Amazon’s New Icon Holds Us to a Promise We Never Made

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Amazon changed its logo from a dot-com era shopping cart to its signature brown shipping box sealed with blue tape. The image, while clean, minimalistic and innocent, still represents a shipping box — the physical manifestation of our weakening resolve to address single-use, one-way packaging. If an icon update is meant to represent a brand’s evolution, I’m not comfortable with where Amazon is going.

Like millions of subscribers who found themselves unprepared for an unrelenting lockdown, I increasingly relied on Amazon throughout the pandemic. This is a first world privilege of course - one that started as a convenience and slowly morphed into indulgence, bordering on addiction. Through Prime membership, 1-click payments, and subscriptions, Amazon deftly decoupled the pain of payment from the indulgence of receiving; and we have been hooked ever since. Safety measures and lockdowns brought on by the pandemic gave us an excuse to treat our addiction like a civic responsibility. The packages kept coming.

There is something about the digital cloud that makes it feel clean, and free of harmful emissions or noise. Maybe it’s because we can’t imagine that a few excited electrons could do any harm. However, it is also true that every time a brown box arrives at my doorstep, it chips away at my moral high ground. As Amazon shrinks the shipping timelines, the frequency of deliveries keeps increasing — establishing an inverse relationship between the two that reveals an uncomfortable truth about our environmental sensibilities.

I find it amusing that Amazon, which pioneered the concept of a store in the cloud, is actually using a physical end-product as its app icon. When it comes to storytelling, brands strive to communicate the emotions they deliver to the customer. For example, Apple delivers innovation and creativity. Tesla delivers the sci-fi future from our childhoods. Disney delivers magic. Is Amazon in the business of delivering smiles or delivering boxes?

Package waste is a big problem looking for a solution. Jet co-founder Nate Faust recently announced Olive, his new startup, which consolidates a shopper’s purchases into a single weekly delivery in a reusable package.

Every time I click on the new Amazon icon, I end up flicking my finger. It’s the natural reflex my fingers developed over the past year due to frequent hand-washing especially after touching incoming mail. If an icon can garner such a response, it just shows the extent to which our digital and physical worlds are becoming fluid.

After they do arrive and are emptied out, the packages stare at me and I can’t help but look away from their utility-less selves. Over time, as they get hauled away by the Recycling truck, I fear deep inside that whole routine is just an exercise in deferring recycling guilt. I now know the packages died and got reincarnated in the form of this new Amazon icon that will haunt me for a long time.

The truth is that the onus of recycling is on us — the customers. With its new icon, Amazon makes it official.

What’s next? If icons are meant to represent the truth of what a brand can deliver, then they should change Robinhood’s icon to represent the anxiety it delivers especially after Elon Musk starts tweeting.

Sure I’ll get used to the new Amazon icon, just like I got used to Crocs, UGGs, and the new Oatly commercial. And life will go on. The other day I noticed a crisp package lingering in the hallway. “You look just like the icon,” I mused. “You must have leaped right out of my phone.” Amazon does deliver magic after all.

I write about the psychological, emotional, and cultural factors that affect our decisions. Engineer | Brand Strategist | Curious

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