Discords new design - let's talk about it

It seems like every other week some big influencial company rebrands themself with a seemingly completely out of touch design. Just recently I've got the latest Youtube / Youtube Music update in which all icons got a fair bit slimmer and, in my opinion, a lot more chaotic with their linework. However, I can acknowledge why a company like Youtube wants their icons to be special. Before they pushed out the new ones they were using the Material Icon set, the so-to-say default icon set for Google applications. A unique icon set however can gives a platform character. So it's all the more sad to see a platform with plenty of character trying its hardest to remove every last bit of it: let's talk about the new design of Discord.

Before I start semisarcastically ranting about new logos and fonts I want to make some things clear. I'm probably the last person to complain about well planned and mindful design changes. Quite the opposite actually: I enjoy new designs when done correctly. It keeps the platform/website/app fresh and youthful. Even when a new look is made just to be different from the last one, I'm on board with that. What I can't stand however, is when a new design is objectively worse than the last one. Especially "novelty" updates should only effect aesthetic aspects and never *ever* make things like accessability or legibility worse. Keep that in mind.

My personal story with Discord

I joined Discord around august 2016. Back then the messenger had a clear motto: the chat for gamers. Around this time Discord was basically still a niche software yet offered everything one could ask for (except video call - they were introduced later). Compared to programs like Skype or TeamSpeak Discord seemed to make everything right. You could create infinite servers with infinite channels, you could chat with your friends in groups or privately, the design was modern and everything was free. But most importantly, they weren't just another faceless company. Every corner of this app was spiked with small easter eggs and little jokes. Things like game references or Wumpus. These jokes didn't stop at their app. Practically everything you heard from them, be it promotional videos or social media posts, were in some way or another intended to make you smile. They didn't take themselves so exorbitantly serious like their competitors. After all, they were just like their users - gamers.

Since then I've been using Discord and never looked back. And many others seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did. Discord grew larger, added a ton of cool new features and before you knew it they had over 300 million registered users in 2020. That's alot!

This influx in users inevitably meant that Discord wasn't exclusively used by gamers anymore. It became mainstream.

Discords new design

Discords new audience isn't just gamers anymore - it is virtually everyone. Yet, their design stayed the same since their founding in 2015. It was built around gamers, hence the controller-like logo (fun fact: the controllers named Clyde). It was basically unavoidable to see a rebranding of Discord sooner or later. I, personally, saw this change coming for a while now. Especially after their new (now old) website and their proud announcement, that they removed some of their gaming references.

Yet it fascinates me how a company with this backstory and this community can create such a hated design and just blissfully ignore any amount of critique coming their way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let us first take a look at where we are right now. A few days ago Discord sent out a newsletter to their hypesquad members announcing a new but similar design for the Discord brand. This was coupled with an article on their blog covering why they've decided to rebrand themself. Included in this rebrand was the fonts, the colors and of course the logo + wordmark. Generally speaking Clyde (the controller thingy) got a little bit more rounded, the colors got a lot more saturated, and the font got... yeah what's up with that font. Let me just find a picture of that:

I know design is highly subjective but... did they even look at that font? Like really?! Recently I've been working for a whole lot of butchers. In like: I built their websites. This is a font I would use for that. It just feels so chubby – so out of place for an app like Discord. It's like Discord for kids (okay, I've read that one on Reddit). This font screams "amateur" to me. Yet I can see why they chose it. Just like the other assets it's generally more rounded.

Leaving the font aside, the update introduced a more casual - a cynic tongue might say - boring and corporate feel to Discord. Or rather it established it as the default. With the color and logo being the only old relic from the "old-times" now gone it paved the path for an entirely new direction Discord is likely heading. But let me elaborate.

In their aforementioned blog entry they described what and why they changed the logo. One line reads as follows:

Only the most eagle-eyed may notice, but the old logo was horizontally asymmetrical — something our Design Team’s been waiting years to fix.

This is coupled with this image:

Why they didn't just correct the asymmetry and put it on their branding page is beyond me. Perhaps it comes down to their scale... I might very well be missing a point here but this little argument made me realise something: Discord isn't interested in explaining it to anyone. Heck, they aren't interested in any feedback on this matter. This is just one thing that caught my eye but my feeling is, that Discord is done being quirky and funny and now wants to be the serious voice chat for the average Joe.

Remember earlier when I mentioned Discord removing their gaming references? Yeah, this is where I first got this feeling. The thing is: their new design isn't objectively bad (aside from some accessibility issues with the colors, I've heard). It accomplishes exactly what they want it to. But the hate it gets on social media comes from people hating the reasons behind the change. Discord tries to broaden their target audience to make more profit... that isn't a bad thing. Keep in mind the platform is entirely free; no ads; no nothing. It's still one less reason for me to like Discord.

My conclusion

Discord was and still is my first choice for video calls small and large. Even with the new design it didn't suddenly become unusable. It isn't however my go to for "the perfect company" anymore. Only time will tell if Discord continues to go down the gray unoriginal corporate path.

I'd be very interested to see your thoughts on this matter, though!