Shedding The Old: The Houston Zoo Rebrand Explored



Read Time

5 min


23 March, 2022

Can a leopard change its spots?

They can if the leopard you’re referring to is the Houston Zoo who went through an extensive rebrand just last year.

The Houston Zoo has been around for quite some time. Its goal is to inspire action to save wildlife, providing a home to over 6,000 permanent residents.

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They provide animals with the care and support they need, and are visited by millions of people each and every year. According to the Houston Zoo, they’re the second most-visited zoo in America, and “the most-attended cultural attraction in the region.”

The zoo rebranded in April of last year, only we haven’t had a chance to review its updated look yet.

Until today.

There’s a lot to like about this rebrand. The logo, for example, when used in the right way is very well done. There is one area that lets it down, unfortunately.

What lets it down exactly?

Read on and find out.

Houston Zoo logo with giraffes in the background
Credit to Under Consideration

Can You See The Z?

Let’s start with the logo before moving onto the type.

The logo on its own against a white background doesn’t scream zoo like you might expect, especially when you compare it to what was in place before.

Sure, there’s a Z shape in there, but it did take me a few minutes to find it. I initially thought it was two boomerangs facing each other in different shades of green. It wasn’t until I saw the image we’ve included above that it clicked.

I quite like how the negative space in the top looks a little like the head of a bird, and the bottom resembles a tail. One that could belong to any creature in the animal kingdom.

The Z theme carries over from the old logo. A logo with a lot more character to it in comparison to this one. In the old logo, multiple slash marks were used to carve out the letter, and the edges had somewhat of a leaf effect going on.

While cool to look at, the slash marks were maybe a bit too wild for the sort of message the zoo is now trying to capture.

Principle, the agency that worked on this rebrand, provided some rationale for the logo which only adds to its appeal, stating:

“The new logo reflects the meaningful balance in the Zoo’s tagline, See them. Save them. The duality of the shape represents the human element so critical in saving wildlife—the coming together of two hands—and the continued connection, conversation, and collaboration needed to succeed in protecting the home we all live in.”

Credit to Under Consideration

The Wordmark Could be Better

What lets this rebrand down is the wordmark, in my opinion.

I get that zoos are heading in more of a conservancy direction, but the type here seems far too serious for a zoo. Especially in the colour black.

It’s strange, in white it doesn’t look nearly as serious or as corporate. This is more than likely something to do with how this wordmark sits with the green shape.

The black being so potent almost takes too much away from what’s going on to the left of it.

The type in the same dark green colour as the top left shape doesn’t look too bad either when used on things like zoo maps and tote bags.

All in all, it’s an okay type, we just felt like it could have been a lot better. You can still be serious and playful at the same time. The San Diego Zoo (another zoo that recently rebranded) proved that with its updated type.

Credit to Under Consideration

Chameleon-Like Application

Together, the logo and wordmark sit very well on a range of print marketing materials. Both stand out exceptionally well on brochures (when the type is in that lighter colour).

It also looks pretty decent on a commemorative coin.

“By way of thoughtful typography, colour, and fabrication techniques, the new identity can push, pull, and pivot across the Zoo’s myriad audiences and applications—from vibrant and playful to understated and polished—and spark conversation around what a contemporary zoo can do.”
— Principle

Seeing it in context — as in seeing it accompanied by pictures of animals — does help the updated logo a lot.

It provides some much needed context.

Easily the best application of the bunch is the ties and scarfs sporting the updated branding.

We’re not sure if it’s part of the company uniform, but we’d happily buy one of each if they’re for sale.

Shedding The Old: The Houston Zoo Rebrand Explored

There are some who hated this update when it was unveiled. Probably due to how different it is to what people are accustom to when they see zoos.

Like it or not, zoos everywhere are changing, and changing for the better.

These days, zoos are more about elevating and highlighting the mission. It’s about protecting animals from the outside world and from captivity. How entertaining they are to look at comes second.

To reflect this cultural shift, brands must shed the old and flaunt the new. Which the Houston Zoo has done a pretty good job of with help from Principle (even if we feel like the type could be better).

Do you like the updated look of the Houston Zoo, or could you not give a monkeys?

Let us know via the social media platform of your choosing.

Hey, I'm Will, a Brand Designer here at Canny. I work as part of the design team helping to build amazing brands and websites.

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