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MapQuest finally gets some direction

Mapquest was one of the early originators of online mapping but the brand and it’s site have been dormant for a very long time.  They are trying to change all of that and close the gap on Google by making a comeback with a new site and some new branding.

New branding – It’s a logo, it’s an equation, it’s a character?

Let’s start by taking a look at their new logo / icon which is a departure from the old color palette and design with the addition to a new logo mark. When I saw the new logo for the first time I honestly thought it looked like M to the power of Q. I know other people either simply see the letters M and Q or get far more creative and see the letters forming a dog or elephant like character with the Q as the head of the animal. I can see how you could all of those interpretations but I keep debating with myself how I feel about the logo.  On the one hand it is unique and I can’t think of another logo where you are able to see it so many different ways but I’m not convinced all that interpretation leads to a lasting or positive brand impression. MapQuest is trying to embrace all as these different forms as they acknowledge and explain them all in their new brand video but I think their explanations go too far into overreaching marketing speak trying to give every form meaning that relates to the site. If the three it would seem that the brand may be favoring the creature interpretation because on the new site the logo can be seen tapping its feet while content loads. – Differentiated or redecorated?


Google Maps

For me a new logo is nice but the real question is what are they doing on the new that is going to differentiate the site and pull it ahead of Google Maps? I started in the obvious place by pulling up both sites and searching for the same address to do a side-by-side comparison. It was a bit of a disappointment when after all the build up I couldn’t really find any significant differences.  I went down the list of features on both sites. Zoomable map – check. Street views – check. Live traffic – check. Search nearby – check. While MapQuest had a slightly cleaner design with more modern interface buttons the only real difference I could find took a page from a few popular iPhone apps and added an icon bar where you can quickly display restaurants, parks, movie theaters, etc. near your chosen location. They have also gone those basic markers to ass time sensitive content like ‘July 4th events’ and paid branded content from companies like Holiday Inn so you can find the nearest hotel.

It was only after I did some digging that I did find one interesting feature on the site.  You can plan your trip online and save the results to the My Maps section and then either customize the map with your own information or pull up the route you want to take on your iPhone through their application. It’s a useful feature I would probably use when I travel because I don’t always 100% trust my car’s navigation system. The problem is that I NEVER saw one mention of this feature anywhere on the site outside of an extremely short mention of it in their new brand video. This is a huge miss for a brand trying to create some differentiation from a competitors who has a huge market share over them.

So when I look at this re-launch as whole I don’t see how they are going to gain any ground on Google. Using language like ‘started designing with a blank canvas’ sound promising but then you need to deliver something that is truly breakthrough and takes advantage of an opportunity like that and doesn’t have that canvas look more like a xerox than an a new original work of art.

1 Comment

  1. David Nibley

    July 9, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Interesting post. As to your point about MapQuest trying to promote too many logo interpretations, I have a little bit different viewpoint. While I’m sure that not every interpretation was deliberately built into the logo originally by the designer, those happy accidents that sometimes occur while exploring any given design are a part of what makes design exciting in general. If the interpretation holds water (that’s key – it can’t be a half-assed attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole), if it works symbolically and aesthetically, I think it’s fine to put that out there as a valid component of the design logic. As designers, how many times have we been intently working in one direction, only to see something new and unexpected emerge from that exploration? I love it when that happens, and if it can justifiably enhance the impact of the design, why not put it out there?

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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