Marissa Mayer! There is too much whimsy!!

So much whimsy.

The new Yahoo! logo redesign is complete, and according to CEO Marissa Mayer, the finishing touch was to add a nine degree tilt to its exclamation mark, "just to add a bit of whimsy". Really, Marissa, why couldn’t you just live a little and turn it up all the way to 11?

The suggestion of a KPI for whimsy calls to mind Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s apologetic bow following the brand’s brake failure controversy in 2010, and the subsequent media discussions about what level of incline truly denotes remorse in Japanese corporate culture.

Given this context, isn’t the calculation of exactly how far to tilt an exclamation mark pretty much the antithesis of whimsy?

As a side note, can an exclamation mark even be whimsical? Before writing this piece I stood in front of the mirror, De-Niro-In-Taxi-Driver style, trying to say "Yahoo!" in a whimsical way, but ending up sounding like a cartoon cowboy coming round from a lobotomy.

In any case, there was nothing whimsical about the thinking behind the redesign - the new logo has been crafted over the company’s recent "30 days of change" (does that remind anyone else uncomfortably of the phrase "day of rage?"), as part of a long campaign to transform "Yahoo!" into an entirely new animal.

In her blog post on the subject, Mayer mentions up front how the Yahoo! logo had not been updated in 18 years, and quickly mentions the fact that the brand has been valued at up to $10bn as a reason why any redesign could "not be taken lightly".

The ensuing "geeking out" (her words) on the design process, while a really interesting read, furthers the logic that the worth of a brand is commensurate to the level of overthinking that must go into how it writes its name.

I do understand, I really do, that calling the mastercrafting of a logo "overthinking" brings to mind the cab driver telling the abstract painter in the back seat that "at the enna the day though, a child could do it", or indeed the people who show up in the comments section of articles like this saying "Why is this news? Journalism is dead".

I am certainly not knocking the skill or the importance of commercial graphic designers: my wife is one, and I have seen her work astonishing hours to get a logo just right.

But in this case, what was more important - that Yahoo! redesigned its logo, or that it was seen to be investing a great deal of thought into a redesign?

After all, the original logo (which some inevitably prefer anyway - who’s whimsical now?) managed to drive the company into $10bn territory in the first place, and was clearly fit for purpose - in the end, it was the rapid evolution of the internet that knocked Yahoo! out of the limelight.

The real masterpiece of branding here is not the logo, but Mayer’s own commentary on it, and the insight she provides on the design process… because it feels like something Google would do.

This blog says: "we are fun, and we are creative. But we’re also massive, and capable of being fun and creative in an extraordinarily professional, measured and profitable way." It is no accident that Yahoo!’s multi-billion dollar brand value is mentioned in the third sentence.

Welcome to Big Whimsy.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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The surprising truth about ingrowing toenails (and other medical myths)

Medicine is littered with myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery.

From time to time, I remove patients’ ingrowing toenails. This is done to help – the condition can be intractably painful – but it would be barbaric were it not for anaesthesia. A toe or finger can be rendered completely numb by a ring block – local anaesthetic injected either side of the base of the digit, knocking out the nerves that supply sensation.

The local anaesthetic I use for most surgical procedures is ready-mixed with adrenalin, which constricts the arteries and thereby reduces bleeding in the surgical field, but ever since medical school I’ve had it drummed into me that using adrenalin is a complete no-no when it comes to ring blocks. The adrenalin cuts off the blood supply to the end of the digit (so the story goes), resulting in tissue death and gangrene.

So, before performing any ring block, my practice nurse and I go through an elaborate double-check procedure to ensure that the injection I’m about to use is “plain” local anaesthetic with no adrenalin. This same ritual is observed in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries around the world.

So, imagine my surprise to learn recently that this is a myth. The idea dates back at least a century, to when doctors frequently found digits turning gangrenous after ring blocks. The obvious conclusion – that artery-constricting adrenalin was responsible – dictates practice to this day. In recent years, however, the dogma has been questioned. The effect of adrenalin is partial and short-lived; could it really be causing such catastrophic outcomes?

Retrospective studies of digital gangrene after ring block identified that adrenalin was actually used in less than half of the cases. Rather, other factors, including the drastic measures employed to try to prevent infection in the pre-antibiotic era, seem likely to have been the culprits. Emboldened by these findings, surgeons in America undertook cautious trials to investigate using adrenalin in ring blocks. They found that it caused no tissue damage, and made surgery technically easier.

Those trials date back 15 years yet they’ve only just filtered through, which illustrates how long it takes for new thinking to become disseminated. So far, a few doctors, mainly those in the field of plastic surgery, have changed their practice, but most of us continue to eschew adrenalin.

Medicine is littered with such myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery. Until the mid-1970s, breast cancer was routinely treated with radical mastectomy, a disfiguring operation that removed huge quantities of tissue, in the belief that this produced the greatest chance of cure. These days, we know that conservative surgery is at least as effective, and causes far less psychological trauma. Seizures can happen in young children with feverish illnesses, so for decades we placed great emphasis on keeping the patient’s temperature down. We now know that controlling fever makes no difference: the fits are caused by other chemicals released during an infection.

Myths arise when something appears to make sense according to the best understanding we have at the time. In all cases, practice has run far ahead of objective, repeatable science. It is only years after a myth has taken hold that scientific evaluation shows us to have charged off down a blind alley.

Myths are powerful and hard to uproot, even once the science is established. I operated on a toenail just the other week and still baulked at using adrenalin – partly my own superstition, and partly to save my practice nurse from a heart attack. What would it have been like as a pioneering surgeon in the 1970s, treating breast cancer with a simple lumpectomy while most of your colleagues believed you were being reckless with your patients’ future health? Decades of dire warnings create a hefty weight to overturn.

Only once a good proportion of the medical herd has changed course do most of us feel confident to follow suit. 

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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