A History of Logo Design


A properly designed visual identity can set the expectation for an audience for the potential experience of a product or service. It’s not that you need to optimize every facet of the experience. It’s not that you need to spend a small fortune on design. It’s that the little things are big when it comes to building a visual identity, and a company should take the time to get the details of its visual identity right.

First impressions are vital, and for the deisgn of logos the eyes are the first participants — making snap judgments about whether something appeals or not, and relaying that to the brain, right or wrong. In many cases this snap judgment is all that a logo will ever receive. Intentionally directing the style of the logo in a way that helps to impart its meaning and its purpose in the company, also helps to give the logo the best chance to make the right first impression.

The truth is you have a very hard time separating the company from the logo. This is something we talk about all the time, we say everybody loves Apple, everybody loves Nike, and they love their logos. What’s a Nike swoosh with out Nike though: a check mark. It doesn’t mean anything inherently; it’s dynamic. That’s its one thing; it has one thing about it and they have then, through a lot of advertising and many many years, made it into a very recognized and very good logo. But, for example, nobody is going to say that Enron is a good logo. It is a great logo to a designer, it was designed by Paul Rand, but the rest of the world may say it’s a terrible logo because of the company. They have a hard time separating the two.Mackey Saturday, CGH

Informed use of positive and negative spaces in the shapes that make up a logo give it a visual resonance that may represent its company aesthetically as something that people want to buy into, to associate themselves with. Getting the tone right is not about technical features, it’s about the distinct feel of a product or service and the type of person who would be attracted to it.

A Great Logo Stands Out

It’s a first impression, a reflection of investment in a company and its ideology. Before anyone comes to better know a company, a logo can catch their eye and capture their imagination. For example, picture your logo in a lineup of like-minded companies that have sponsored a portion of the same event, and in return each dime-sized logo is honored on the event program. Question is: would your logo draw the reaction you want in the same situation.

NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration, 1986

The work of Chermayeff & Geismar, now Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, is a masterclass in branding. They redesigned the NBC peacock logo to its current, flat-look with the “forward-thinking” beak silhouetted against vibrant, simplified colors that at the time represented NBC’s six divisions. There are two important takeaways from the NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration, in 1986, when Johnny Carson and company stood by the logo, literally, during its presentation. First, simply, the value in showcasing your logo. Second, the abstract peacock was designed for its richness in color in a time when television had just escaped a black-and-white world; the NBC peacock logo has endured.

Logos are funny things. At first, they are just designs on paper. Eventually, they come to embody all the qualities of the organization they represent, and most people cannot separate the design from their full range of opinions about the organization. The hard task the designer faces is trying to help the client see how the logo might eventually be perceived, how it will work for them, not just whether they like it.Tom Geismar, CGH

A Great Logo Stands for Something

Logos and trademarks serve to assure our very visual society of the consistency and quality of products or services. When we see or hear well-established brand names, one of the first things that we think of is their logo, soon followed by our respective associated emotions and perceptions. Unlike other marketing tools, there is nothing that can better summarize a company, than a logo.

It’s a little late to be breaking news on the Landor Associates redesign for the City of Melbourne, from 2009, however it’s a personal favorite and a great example of design that offers insight into “range within consistency.” Landor also have a brilliant tagline that speaks for itself: “Landor creates agile brands — brands that stand out and stand for something while never standing still.” Sound familiar?

Credit the City of Melbourne Council for engaging Landor to develop “a new identity for a new era,” with interest in international representation of their preeminent Australian center for arts, education and culture. The bold ‘M’ is, “immediately recognizable and as multifaceted as the city itself.” The design represents Melbourne as a united entity while allowing a range of sub-organizations to celebrate a distinct interpretation. The logo is both iconic and future-proof, and serves to connect all projects and programs back to the City of Melbourne.

A Great Logo Stands to Reason

Why do so many great logos come from so few big industries? The logo of Exxon, Mobil and BP (designed by Raymond Loewy, Chermayeff & Geismar, and Landor respectively) are just part of just a few of many strong visual identities in the big oil industry. An annecdote: part of the red ‘o’ was to emphasize the way the word should be pronounced. People would say: “Mobile.” Also Mobil was not the name of the company before Chermayeff & Geismar famously developed its complete corporate identification program. First it was Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., then Socony Oil Co., then Socony Mobil Co., it didn’t become Mobil until after the CGH rebrand. But one of the main concepts of this program integrated the visual identity in the look of the station itself, which was to include a motif of circles: the pumps and other dispensary equipment would be round, and the ‘o’ very much fit into that. More importantly, the company recognized that service stations everywhere had become horrendous looking things, and if they could have a much more presentable, attractive station they would be able to go into suburban communities zoning boards and win the right to have a Mobil station there as opposed to one of their competition. As far as design goes, Mobil was ahead of its time. It’s plain to see in today’s climate that oil companies have to be a step ahead.

A Great Logo Stands the Test of Time

A logo is a starting point, not a company. It’s a vessel in which the different elements that bring the visual identity to life are created and evolve. Trends and campaigns come and go, the tone of a company may change over time, but a logo endures; nothing else in the marketing toolbox has that kind of staying power; nothing can replace a well-designed logo. They say, either you’re branding for the long-term or you’re building a brand to be bought.

Above is the evolution of the WWF logo, first designed by Sir Peter Scott from preliminary sketches made by Gerald Watterson. It’s an example of a great logo that has been refined over time to become more clear in its meaning and more meaningful through its exposure. A visual identity is everything in branding, and the core of that being the logo, and the assets that go with that, but it really does start and revolve around the logo; a great company deserves a great logo.

The success of a brand depends on consistency and exposure. […] A great logo can be the seed of a great brand, initiating the growth of a living organism. When it’s nourished and honoured, it can establish corporate colours, typefaces and a corporate personality.John Langdon

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