This week, after 30 days of worthlessness, Yahoo! finally unveiled its new logo:
Personally, I don’t care much for it. Sure, it’s a bit edgier than the old logo, but I was expecting something more bold and dramatic. In a piece titled “Why We Can’t Help Ourselves from Caring About Things That Don’t Matter,” Rebecca Greenfield points out the so-called Bikeshed effect, which I hadn’t heard of before.
Maybe the new Yahoo design is “dull, uninspiring and limp,” as one critic put it, but does it mean anything? No. But everyone gets all worked up because they have the facilities to do so in a somewhat astute (sounding) manner — a phenomenon known as the “Bikeshed Effect.”
The Bikeshed Effect, more formally known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality derived from the humor book Parkinson’s Law, is “the principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic,” as explained in Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The most classic and titular example is that people care more about the color of a bike shed than the decision to build a nuclear plant because they know about colors and don’t know about nuclear power.
“Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?” asks the Bikeshed.com website. The answer, from developer Poul-Henning Kamp, who created the site:
The really, really short answer is that you should not. The somewhat longer answer is that just because you are capable of building a bikeshed does not mean you should stop others from building one just because you do not like the color they plan to paint it. This is a metaphor indicating that you need not argue about every little feature just because you know enough to do so. Some people have commented that the amount of noise generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change
Weighing the pros and cons of building something controversial and dangerous like a nuclear plant takes actual knowledge, having an opinion on the color of a building — or of a new Yahoo logo — is something everyone can do with roughly the same amount of expertise.
Further reading: Marissa Mayers, CEO of Yahoo!, geeks out on the new logo.