Part 3: Researching How Logos Change Over Time

Research point 1

Identify examples of well-established organisations, companies or other groups whose logos have evolved over time. Alternatively, pick examples of historic logos and compare them with contemporary ones. What do these changes tell us about shifts in approaches to logo design? For example, can you pick out particular historical or contemporary trends? Try and choose a range of examples that draw on traditions of logotypes, emblems, insignia, or use mascots. Plot the development of these logos, describing how their form has changed over time. Document your examples and reflect on your findings in your learning log.”

What a perfect excuse to buy a book. Here it is:

Armed with a selection of 100 logos to choose from, it is difficult not to waffle on about all of them – but I promise I won’t!

Actually, some logos have remained largely unchanged – I think it would be difficult to date these versions at first glance, as they all retain a traditional feel.

BMW have slightly altered the typography and the shade of blue, but its very subtle.

A bit more variation here, though the essential elements appear quite early on – sometimes reversed out, which i think has more impact.

As I looked through the pages, it was interesting to spot the moment from which I can remember a company, and some logos stick in my mind so much that I have trouble remembering more recent versions. For example, the german sportswear company Adidas. The ‘3 petals’ design ran for 20 years, ending in 1990 – this is the one I still picture in my mind!

I’d previously chuckled when I heard Philip Knight’s first response to the original Nike logo was ‘I don’t love it but it will grow on me’…But, its a bit crap isn’t it?! The typeface is plonked on top, and doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with the gorgeous swoosh tick.  Pretty much caught on after that though eh…..

I had no idea the earliest Apple logo was so retro! It was replaced by the iconic apple within a year, and typography was dropped by 1984 as it was already recognisable by the image alone.

Its only fair to mention Paul Rand (thanks also to this book)

Although the UPS logo has now been redesigned, his version still looks crisp to me. Perhaps they could have just updated the typeface a little rather than a full redesign?

As with many of the logos I was surprised to see how unrecognisable some of the early versions are as you can see with IBM. While being interviewed, Paul Rand put forward the interesting and very modest point that sometimes logos ‘become’ representative of the company because of size of the business. He reckoned that it was just chance that the stripes came to be associated with a computer screen because its IBM, not that they are inherently a short hand for computing! 

Many of these examples seem to be crafted according to the prevailing fashion, which is more apparent in the older companies. IBM began life in 1888 as the International Time Recording Company. You can see that the early logos are monograms (following the name changes that took place) and influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco styling.

I didn’t now that the McDonalds previously had a little mascot in the logo (though obviously Ronald Mcdonald persisted for who knows how long in their adverts)

Best mascot? Michelin Man! Starting in the 1880s, the early advertising looks typically Victorian in style, then in 1914, the little chap starts capering all over the letters!

I think he’s here to stay!

I love the starbucks logo – its the style of illustration, and also the originality of researching a two tailed siren from a 16th century woodcut. As with McDonalds, Starbucks is now so huge it doesn’t need to write the name.

You can see that the fashionable typography of the day has often driven change

Most of all perhaps with Barbie – heavy drop shadow for the 70s, followed by further variations, and 50 years after the company launched, they returned to the original typeface.

Conclusion: You can see that the logos often start life as more intricate, and become simplified and refined down over time. Even the ‘mascots’ such as the Starbucks Siren and the Michelin Man become simplified – sometimes appearing in ‘close up’ rather than full body. Adidas for example becomes simply 3 horizontal lines.

Perhaps the typography dates logos most of all, and it shows the pitfalls of closely following fashion – these are the word marks that need updating over time. Interestingly a simple crisp image has a longer shelf life such as the nike tick, and the apple logo.

Research point 2

Return to the logos you chose in the previous research task and try and summarise what you think the logos are communicating. Are there any differences between the contemporary examples and their previous versions?

I think every company wants to communicate their strengths and customer appeal. What these are will depend on the industry. Fast food will be tasty and convienant. Tyres reliability and so on.

However over time advertising has become more sophisticated. Quality, reliability and trust have always been important, but the emphasis gradually shifted, by wanting to say  ‘We are friendly’, ‘We are fun’, or ‘We are Modern’.  More recent values are ‘We care about the environment’ or ‘We have an interesting back story’ has emerged. For example Mast chocolate. Beautiful packaging, elegant typeface, elaborate back story of travel and master chocolatiers.

These companies each have long histories…

With Pathe, you can see a move towards a more informal style, which perhaps reflects our culture as a whole. Who knew Nokia was this old? Again, the earliest version is a detailed illustration which now looks dated.

However, some fashions go full circle, and ‘vintage style’ logos and hand rendered typography are popular now, for example with food labelling that seeks to convey a return to traditional wholesome food production.

Also in other areas such as clothing – as you can see from the date, this is 2004.

Its hard to stand outside fashion – and depending on the type of company, perhaps its unwise to even try!



Logo Life Life Histories of 100 Famous Logos by Ron van der Vlugt

Graphic Design History by Stephen J Eskilson


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s