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History of the Logo

Having a logo is a powerful way to ensure brand recognition and is essential for many businesses, large and small. A simple definition of “a logo” is “a symbol, or simple graphic, that identifies a business or organisation”. Children as young as three years old have been shown to not only recognise the golden arches but know it refers to their favourite meal, while adults see the little blue bird on the bottom of this very page and know which social media site it will lead to.

A well-designed logo is instantly recognisable as a representation of a business and can be an integral part of developing a brand identity. Its colours and design tell a story about the business behind the image, using visual language techniques. When a company updates their logo, it becomes a powerful indicator of their brand rejuvenation. To fully appreciate how a professionally designed logo can have a powerful impact on the marketing of your business, it can be helpful to look back at the history of logos - from the first representative images for businesses, all the way to the internet-conscious logos of today.

While one might argue that an Egyptian hieroglyphic for a family or a coat of arms might be the first representative images for businesses, the best example of what we consider a modern logo came from breweries in 1389, when King Richard passed a law that required them to provide a sign on their taverns indicating what ale was being sold. Logos of bears, dragons and roosters popped up around the countryside of England. Handmade, one image of a green dragon would often not look anything like another, but the colour and drawing were enough to tell illiterate customers what they were drinking.

The First Modern Logo and The Importance of Tradition in Brand Identity

The oldest logo that is still being used today is that of Twining’s which first appeared in 1887. The recognisable Lion Crest that sat above the title of the tea company on advertising, packaging and documents was a celebration of its English heritage. For Twinings, its history (including the fact that it still runs out of the same property it owned in 1706) is a major part of its brand and so the use of that one logo is important. When a brand is based on the trust gained from longevity and a tradition born of generations of use, keeping the same logo reminds the market that, for Twining’s, change isn’t required.

When developing brand guidelines, it is important to consider the role of tradition and experience and how that may influence how the market perceives your organisation.

Nike and the Hidden Meaning behind Classic Logo Designs

The middle of the 20th Century in America is sometimes considered “the golden age of advertising”, and many of the logos of today were originally devised during that time. One of the most recognisable logos to come out of this exciting period was Nike’s “Swoosh”. The design, sometimes described as “a tick of approval for the brand”, can now be seen on shoes and clothing around the world.

Originally designed for a low $35 (about $500 by today’s standard), it first appeared on Nike products in 1972. According to its creator, Carolyn Davidson, the design was inspired by two different sources: the athletic running track, with its connotations of speed and athleticism, and the wings of the Greek goddess after whom the company was named. These forms of dual-connotations have often produced the most popular logo designs, from Pinterest, with the “P” taking the outline of a pin, to “F1 Racing” in which the “F” and “1” appear between the red and white flags so integral to the sport. These works of creative genius hold our attention and prove how the graphic design of high-quality logos is the domain of true professionals.

When designing your logo, professional graphic designers not only look for ways to identify your company but also tell a story about what business your company is in.

Apple and Reflecting Innovation through Graphic Design

Of the recognisable logos today, none would be seen as often as that of Apple. The outline of a piece of fruit with a bite out of it has had many iterations and was not even in the first logo. The original logo for the computer company was closer to an advertising picture, and focused on the history of the name, coming from the apocryphal story of Newton’s “discovery” of gravity when an apple fell from a tree. The first “bitten fruit” design occurred in 1977, thanks to Rob Janoff at the prestigious firm of Regis McKenna. It contained colourful rainbow stripes and a bold contemporary font to highlight the modernity of the company. This brand narrative of being at the forefront of technology can only best be portrayed by constant updates, however, and Apple has had many iterations. Over time, its colours became more metallic to reflect the polished design of its products and reflecting the high-quality graphical rendering capable with modern technology. By updating the known symbol through changing colours and mild tweaks to design mean that the logo is both instantly recognisable and new at the same time.

When rebranding, one doesn’t have to start from scratch. Often, the last thing you want is for the market to forget your history of success. Instead, you want to be able to show how your original strengths have been supplemented with new innovations. At Curnow Design, discussions about rebranding including looking at previous ways the company or organisation had been known by the public and how important it is for the market to recognise both the history behind the name and the recent innovations that have improved the business.

Slack and Logos for the Internet Age

A new step in logos is best represented by the business communication company Slack. The logo is colourful, with colours representing trust and optimism and clearly representing a group of people and the speech bubbles as they communicate together in a group. These representations speak more to modern consumers who recognise “speech bubbles” from internet communication in the last three decades, while together they form a clean design. This, however, is nothing compared to the ground-breaking next step that Slack took with their logo - they animated it.

The current logo starts with the four “people” symbols arranged to look like a hashtag (another symbol well-known in internet communication, especially when used on platforms like Twitter). They then move into the static logo of Slack, telling a visual story of how the app can help a group go from “crossed purposes” to “collaborative working”. The brand of the company is undeniable, as is the purpose of its product. While the moving image is eye-drawing and perfect for online use, the static endpoint is just as appealing in its symmetry and colour.

The history of the logo is a relatively short one, but each new step along the way can teach us about the power of graphic design and how it can be used to tell the story of a brand through hidden meanings, appeals to innovation or tradition and presenting the personality of a brand through unique styles.

If you are interested in how Curnow Design can help you with your brand, including the creation of logos, contact Kirsty today.



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