The geometric evolution of the twitter bird


Twitter Unveils a New Logo


On June 6, 2012, Twitter pushed out a blog post revealing the future of their brand: the new Twitter bird. Shown above, the thing that you’ll notice instantly about this new take on the feathered frontman is that he’s taking flight. No longer content to glide in a horizontal position, this bird is going places.

No Words

Along with the unveiling of the new icon, the folks at Twitter sought to clarify any confusion about how the brand logo will appear henceforth:

“Starting today you’ll begin to notice a simplified Twitter bird. From now on, this bird will be the universally recognizable symbol of Twitter. (Twitter is the bird, the bird is Twitter.) There’s no longer a need for text, bubbled typefaces, or a lowercase “t” to represent Twitter.”

It seems that Twitter has joined the ranks of Apple, Nike, Starbucks and Target in the club of companies that are so big that their brand is instantly recognizable without a single letter of text.


This simplifies things nicely. The previous versions of the logo were often shown with or without the text, which may or may not have appeared in the same position in relation to the logo.

I personally love it when logos reach the stage of being a simple, ubiquitous icon. If effectively produced and executed, your brain instantly links the symbol with the word. You don’t see a picture of a check mark, you see the word Nike, even if it’s not explicitly written out.

The Death of Larry?
As a side note, historically speaking the Twitter bird was named Larry (yep, Larry bird.). However, given the above statement, “Twitter is the bird, the bird is Twitter”, it seems to be that the name Larry will be laid to rest. I could be wrong, but I’m guess that the new bird is Twitter, period. No extra moniker is needed, implied or used in any way.

The Evolution of a Bird

Though the Twitter logo has gone through a ton of changes, many of which included no bird at all, by my count, there have been five major iterations of the actual Twitter bird formerly known as Larry.


Interestingly enough, many of the illustrations that I can find of the original bird actually face to the left, though it seems Twitter played with facing him in either direction. Eventually though, Larry decided that right was right and has been looking that way ever since.


The second version of the bird wasn’t a gradual step but a complete redesign from scratch. This set the bird on the path of slow evolution that brought it where it is today. As you can see, the second and third iterations are actually fairly similar in shape, they mainly sought to make the bird more cartoony and friendly.


The next step was to drop all that silly cartoon detail and revert to a silhouette look. During the process, the bird’s shape was streamlined. The feet were removed, the wings redrawn and the beak was made to be less awkwardly curved. Interestingly enough, in this step, the bird was made to look less like it was moving upwards, a step that would be reversed and taken to new heights in the next version.


Now we come to the newest iteration. Aside from the change of direction, there are several other notable changes. The wings have one less feather or ridge, the fluff on top has been removed and the enlarged cartoon head has been scaled down considerably and smoothed out into a circle.


The Round About Way to Build a Logo

There’s something about the geometry of the new Twitter logo that’s pretty interesting. Twitter isn’t trying to hide it but boldly showcases this characteristic in the launch video.

What if I told you this was the new Twitter logo?


If you haven’t seen the video, you might think that I was smoking something. This is a mess of circles, not a bird. What gives? Take another look and all will become clear.


Here’s one final look that makes it really easy to see how that mess of circles actually defines the shape of the bird.


As you can clearly see, the new Twitter logo is based heavily on perfect circles. But wait, is this a parlor trick or something intentional? Could you do this same thing to any logo with lots of curves? Lets test this on the previous bird.


The answer: yes and no. In some ways, the previous bird also used portions of circular arcs to define the geometry, but when you really get in close, there are plenty of curves that simply don’t match up and are instead somewhat irregular. It’s important to note that every part of the new logo can be defined using one of two circles (one small, one large).

Other Circle Centric Logos

Twitter is definitely not alone in their attempt to bring beauty and simplicity to their logo through the use of circles. The first time I personally saw this type of logic being used to define a logo was in the somewhat nonsensical launch deck for the new Pepsi logo:


As you can see, the logo at the top is largely defined by ovals (this works with other shapes too!) while the newer logo near the bottom clearly uses circles in a similar manner to what Twitter has done.

By far, the most popular use of this type of logo design has to be the Apple logo. The mockup below from banskt.com might just change the way you see this logo forever.


Others have noted that this is not an isolated incident in the world of Apple. The iCloud logo uses similar conventions.


The Golden Ratio

More than simply being circular, the logos above share another interesting trait: they all heavily use the concept of the golden ratio. Does the new Twitter logo follow suit?


As far as I can tell… almost. The proportions of the smaller circle seem a tad too small to precisely align with the golden ratio (particularly noticeable on the head) but it’s close enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some intentionality present there on the part of the designer.

What Does It Mean!?

Now that we’re extremely familiar with the proportions and geometry behind these popular logos, an extremely important question arises: why? Why does the new Twitter logo conform so strictly to perfect circle geometry and why are many logos of this kind so bound to the golden ratio?

Upon seeing this kind of thought being put into logos, countless designers immediately become intimidated. Did you miss something in your design education? Are you a bad designer if you don’t follow this strategy when building a logo? Fortunately, for the most part, the answer is “no.”

“There’s really nothing more to it than that, despite what you might hear from hippie designers who think absolute perfection is as easy as using a magic formula.”


The real reason behind these ideas isn’t anything complex and mysterious, the simple truth is that using this method canresulted in a well balanced, consistent piece of artwork. There’s really nothing more to it than that, despite what you might hear from hippie designers who think absolute perfection is as easy as using a magic formula.

If Twitter had randomly drawn the curves by hand for the bird, the degree of curvature might be inconsistent from line to line. Using two circles as the primary guides however, the entire logo has a sort of clean, simple look that makes it works great as a brand icon.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that when you’re perfecting a logo design, you should always be thinking about proportions and to some degree, mathematical relationships. Make sure the spacing is consistent and logical and that both your curves and angles are consistent in the places where they should be and intentionally different everywhere else.

Popular logo designer Graham Smith recommends using “guides, grids and pretty circles” not as a starting point in your design process but as a way to add that finishing touch that really completes the project nicely and showcases things like how to use the space around the logo.

Though there are exceptions where you might start with these tools, I’m inclined to agree. This strategy is meant to be a tool to help refine your work, not inhibit your creativity. When you’re sketching logo concepts, don’t sweat it if you draw a line that won’t conform to a perfect circle.


56 pixels

Anand is a web designer and developer with a passion for interaction design. He is the founder of 56 Pixels, who has got more than 5 years of experience in the field of print and web.

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