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  • iRH Designs

The History of LOGOs

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

Logos and branding are so important. In a big part of the world, people (who) cannot read French or English, but are great in remembering signs. - Karl Largerfeld


Logos have been around in one form or another for several thousand years and can be traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians who branded their domestic animals with hieroglyphs to mark ownership, the ancient Romans and Greeks who marked their pottery to identify the manufacturer, and faiths all over the world who adopted symbols for ease of recognition. During the 12th century and onwards, even through medieval times, heraldic designs (coats of arms) were used to identify the status and property of the nobility, while the 20th century and the introduction of colour printing gave birth to a more sophisticated advertising option. Logos started to use a vocabulary of national, nautical, heraldic, and agricultural images and symbols, that the public readily understood the meaning of. National and heraldic symbols such as crowns, flags and coats of arms meant dignity and status, while nautical, natural and agricultural symbols of seascapes, life buoys, birds, wheat stalks and farm animals represented purity and freshness.

As lifestyles gradually became more complex, particularly in the last 100 years, the design of logos has become simpler for ease and speed of recognition in a faster world, and in some cases have adapted to avoid any loss in translation in an international market. Logos, as we see today are intelligent graphic images carefully designed to impart their concepts, both consciously and sub-consciously, for immediate recognition by a specific target audience. Although this formula is often thought of as a modern phenomenon, as stated, humans have been identifying and differentiating themselves using emblems and signature marks for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Logo history and analysis of some of the most iconic logos, is useful to us, allowing us to see what informs us now. Logos, no matter how organic they may feel to us, are steeped in the meaning of our culture and past. Some such history, despite deep roots or traditional methods, remain open to interpretation and continue to unfold before our eyes. Humans are able to represent themselves and things that matter to them symbolically, which results in a generation of countless additional innovative iterations, shared in our culture and history, giving us an opportunity to create new symbols and signs.

The oldest logo - Stella Artois

Stella Artois’ logo is the oldest in the world, and has been used since 1366. At this point in history the beer was known as Brouwerij Artois, and renamed to Stella Artois in 1708. While an emblem mark logo, it represents the beer’s origin of the city of Den Hoorn in Belgium (Dutch for “the horn”), while its emblem frame is a representation of the “Flemish” architecture of its original city and home.

The second oldest logo - Twinings Tea

Twinings Tea is the second oldest logo, over 230 years old. The lion crest logo (emblem mark) has remained the symbol of the family run company, passed down 10 generations and still occupies its same location in London’s strand, distributing tea to more than 100 countries worldwide.

The History and Changing Faces (Evolution) of Some of the World's Most Recognised Logos

Apple’s legacy lies in its innovative products and is its market (technology) has changed over the years, so has its corporate image. Designed by Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne in 1976, Apple’s first logo concept, an emblem type logo, featured renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. Although, Jobs wasn’t convinced and commissioned Rob Janoff in 1977 to re-design the logo with a focus on the apple itself more. Janoff created a rainbow apple accompanied by a bold and modern font, commemorating both the discoveries of gravity (the apple) and the separation of light (the colours) done by Newton and possibly to tribute the 'fruit of the Tree of Knowledge' in Adam and Eve's story. But why an apple? Well, at the time, Jobs was a frugivore (someone who subsists totally or primarily on fruit) and lived off apples, particularly the variety “Macintosh”. In 1984, the logo eliminated the wordmark part in favour of the rainbow apple icon, then again in 1998 by a stark look, and more recently, more polished 3D versions. 

Most of us will recognise this logo as one of the most iconic opening credit logos. It depicts Cinderella’s castle, first used in 1985 and remained untouched since the release of Disney’s 1995 film Toy Story (the union of Pixar and Disney), which turned the castle into a computer animated version to match the style of the film. Since then, the same alteration is made to reflect the context and style of each film they produce, Pirates of the Caribbeanuses a 3D version of Cinderella’s castle, 2017’s Beauty and the Beastusing a gothic style, Incredibles 2a red version and Tron, a metallic, futuristic look. Every man, woman, and child can spot that castle and the arced shooting star a mile away and know exactly by whom the movie was made, and the quality of the film they’re about to watch (Disney never skimps), and even the sweeping instrumental version of “When You Wish Upon A Star” music clues its audience the same, even if they are not yet facing the screen.

Moreover, Disney’s text logo is based on founder Walt Disney’s signature or writing style, a swirl over the “I”.

Having mentioned this logo in a previous article, we are repeating it here as its worth repeating.

After John S Pemberton finalised the formula for his new drink in 1886, his partner, Frank M Robinson, suggests the name Coca-Cola, believing that “the two Cs would look well in advertising”, using a script typeface, first manipulating the C with a fishtail, eventually moving to a white wave or ribbon. The Coca Cola Company has earned the distinctive privilege of owning probably the world's most widely recognized brand. Visual treatment was also adapted by the placement of the logo inside a red circle, with a portrait of the now iconic coke bottle behind it, a pop-art style concept reflecting a 1950s style diner. It’s tagline of “enjoy” started to appear above the product name from 1969. The 1980s saw the rise of popular rival Pepsi, so in retaliation, Coca Cola snubbed its script logo in favour of a thick slab serif font to accompany their rebrand as “Coke”. Such a move was a total flop and customers, many of them boycotted the brand until the company restored the classic Coca Cola formula they had grown to love over the years. Listening to their customers, the company brought back the formula and logo that had been invented exactly one century earlier, adding the word “classic”. Throwing back to its 1950s design, Coca Cola brought back the circular logo with the bottle in it in 1993, with the addition of "always" in an arc above the logo. Further into the 21stcentury, a new look featured a number of ribbons in various grades of transparency, along with the bold addition of a yellow ribbon, breaking away from the company's long held adherence to their red and white palette; however, a more stark, minimal version of the classic red disc was reintroduced for corporate/retail purposes, and today, is more streamlined where all slogans, trademarks and additional graphics have been eschewed in favour of the script, ribbon and a simple ® trademark symbol. 

Visa, born in 1958 when the Bank of America launched the pioneering Bank of America credit card program, which today is a joint venture of 21,000 financial institutions that provide services of Credit Cards and Debit Cards. The look of blue, white, and gold reflects the broad range of electronic payment products provided by Visa’s Member financial institutions and the ever-expanding environments in which they’re accepted. While earlier versions involved blue and gold strips, when they rebranded the logo in 2006, the strips were removed, but the colour combination remained intact. Now, the system’s name is written in the company’s signature blue typeface on a white background, while the first letter features a golden scratch-of-the-pen element, similar to a bullion blink. The VISA emblem is a symbol of the system’s integrity and benefits intended for users, belonging to different social groups and teaming with various partners offering cumulative bonuses.