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Creating Your Business Logo: What You Can Learn from the History of Logo Design

Examining the vast, meandering history of logo design is not only fascinating but useful. It allows us to see what informs our logo design ideas no matter how organic they may feel to us. Logo design is immersed in culture and trends.  Symbols of the past certainly shift our ideas for present-day logo design.

Today we use logos as a symbol, trademark, or badge that memorably conveys the identity of a product, company, campaign or concept. But did you know that logos predate their current role as a commercial design element? Logos were once used as tribal identification and cultural communication — think Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Of course, today logos aren’t considered communal symbols, but merely commercial marks. Still, these “mere” marks continue to evolve in their appearance and use.

Timeline of Early Logo Design

  • 2125 – 1991 BC – Grids appeared in Egyptian designs. Grids are essential to logo design as they ensure artists maintain exact proportions and ratios to reproduce the same design.
  • 1389 – King Richard II of England passed a law requiring businesses that brewed beer to hang a sign indicating what they did. The requirement inadvertently let to business differentiating themselves by adding heraldic images to their signs. One brewhouse would become The Red Dragon, another The Crowing Cocks, another the Wild Boar. As these images turned to names, patrons would develop a sense of loyalty to their favorite brewer.
  • 1800s – Mass production of printed materials resulted in colorfully printed advertisements, labels, and posters.
  • 1885 – Frank Mason Robinson designed the Coca-Cola logo. The launch of this symbol is thought to be the start of modern logo design.
  • 1910 – 1913 – Commercial logos became a common sight in the U.S. and Europe.
  • 1914 – Pierre de Coubertin designed the Olympic flag, using a logo outside of the commercial market.
  • 1956 – Paul Rand designed the iconic IBM logo featuring a human eye and a bee. Most logo historians see this as a turning point in the history of logo design.
  • 1962 – 1964 – Charles Csuri and A. Michael Noll created some of the first computer art, signaling even more evolution in logo design.

Today’s Logo Design: What Businesses Should Know

Whether it was one iconic image, the IBM eye, bee, and M logo, or a larger trend, the 1950s marked a paradigm shift in thought surrounding logos. All of a sudden, companies realized the impact of their chosen symbols.

As our tools for design changed, so have logos. Beginning in the late 19th century, logos rolled through a wave of design eras know as the Modern, Art Deco, Heroic realism, Late Modern Era, Postmodernism, Digital, and Minimalism age.

Logo design moved toward putting a great deal of thought into intentionally branding businesses with the help of a logo and largely away from creating simple utilitarian logos for identification.

One thing that has not changed is a logo’s need to remain clear, uncomplicated, and reproducible. Above all, a simple logo design is easier to remember, faster to read, and consequently instantly identifiable.

Think of the Chase logo, drafted more than 50 years ago, in 1961. At the time, few American corporations were using abstract symbols for identification. That symbol was a radical concept. Nonetheless, the Chase symbol survived multiple mergers and has become one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Its graphic designer, Tom Geismar, has been a driving force in the field of design and graphic identity for more than 60 years. You can still see the influence of the firm he co-founded in logos you see every day, such as NBC, PBS, and National Geographic. In an interview with Geismar, he goes over the essential elements of a timeless logo.

Elements of Timeless Logo Design

  • Abstract dynamic shape. Bold, recognizable, memorable.
  • Able to be reproduced in various ways.
  • Clean and simple. Workable even when reduced to a small size.
  • Works in black and white and various colors.
  • Think about TV, websites, print materials like letterheads, and of course the app icon.

Drafting a logo is no small feat. You’ll want to take into account current trends, but also be mindful of the timelessness of your logo. You want a symbol that will hold up just as your business will. If you need help with branding, contact us, and we’ll be your Department of Marketing.