A logo is a symbol, picture or otherwise identifiable mark that is used to associate something with ownership, often by another person or an organization. The history of logos can be traced all the way back to the ancient Mesopotamians, one of the first groups of people to use writing and pictographs as a way to communicate information. The Mesopotamians used cylinder seals, a hard clay cylinder that was rolled over wet clay (much like a rolling pin) to imprint some picture or design. Originally these devices were used as art, but they became increasingly used as ways to notarize documents. Other cultures had similar ideas – the Greeks put logos on their coins to make them official, and noble houses in the Middle Ages of Europe had coats of arms to paint on shields and banners as ways of identifying themselves in battle.
In the late 1800s, the increasingly widespread use of the camera to take photographs began to lend itself to advertising. Many business owners started to realize the value of a picture, and so advertisements in magazines and newspapers started to include either photographs, lithographs or outright drawings of their products. Advertising was not as refined then as it is today, and many business owners and salesmen were still figuring out how to get their “brand” out and into the public consciousness. One of the ways they did this was making their advertisements highly stylized, to the point where their company name would serve as a reminder of what they were selling.
Modernization of Logos
It was not until the 1950s that the modern concept of a product logo was truly born. The modernist movement of art and graphic design had artists appreciating simplicity, and perhaps the most iconic of these logos is the Chase Bank logo, developed in 1964 by the firm Chermayeff & Geismar. The symbol is actually fairly abstract. In fact, the only way to associate the symbol with Chase Bank is to be told or shown that the symbol is their logo. In other words, there is nothing immediately identifying about the logo. However, the act of “figuring out” who the logo belongs to makes it that much more effective. The symbol – because of its simplicity – is that much easier to remember.
This trend in logos would continue. Throughout the 60s and 70s in America, many advertising firms would follow Chermayeff & Geismar by making their clients’ logos simple, easily identified and, perhaps most important, original. After all, the worst thing you can do is have a logo that looks like someone else’s product! Logos for businesses like Coca-Cola, CBS, NBC, National Geographic, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and many others would come into existence at this time, driven primarily by advertisers learning of their value.
Evolution of Logos
As time went on, logos continued to evolve. As advertising entered the 80s and 90s, backlash against corporations from the younger generation would force these companies to redesign their logos in an effort to recapture their younger audiences – by trying to make the logs look “cooler” or more edgy, they hoped to retain their customers.
A good example of this is the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo:
We can see here that the logo has definitely changed. At first, it was a simple black and white block of text and a picture. This turned into larger text in 1978, but remained largely unchanged. In 1991, however, KFC decided to add color their logo. 1997 saw another reimagining, this time coloring in the figure of the Colonel to give him a fresher, more exciting appearance, and also using shadows and thick, black lines to set his left side off from the red background. The latest iteration omits any reference to the corporation’s name, and instead paints the picture of a happy, smiling Colonel.
As we can see from the above picture, logos have gotten both simpler – in that they tend to cut back on written text – but also more complex – in that they rely on sharper and more dramatic color delineations to have their desired effect.
Most logos today are fairly simple looking, but that does not mean they are easily made. Advertising companies get paid billions of dollars a year to come up with fresh, exciting ways of portraying a company or a product.
Logos come in all different sorts of categories. There are colorful, brand name logos like the KFC logo. There are also very simple, single color logos, for example the logo used by the Cingular wireless company, or the logo used by AT&T . Some logos use geometric symmetry in order to present a clean, neat appearance. Others, like the Sprint logo, are deliberately lopsided to help them stand out.
The choice in logo is usually determined by the aspect of the business in question. A stock company, for example, will avoid showy and glitzy labels because they wish to convey a sense of propriety or restraint. A logo aimed at young consumers (like Hello Kitty) uses bright colors and showy designs. As with many other aspects of advertising, your intended audience will determine the look of your final product.
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