First I should say that I understand Google’s intent here, to unify the visual language of the various apps in its suite. That can be important, especially with a company like Google, which abandons apps, services, design languages, and other things like ballast out of a sinking hot air balloon (a remarkably apt comparison, in fact).
We’ve seen so many Google icon languages over the years that it’s hard to bring oneself to care about new ones. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, if you wait long enough by the river, the bodies of your favorite Google products will float by. Better not to get attached.
But sometimes they do something so senseless that it is incumbent upon anyone who cares at all to throw the company’s justification in its face and tell them they blew it; The last time I cared enough was with Google Reader. Since I and a hundred million other people will have to stare at these ugly new icons all day until they retire them, maybe making a little noise will accelerate that timeline a bit.
Sorry if I let myself prose a bit here, but I consider it an antidote to the endless design stories these almost without exception ill-advised redesigns always come with. I’ll limit discussion of how these icons go wrong to three general ways: color, shape, and brand.
Color is one of the first things you notice about something, and you can recognize colors easily even in your peripheral vision. So having a distinct color is important to type and design in lots of ways. Why do you think companies go so crazy about all those different shades of blue?
That’s part of why the icons of the most popular Google apps are so easily distinguished. Gmail’s red color goes back a decade and more, and Calendar’s blue is pretty old as well. The teal of Meet probably should have just stayed green, like its predecessor Hangouts, but it’s at least somewhat distinct. Likewise Keep (remember Keep?) and a handful of other lesser actors. More importantly, they’re solid — except for a few that were better for their colors, like Maps, before its icon got assassinated.
There are two problems with the colors of the new icons. First is that they don’t really have colors. They all have all the colors, which just right off the bat makes it harder to tell them apart at a glance. Remember, you’re never going to see this big like in the image above. More often they’ll be more this size:
Maybe even smaller. And never that close. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell them apart when I’m not looking directly at them. What exactly are you looking for? They all have every color, and not even in the same order or direction — you see how some are red, yellow, green, blue and one is red, yellow, blue, green? Three (with Gmail) clockwise and two anti-clockwise, too. Sounds unimportant but your eye picks up on stuff like that, but maybe just enough that you’re more confused. Maybe these would have been better if they all started with red in the top left or something, and cycled through. They don’t randomize the order of the colors in the main Google logo, right? Ultimately these little blobs just resemble toys or crunched up candy wrappers. At best it’s plaid, and that’s Slack territory.
At first I thought the little red triangular tabs were a nice visual indicator, but somehow they messed that up too. Each icon should have the tab in a different corner, but Calendar and Drive both have it on the bottom right. They’re different kinds of triangles, I suppose — that’s a freebie from trigonometry.
You’ll also notice that the icons have a sort of lopsided weight. That’s because against a light background, different colors have different visual salience. Darker colors pop more against a white background than yellow or the tiny bit of red, making the icons seem to have heavy “L” aspects to them, on the left in Gmail and Calendar, bottom left in Drive and Meet, bottom right in Docs. But in an inactive tab, the light color will be more salient, and those L’s will seem to be on the other sides.
This is a good segue into the shape problems, because the perceived shape of these icons will change depending on the background. The original icons solved this by having a solid shape unique to them, and the background didn’t really leak through. You have to be real careful about transparent parts of your design — positive and negative space and all that. If you surrender any part of your logo to the background, you’re at the whim of whatever UI or theme the user has chosen. Will these logos look good with a hole in the middle looking onto a dark grey inactive tab? Or will the hole be filled in with white, making it positive space when on a dark background and negative when on white?
Anyhow the issue with these icons is that their shapes are bad. They’re all hollow, and four of them are rectangular if you include Gmail’s negative space (and we do — Google taught us to). The general shape of a container is a perfectly good one, but at a glance four of them are basically just angular O’s. Do you want the tallish O, the pointy one, or one of the two square O’s with slightly different color patterns? At a distance, who can tell? They only now resemble the thing they’re supposed do if you look really closely.
Now that I think of it, those shapes really scream Office and Bing too, don’t they? Not great!
And last, the overlapping colors make for trouble. For one thing it makes the Drive logo look like a biohazard symbol. But it adds a lot of complexity that’s hard to follow at a small scale. The original Drive logo had three colors, to be sure, and a little drop shadow so you’d see it was a Moebius strip implying infinity and not just a triangle (that’s gone too — so why keep the triangle?) — but the colors set each other off: Blue and yellow make green, two primaries and their secondary.
The new ones have all three primaries, one secondary, and two tertiary (if you count darkness as a color). They don’t help the shapes exist in any identifiable way. Are you looking through them? That doesn’t seem right. They kind of fold, but how? Are the strips these are made of twisting? I don’t think so. The shapes aren’t things — they’re just arrangements, suggestions of the things they once were, removed one step too far.
Google’s no stranger to throwing value in the trash. But you’d think that sometimes they’d recognize when they have a good thing going. The Gmail logo was a good thing. I have to say I preferred the old angular one when they switched to the rounded icon some years back, but it’s grown on me. The natural “M” shape of a the envelope is emphasized so well, and the red-and-white color is so instantly recognizable and readable — this is the kind of logo you hold onto for a long, long time. Or not!
The problem here is that now Gmail, which has essentially operated as its own, completely invincible brand for more than a decade (which is eons in tech, let alone tech logos), has been put on equal footing with other services that aren’t as trusted or as widely used.
Now Gmail is just another rainbow shape in a sea of very similar rainbow shapes, which tells the user “this service isn’t special to us. This is not the service that has worked so well for you, for so long. This is just one finger on the hand of an internet giant. And now you can never see one without thinking of the other.”
Same for all the rest of these little color wheels: You’ll never forget that they’re all part of the same apparatus that knows everything you search for, every site you visit, and now, everything you do at work. Oh, they’re very polite about it. But make no mistake, the homogeneous branding (for all its color heterogeneity) is the prelude to a brand crunch in which you are no longer just a Gmail user, you’re in Google’s house, all day, every day.
“This is the moment in which we break free from defining the structure and the role of our offerings in terms that were invented by somebody else in a very different era,” Google VP Javier Soltero told Fast Company.
The message is clear: Out with the old — the things that built your trust; and in with the new — the things that capitalize on your trust.
Tipalti, an Israeli company that helps businesses manage suppliers, invoices, purchase orders, tax compliance, payments and billing and other accounting services from a single cloud platform, has raised $150 million at a valuation that the company says is now over $2 billion.
The plan is to use the funding to continue enhancing Tipalti’s accounts payable suite with more tools; hire across all departments; and for business development. Tipalti’s aim, according to founder and CEO Chen Amit, is to provide easy to integrate accounts payable services to a base of fast-scaling businesses, which need AP services to function well, but would never consider them core functions of their businesses in themselves.
“Accounts payable is the last area that companies in the mid market would want to invest in,” said founder and CEO Chen Amit. “They will invest in literally anything else other than building software to pay or manage suppliers.”
The round, a Series E, is being led by Durable Capital Partners (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price), with participation also from Greenoaks Capital and existing investor 01 Advisors, the firm co-founded by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.
Tipalti’s growth comes as the result of a perfect storm of sorts for the startup.
The Covid-19 health pandemic has led to a global economic crunch, and businesses are especially focused now on watching where money is coming in and where it is going.
But at the same time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Tipalti had been seeing a lot of inbound business from organizations that were scaling fast and looking for solutions that could integrate easily into their current systems.
The backstory and necessity around accounts payable can be told in a few words: it’s a boring but necessary area, and if it goes wrong, it can potentially bring a whole company down because of the tax, fraud and auditing implications.
Tipalti describes accounts payable as “the most time-consuming function in finance”, noting that 47% of finance organizations in a recent survey said they still spend around 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable tasks, with 27% of respondents indicating that their teams dedicate up to 80 people-hours per month on AP tasks, or 1,040 hours annually.
Tipalti, which fittingly means “I’ll handle it” in Hebrew, is positioned as a helper in this context. By way of an API, it integrates with a number of other accounting and tracking platforms that its customers use including NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Affise, Cake, Everflow, HitPath, LinkTrust, Paladin, Tune (HasOffers) and Vidooly and lets companies run and track how payments are being made relative to actives within the organization, all with relatively little input from the companies themselves, essentially giving them time and other resources to focus on other areas.
The pandemic has hit some of Tipalti’s customers hard. But overall, Chen said that it’s seen more business as a result, not just from companies suddenly growing much faster (as in the case, for example, for e-commerce businesses, or those catering to people spending much more time at home and on screens), but from businesses that simply need to pay much more attention to how money is moving around.
In 2020 so far, Tipalti has seen transaction volume on its platform balloon to $12 billion, up 80% on a year ago. It now has some 1,000 customers on its books, with a specifically strong emphasis on fast-growing tech companies. The list includes Amazon Twitch, Amplitude, Roku, Duolingo, Gitlab, Medium, ClassPass, Toast, Automattic, Twitter, Business Insider, GoDaddy, Zola, Boston Globe Media, Noom, Roblox, Headspace, Fiverr, Vimeo, Stack Overflow, ZipRecruiter, AppLovin, Canva, Indeed, and Foursquare.
Indeed, as we have described before, it was Tipalti’s initial work with Twitter on its own accounts payable services (central to how it can make money on its ad business) that served as its first introduction to Costolo and Bain, who went on to invest in it after they left the social network and started 01 Advisors.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to increase our investment in Tipalti during a time in which organizations have been focused on rapidly transforming and modernizing the way they operate,” said Dick Costolo, Founding Partner of 01 Advisors and former Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, in a statement. “When I ran Twitter, I saw first-hand the importance and value of Tipalti in automating financial operations. Tipalti transformed our processes and opened up our expansion, growth, and scalability strategies.”
It’s worth pointing out that the rise in valuation is a huge spike for Tipalti, a sign not just of its growth but investors’ bet that there will be more of that to come.
Chen Amit, the company’s founder and CEO, said it is four times the size of its valuation in its previous round (it raised $76 million in a Series D round led by 01 Advisors a little over a year ago, which would have been at around a $500 million valuation), and a whopping 14 times what Tipalti was valued in 2017). Indeed, even with other competitors like Bill.com and Coupa also targeting the same users as Tipalti, Amit estimates that between them all, they have just 3-4% of the addressable market.
“The accounts payable automation space has an extremely large total addressable market with significant growth potential,” explained Henry Ellenbogen, Founder, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “We believe that Tipalti has the potential to become a much larger company within the Midmarket space due to its differentiated holistic platform, superior global capabilities and management team. This has resulted in leading retention and customer satisfaction.”