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Sony asked the public to redesign its logo in 1981. It didn't work out.

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Sony learned the hard way that crowdsourcing a logo is a bad idea

Once upon a time, Sony decided that its now-iconic logo was due for a redesign. The year was 1981, and Sony was on the cusp of a revolution — the first Walkman had been released just 18 months earlier. What better time to redesign a logo dating from the ‘50s? But the company didn't enlist a design team to come up with a new logo. No, Sony decided to make the redesign a public spectacle.

It launched the so-called "Sony International Logotype Design Contest," and it took in nearly 30,000 submissions from around the world. A committee was formed and viewed every single entry before narrowing the list down to 59. The finalists were shown to the board of directors, company executives, designers, and sales managers. As executives were looking through the finalists, Sony must have realized it had made a huge mistake.

That's when Sony realized it made a huge mistake

Redesigning a company's brand identity is a delicate and complex process that must be taken with care. It's not rare for companies to explore a redesign before discovering through that process that its old design is the best of them all. But by putting the entire affair in the public eye, Sony essentially obligated itself to change its logo. Worst of all, the company would have to choose a logo designed by an amateur to be the face of its brand.

As you might expect, the designs weren't up to snuff. It's a lot harder than it looks to create a timeless logo. According to Sony's official history, co-founder Masaru Ibuka "decided that none of the designs was better than the original one." And so the company moved to gracefully end the whole affair: a panel of judges chose three finalists, and instead of awarding first, second, and third place prizes, it split the prize money equally. An ad was published in Time Magazine thanking everyone for their time and effort, and it quietly noted that "until the time comes in the future that we decide to make a change, the Sony logo will remain the same." The design contest then faded into memory.

But thanks to designer Greg Prichard, who stumbled across the ad while perusing through a 1981 issue of Time, we can now see the top three designs. The logos are very much products of their time, and we can't help but thank Sony for sticking with its roots.

Sony design competition