A logo is an emblem or graphic mark that is used to represent a company, organization, brand, or product. In the past two centuries, many logos have been created that stand the test of time. However, logos have been around for many centuries. Humans have always used symbols or a brand to show ownership of a territory or product. In addition, humans have used symbols for identification. But, how old is logo design? What were some of the first logos created? Continue reading to find the answer to these questions and to learn about the history of logo design.
During the 4th millennium BC, the Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs as a form of written communication. No one knows where or how the Egyptians received the hieroglyphs. However, some people speculate that hieroglyphs came from a prehistoric hunting community who drew pictures on rocks. Hieroglyphs are stylized pictures that represent words, sounds, or syllables. To the Egyptians, hieroglyphs were something sacred. They believed that the gods created this pictorial writing.
The Egyptians used hieroglyphs to brand their domesticated animals to show that they owned them. Also, workers placed symbols on themselves as a form of identification. In addition, the workers placed those symbols on their possessions. Egyptians used material such as bones, leather, and metal to write hieroglyphs on things. Some symbols such as the Ankh and the djed were used frequently because they held important meanings to the Egyptians. The Ankh represented eternal life, and the djed represented stability.
In Europe, logos were used in the form of Heraldic (coats of arms) designs. These designs helped people identify nobles’ property and status. People placed heraldic designs on things such as family crests, uniforms, and seals (in place of signatures). In addition, heraldic designs also represented religious symbolism. For example, churches placed heraldic symbols on their stained-glass windows. During this time, these designs were necessary to use because a large part of the population was illiterate. On the battlefield, knights wore colors and coats of arms that represented their families. This helped others to distinguish whether they were friend or foe. Also, during tournaments, heralds kept track of the knights’ coats of arms so that they could identify which symbols belonged to the families the knights served.
In heraldic designs, animals were a common theme. Lions and eagles appeared frequently in these designs. The lion represented dauntless courage while the eagle represented alertness or protection (if the wings were showing). Crosses and flowers appeared in these designs too. The cross symbolized Christianity while flowers symbolized hope and joy.
Aside from animals and other symbols, colors had symbolic meaning in heraldic designs (as with logo designs) too. Colors such as gold, red, blue, silver, and green appeared in heraldic designs. Gold represented generosity and intellectual enlightenment. Red represented military strength. Blue symbolized truth. Silver symbolized peace and sincerity. And, green symbolized hope.
Today, heraldic designs are still in use. The Lamborghini logo is an example of a heraldic design. Its main colors are gold and black. Since Lamborghini is a luxury car brand, these colors match the company’s image. For example, the color gold represents wealth. And, black represents sophistication. Moreover, the logo uses an image of a bull. The bull can represent strength, power, and confidence. In this instance, the bull represents the Lamborghini founder’s zodiac sign. Ferruccio Lamborghini (born April 28, 1916) was a Taurus. In addition, Ferruccio loved to attend bullfighting events.
Likewise, Harvard University’s logo has a heraldic design. The logo consists of a wreath and the Latin word “VERITAS” (which means truth) written across three books. Its design uses the color crimson red. In 1858, Charles W. Eliot (Harvard’s 21st president) passed out crimson bandannas to teammates to differentiate themselves from other regatta teams. In 1910, the Harvard Corporation voted on crimson red as a color to use in the school’s logo design.
In the 19th century, the logos that we know today started to develop. Printed materials were mass-produced thanks to changes made to the printing press. The printing press was eventually powered by steam. Similarly, businesses started producing more products and wanted to differentiate themselves. To establish differentiation, businesses and manufactures placed logos on their products. Eventually, businesses added their company name to the logos so that customers wouldn’t be confused about who made the products (since they were so similar). This helped businesses to establish familiarity among their consumers. In addition, this helped businesses build trust with their consumers (if they had quality products).
On January 1, 1876, the first logo was registered for trademark. A company called Bass Brewery (a British beer company founded in 1777) registered its logo under the Trade Marks Registration Act 1875. Bass Brewery chose a simple geometric shape, a triangle, for its logo. Since there were not many nonrepresentational corporate logos at this time, Bass’s triangle symbol was appropriate for them to use. In addition, Bass’s logo only uses one color, red (which can be associated with energy and strength).
In 1890, the Art Nouveau movement (1890 – 1920) started. This art movement focused on natural forms. Designs of the Art Nouveau style used asymmetrical or decorative lines. The lines used in these designs resembled flower stalks, flower buds, insect wings, and other natural objects. Certain fields such as interior design, graphic arts, and jewelry work used the Art Nouveau style. The logos created during this movement used hand-drawn typefaces. Also, some logos had flat outlined illustrations.
Companies such as Versace and General Electric display the Art Nouveau style in their logos. Versace’s logo is a depiction of Medusa, but the logo itself consists of a flat outline style. In addition, Versace’s logo consists of one color, black (which can represent elegance and power). General Electric’s logo, uses a hand-drawn typeface.
Throughout the 20th Century, many art design movements formed. These movements added innovation to the history of logo design. Notable movements such as the Suprematism movement, the Art Deco movement, and the Heroic Realism movement occurred during this time.
In 1913, the Suprematism movement began. It lasted into the late 1920s. Russian artist Kazimir Malevich created this movement. The Suprematism movement consisted of abstract elements. Logos created in this movement strayed away from illustrations. Instead, these logos focused on simple geometric shapes such as squares and circles. In addition, Suprematism logos were minimalistic and used very few colors. For example, the Adidas logo is a Suprematism logo. It’s also one of the most popularly logos in the history of logo design. The Adidas logo design is abstract and uses geometric shapes (three bars) that represent the company’s infamous 3-stripes mark. Similarly, these bars form a mountain which symbolizes the obstacles athletes encounter. Furthermore, the Adidas logo uses only one color.
Between 1925 to 1940, the Art Deco movement occurred. As with the Art Nouveau movement, the Art Deco movement influenced interior design, architecture design, and graphic design. Logos in this style used geometric shapes, rich colors (such as gold and chrome), and ornamentation. Also, designs from this era used symmetry and line art. Yves Saint Laurent’s (a luxury fashion house) logo is an Art Deco style logo. Its logo is a typographic logo that uses the company’s name in a stylistic manner. In addition, the font designer of Yves Saint Laurent’s logo (A. M. Cassandre) created symmetry within the logo. The bigger letters (Y-S-L) line up with each other. Similarly, all the other letters in the company’s logo are symmetric too.
From 1934 to 1945, the Heroic Realism movement occurred. During this period, art was created as propaganda. The logos created during this time focused on realism and rejected modernism. These logos used figures to symbolized things such as power, wisdom strength, etc. Rosie the Riveter and the Uncle Sam army posters are examples of heroic realism. Rosie the Riveter symbolized the women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII. Therefore, the poster represented strength and power. The Uncle Sam poster symbolized patriotism and confidence. In addition, it helped to enlist soldiers to join and fight in the army.
Logo designs of the past continue to influence and shape the way logos are designed today. Some companies (such as Rolex) have made little to no changes to their logo because the original logo design is so successful. Rolex watches are considered luxury watches, therefore, the crown in the logo symbolizes luxury or royalty. In addition, the gold crown in the logo represents the precious metal that Rolex uses to create its watches. Additionally, the green color in the logo represents nature and money.
Similarly, companies (such as Canon) take inspiration from the past to change their logo design. They do this so that they can change the consumers’ perception of the company. Its first logo (Kwanon) symbolized the Buddhist goddess of Mercy. The company decided to change its logo because it wanted to be known globally. First, it switched to a typographic logo. Then, the company changed its name from “Kwanon” to “Canon” because the words sounded similar. In all of Canon’s logo design changes, the tip of the top part of the “C” always curves inward.
In contrast, there are other companies (such as Airbnb) that decide not to use logo styles of the past. Instead, they decided to be innovative and create their own style. Airbnb named their logo Bélo which represents their universal symbol for belonging. It also represents “the people, places and love present in the Airbnb community and the company itself.”
All things considered, the history of logo design is very extensive. As we continue into the 21st century, new symbols will be created. And, these symbols will lead to more innovative logo designs.
For more graphic design history, read about technology’s effect on the graphic design industry.