Iconic Logos Through The Years:

Logos have been present in some form or fashion for centuries. The idea of a symbol that identifies a product, service, or company is nearly as old as time. Naturally, the logo has seen some significant changes throughout human history, and particularly so over the last few decades.

Colorful graphic displaying how major brands logo designs have evolved over the years.

Observing the Organic Evolution of Brands

Examining where the logo has been may provide some clues for its future. It can certainly spark a new generation of creative ideas for enterprising companies and designers eager to stay at the forefront of the marketing industry. Check out the accompanying infographic and read on to learn more about how logos have evolved.

Ancient Logos and Their Rapid Evolution

Identifying images have appeared on everything from coins to seals. Cattle brands were used as far back as Ancient Egypt and continue to identify herds today. In ancient Greece, ciphers were used on coins to identify rulers. By the 13th century, the concept of the cipher had evolved to include organizations and traders, making it easy to identify where goods came from.

The Medieval coat of arms offered something akin to a family’s personal logo, representing their heritage. In the Middle Ages, merchants and craftsmen used identifying marks of their own. Blacksmiths and masons had identifiable marks that set their products apart from competitors. In the 15th century, printer’s marks were used to identify various printing companies.

Logos became commonplace in the United States during the Industrial Revolution of the mid-18th century. Mass-produced items were identified by the company that manufactured them. Though these logos were not associated with personal craftsmanship as they were in the past, they came to represent the uniformity and reliability that was rapidly gaining popularity during that period.

In the late 19th century, the Arts and Crafts Movement flooded the marketplace with intricate handmade pieces. With the production of these items again came the need for individual artisans to mark works as their own. Significantly, many of today’s most iconic logos were already in development by this time. The Coca-Cola logo debuted in 1886, followed shortly after by Pepsi-Cola in 1898. The first Renault medallion was on the scene in 1900, as was the original oyster used for Shell.

Simple Black and White Design (1800s)

In the 1800s, the logo as a concept was still in its infancy. The designs were black and white so they could be easily reproduced. This, of course, was mostly due to the constraints imposed by technology at the time — the chromolithography printing method used to create color prints wasn’t patented until 1837. The process saw increased usage for advertisements by the end of the century, but it was not widely used for everyday printed materials. The Christmas cards sent by Sir Henry Cole in 1843, arguably the first greeting cards of their kind, were printed but still hand-colored.

Despite the simplicity where color was concerned, logos of this time were surprisingly intricate in their overall design. Animals were the most common feature for these logos, and they often were depicted in all their realistic glory. The lion for Peugeot was particularly detailed. John Deere’s deer was slightly simpler, but still featured intricate antlers and a carefully shaded landscape beneath its leaping legs.

Script-Heavy Design (1900s to 1930s)

By the 1930s, many of the best-known brands of today already had a foothold in the competitive market of logo design. The look and feel of these logos did little to distinguish them from competitors, however. Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola both featured sweeping script designs that were surprisingly similar.

The Ford Motor Company debuted a logo had similarly elegant, sweeping shapes in the letters. Imagery like that found in the Morton Salt and Shell logos continued to be detailed with ample shading.

Though black and white still dominated logos of this period, some companies like Pepsi-Cola and United Airlines presented logos that were in color. The BMW logo included its signature blue and white colors during this period as well. Though the imagery was the same simple circle divided into fourths that we see today, its symbolism was perhaps clearer in the company’s earlier days. BMW originally made airplanes, and the circular symbol in the logo is meant to represent spinning propellers.

Busy Colorful Images (1940s)

Color took the logo world by storm in the 1940s. During this decade, colorful images became the norm rather than the exception. The Shell logo, once a black and white shape, took on the bold red and yellow colors that continue to define it today. The word “Shell” also was added across the center of the image, although this would disappear in following decades.

Logos from this period also tended to fill up all available space, making the most of whatever area they were allotted. The Xerox logo featured large text that left little empty in the rounded shape. The square NBC logo carried its bold red lines to the very edges of the square.

Color psychology factored into the creation of these logos. The red and yellow of the Shell logo are the colors of Spain. Since many California settlers originated in Spain, this color choice offered a subtle emotional bond to customers visiting the company’s first service stations which were located in this state.

Streamlined Design (1950s)

In the 1950s, many logos underwent a sleek upgrade. The popular streamlined design of the day gave many images a smooth appearance with curved shapes taking the place of angular outlines. Coca-Cola evolved from simple black text to the red and white look that’s so familiar today. Around the same time, Pepsi-Cola departed from its own red and white look and moved to a bottle cap logo featuring the red, white, and blue stripes that have become its mainstay.

Between 1935 and 1953, Canon beefed up its font, giving it a heavier look that would make a bigger impact. IBM made a similar change, going from tall white typography with only an outline in black to slightly shorter letters in a bold black design. Pizza Hut’s 1955 logo featured a black circular background. Burger King set its text on a trapezoid with rounded edges. Overall, smooth and bold was the look of the day.

Television-Worthy Images (1960s)

In the 1960s, color television gained popularity. Advertisers and marketers felt the logos of the day needed to follow this trend to keep up with the prevailing advertising medium. The Taco Bell logo of 1962 offers a bold example of what prevailing images looked like in this decade. Set on a series of multicolored blocks, this logo is virtually unrecognisable when compared to the brand’s look today. Meanwhile, Pringles promoted a colorful version of the same moustached man that modern customers still recognize on the distinctive circular chip can.

The ever-evolving Pepsi-Cola logo got a makeover in 1962 that flattened out the image of the bottle cap. The most notable difference in the logo was the new font. The company did away with the script in favor of sleek modern typography. It also ditched “Cola” in the logo to promote the product as just “Pepsi.” Rather than evolving on a similar path, Coca-Cola stuck with the script and instead added its signature wave in the 1960s.

Groovy Typography and Rainbow Hues (1970s)

Logos of the 1970s reflected the prevailing culture of the day. Images from popular television shows at the time featured typography that was bold and bubbly or slightly italicized. Logos from programs like “The Partridge Family” or “Mork & Mindy” showcase the rainbow hues popular at the time. Even BMW got a colorful upgrade in the 1970s, with a logo featuring purple and pink semi-circular highlights around the traditional image. In 1977, the rainbow Apple logo debuted, swiftly replacing the more complex imagery the company tried just a year before.

In 1971, the Shell logo took on a shape nearly identical to what we recognize today. With a bolder outline and more simplified shape, it highlighted a stylized version of a shell, rather than the detailed realistic shells featured in years past. As logos evolved through this decade, many took on a simpler look as companies realized the importance of images that could be recognized in a single glance.

Computer Graphics Debut (1980s)

Home computers were just entering the scene in the 1980s, and logos from this time period again reflected the up-and-coming medium of the day. Many images from this decade, subsequently, featured a modern tech-friendly look. Adobe and Microsoft both used typography with big rounded letters. The Peugeot lion that looked so realistic more than 100 years before got a fresher look that more closely resembled the rough computer generated shapes of the day.

In 1985, Coca-Cola debuted the simple “Coke” logo that resembled Pepsi’s updated design more than anything Coca-Cola used before or since. The experiment was short-lived, however, and the Coca-Cola script returned in 1987, presumably to stay.

Bright and Funky (1990s)

The 1990s saw a continuation of some shape and color trends that debuted in the 80s. Television logos for “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Saved by the Bell” feature electric blue, pink, yellow, and green straight from the classic 80s palette. In 1995, McDonald’s rolled out a new logo with bright red and yellow shapes behind the golden arches. Coca-Cola moved to a round red logo with its signature script and an image of a classic glass soda bottle.

In 1998, Apple ditched its rainbow logo for a simple black design. The Yahoo logo went through four drastically different incarnations between 1995 and 1997, finally settling on the simple purple “Y.” In 1992, Nokia ditched the arrows from its previous logo design in favor of a simple text only logo. Kodak followed suit in 1996, with a logo featuring only the company name without the yellow and red box that accompanied its past logos.

Simplified Design (2000s)

As logos got ready for the impending mobile revolution, they became simpler, with fewer gradients and less detail. The primary goal for these images was to achieve lightning-quick recognition. In 2006, McDonald’s moved to a logo with just the golden arches. By this point, the well-known fast food company needed nothing more. GE’s logo became similarly simple in 2004 with the script letters in a blue circle. The Pringles logo got a simplified update in 2002 that retained the mustached man without adding complexity or too much detail to the image.

Other updates in this period debuted recognizable images with a fresh new design. BP ditched the shield it had used since 1930 for the yellow and green starburst. Mountain Dew updated its logo in 2005 to feature lime green flames around the text. In 2008, it got another fresh new look with a slick lightning-like outline. Pepsi’s 2008 update highlighted a simplified version of the red, white, and blue circle.

Other companies went for a retro look. The Xerox logo in 2002 was strikingly similar to the logo from 1968, though it was red instead of blue. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola came out with “Coca-Cola Classic,” which looked nearly identical to the logo from the 1960s. For these companies, returning to a simpler time gave them an iconic look and feel that gave customers a sense of nostalgia.

Logo Design for the Future (2010 and Beyond)

Moving forward, logos are evolving into versatile forms that will work on a variety of platforms. Today’s customers view company logos on flat-screen televisions, smartphones, tablets, and computers. Although digital technology is taking over, print mediums are far from dead, so companies still need images that will work on billboards and flyers, as well as Web pages and email.

The current trend is moving toward images that are simple and modern with some vibrant high-tech elements that show off how far computer design has come. The black Apple silhouette of the late 1990s gave way to a shiny silver shape. Nike and Shell both got rid of using any typography in their logo, having recognized long ago the value of a well-chosen image. Google slimmed up its typography in 1999 and still maintains the recognizable rainbow-hued text.

The bold evolution of the logo over time has certainly shown how an image can evolve and change. However, this timeline and the accompanying infographic also show how a well-chosen design can last for decades and serve a company well through many cultural shifts, as the Coca-Cola script has done.

Examining these changes only underscores the importance of having a recognizable, up-to-date logo that resonates both with your audience and with the current times.

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