The Redesign That Never Soared: WHSmith's Controversial Rebranding

In the ever-evolving world of design, rebranding is a delicate dance that requires finesse and a keen understanding of both the brand's essence and the audience it serves. However, not every leap onto the rebranding stage is met with applause. A recent example of this is the controversial rebranding attempt by WHSmith, a move that left many scratching their heads and questioning the company's design choices.

The Unveiling:

WHSmith, a venerable presence in the retail landscape, attempted to reinvent itself through a rebranding initiative that was unveiled with much anticipation. However, the response was far from what the company might have expected. The public and design enthusiasts alike were quick to voice their concerns and criticisms about the new visual identity.

Similarity to the NHS Logo:

One glaring issue that stirred up quite a storm was the uncanny resemblance of WHSmith's new logo to that of the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The distinctive use of a blue and white colour palette, combined with a swoosh-like graphic element, led to immediate comparisons between the two logos. This unintended association raised eyebrows and fueled discussions about the potential confusion it could cause among consumers.


An article by The Drum shed light on WHSmith's response to the backlash. The company, recognising the controversy, announced that there were no plans to roll out the rebrand across all its stores. This strategic backtrack hinted at a failure to gauge the public's reaction and highlighted the importance of thorough market research and testing before implementing a widespread rebranding effort.

The Significance of Brand Differentiation:

One of the fundamental principles of successful branding is to stand out in the crowded marketplace. Unfortunately, WHSmith's attempt to revamp its image seemed to have backfired, as the design drew unintended parallels to a completely different sector, raising questions about the thoroughness of the design process and the lack of distinctiveness.

The Importance of Public Perception:

Design is not just about aesthetics; it's about conveying a message and building a connection with the audience. WHSmith's rebranding misstep demonstrated the impact of public perception on a brand's image. In an era where consumers are more visually literate than ever, a brand's identity should resonate positively, avoiding any unintended associations that may dilute its essence.

WHSmith's recent rebranding misadventure serves as a cautionary tale for businesses venturing into the tricky terrain of visual identity transformation. The episode highlights the need for meticulous planning, thorough market research, and a deep understanding of a brand's unique identity. Design decisions should not only align with the essence of the brand but also steer clear of unintentional associations that can overshadow the intended message. In the case of WHSmith, the rebranding failure underscores the delicate balance that designers and businesses must strike in the pursuit of visual rejuvenation.