reflecting Outbrain’s use of advanced technology to deliver relevant content to online audiences. Not mindless internet surfing, but engaging and exciting content experiences. That’s what Outbrain was and is all about. 

Here are the first examples of logo elements inspired by the brain. As you can see, at this early stage the look was fairly… anatomical:

Settling in on this brain-y direction, graphic designer Dan played with various iterations, including different versions of the typeface: 

Let’s Get Relatable: Building a Character

Although headed in the right direction, still, something was missing. What the Outbrain team really wanted was a character that everyone could relate to. So Dan shifted the focus from pure ‘brain’ to ‘brainiac’ concept. You can actually see the evolution of the icon from an anatomical part to an identifiable personality:

The famous icon had finally emerged…

The Final Countdown: Fine-Tuning the Font

But there was more work to be done – namely, making sure the font was unique and appealing while complementing the brainiac graphical logo. So, with the help of one of the world’s best font designers, Jason Santa Maria, Outbrain set out to make the whole logo as iconic as possible.

Here are some ideas that were thrown around at the time. But it was number 1 that made the cut.

And the rest is history!

OK, One Last Thing: Why ‘Amelia’?

Most people are under the impression that the Outbrain icon was named after Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. While everyone at Outbrain is definitely Amelia Earhart fans, it’s not the reason behind the name.

In fact, a couple of years after launching the new logo, the Outbrain management team in New York was working with a California-based agency on a presentation for a large industry conference. 

One day, a number of Outbrain staff hopped on a conference call with the entire agency team in California. And – as often happens with conference calls – the sound quality wasn’t great.

According to legend, every so often the CA team mumbled a word that the Outbrain team in NY couldn’t quite catch. Feeling baffled, the Outbrain staff asked them to repeat the word more clearly.

And this was their response: “Oh! The word is Amelia! We forgot to tell you. When we started working with you, we all decided that your icon needs a name. There was a consensus here that it’s a woman. So we did some brainstorming and voting in the office, and we all agreed unanimously that she is Amelia!”

This story is important because it highlights a golden rule about logos. Your logo doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s your brand encapsulated in a piece of art. Like all art, every viewer will naturally interpret it in their own way. An iconic logo captures and communicates the essence of your brand while leaving it open just enough to interpretation so that others can relate to it and remember it.

An icon to remember – that’s the aim of every brand and every logo designer. How will your brand make its mark?

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