The History of the Logo

The beginning of logo design

We all know that a logo has the potential to be a very powerful asset for a brand. In fact, many companies are identified by their logo faster than they are by their name. Logos are all around us and well-known ones are easily recognizable by almost every consumer. But where did the logo originate? And how has it evolved over time?

Origins

The origins of the logo can be dated back to the Ancient Egyptians. They originally used hieroglyphics to brand and identify their possessions, until in medieval times when graphic imagery such as coats of arms were used to distinguish between the statuses of different nobilities.

Modern Logos

The current era of logo design began in the 1870s with the first abstract logo, the Bass red triangle. Thanks to the introduction of color printing and the advertising industry, logos became essential for brands if they wanted to be memorable to potential customers.

Source: barclayperkins

The Chase Logo (below), which was crafted in 1960 by Chermayeff & Geismar, paved the way for modern logo design. The successful logos we have today predominantly consist of simple and easily recognizable logo marks that are effective in remaining consistent with their corresponding brands.

Source: fastcodesign

Paul Rand

The most notable designer of modern logos is Paul Rand, who designed logos for IBM, ABC, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse, and UPS, among many others.

Louis Danziger, a prominent late modern graphic designer, described him as the designer who “almost singlehandedly convinced business that design was an effective tool [...] Anyone designing in the 1950s and 1960s owed much to Rand, who largely made it possible for us to work. He more than anyone else made the profession reputable. We went from being commercial artists to being graphic designers largely on his merits.”

Logo design today

Logos today are very different to the logos from thousands of years ago. With the gradual changes in cultures, trends, and consumer behaviors, logos have had to adapt over time.

Logo evolution

Technological advancements are also causing the role of logos in our culture to evolve. We can see how logo design has changed in its shift from complexity to simplicity, reflected in the visual overload we have experienced as a result of our increasingly complex lifestyles.

I recently spoke with Simon Charwey, an expert in logo design, and asked him if he also believes the role of logos are changing:
“Logos for brands will continue to evolve as customers’ buying decisions continue to evolve. It's true that a logo doesn't sell (directly); however, the worst it can do is sell a brand short.”

But with the abundance of logos out there today, has the industry reached saturation point in its creative capacity? Charwey doesn’t believe this to be so:
“It's important to see this 'challenge' and work on coming up with novel ways of designing logos that encourage uniqueness and less repetition.”

The goal of designing an authentic logo for a brand should be to create a unique and simple logo mark that is both distinguishable and easily recognizable. Today, a decent logo is flexible in both its design and application and can ideally stand alone. The simpler the logo, the more easily recognizable it is in the modern world.

Source: mactrast

Take the Apple logo as an example: it didn’t start out as the simple and distinctive logo we have today. This is because the design of the rainbow Apple logo was flexible enough that it could be altered to complement whatever trend was contemporary at any given time. It also doesn’t need to be accompanied by the name “Apple”, allowing it to stand on its own. As Paul Rand states: “a logo cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.”

The meaning behind logos

So what is the meaning behind a unique logo? Simon Charwey told me his views: “Creating a unique logo is not really the challenge now, it's putting it into use on real-world items [...] to tell stories that resonate with customers.” A logo has meaning because it embodies the essence of a brand, and as long as the logo resonates with consumers, so will its meaning.

The Visual Age

As we are living in the Visual Age, images and video are becoming more and more important to consumers. This could be down to a number of factors, such as increasingly busy lifestyles or a change in social media content consumption. If “a picture paints a thousand words”, we can see how a logo holds its meaning. An image of a logo can say a lot more than the actual words of a brand’s name because of how quickly visuals resonate with consumers in the modern world.

Logo vs Brand

While the purpose of a logo is to communicate, the purpose of a brand is to identify. A logo might just be a symbol of what it represents, but it also adds meaning to a brand as it symbolizes that brand’s values.

Taking the Apple logo as an example again: we would have no emotional reaction to it if we saw it prior to the company’s existence. So today, while a logo might hold more power than the name of the brand it represents, it is still first and foremost a visual representation or symbol of that brand’s identity.
“A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.” - Paul Rand

The Future of Logos

Knowing all of this, can we now determine how logos will continue to evolve further? With the recent introduction of image recognition technology and logo detection, some may think logos must be able to adapt to make them detectable. However, with the best quality technology, it shouldn’t matter how distinctive a logo’s design is.

In other words, a logo such as the Nike swoosh is a very simple logo with no distinctive characteristics about its design. This might be difficult for some logo detection technologies to recognize. However, if the quality of it is powerful enough, it should encounter no problems.
Read Simon Charwey’s article here to see his views.