The Art History of Logo Design

The art of symbolism has been around since human existence.
Let's find out and learn more about the evolution and the artistic history of logo design!

A logo design usually is a simple and iconic image resembling a brand. People have used various signature marks and emblems for years. Yet, most symbolic signs across recorded history aim to communicate a visual identity. Its history originally comes from symbolism and hieroglyphs.

Early logos were made during Middle Ages when pubs and shops represented what they had. At the beginning of the 1900s, the first modern logo versions came out following the development of mass printing. Below is a brief historical story about this visual identity emblem you need to know.


Early Symbolic Roots in Graphic Arts

Primitive folks set the foundations in graphic arts through their activities, drawing animals in caves from 70,000 to 7,000 BC. People in many parts of the world, like Egypt and Persia, used pottery to deliver messages about religion, ethics, socio-political, culture, and arts during 8,000 BC.

Afar from primitive history, illustrations and symbols became representations of people, ideas, and cultures. Old Egypt even showed distinct symbolic signs through their writing system, hieroglyphs, sculptures, and paintings containing images and colored shapes with specific meanings. 

From 2125 to 1991 BC, Egyptians started using grids in their designs. It affected the logo design because grids ensured the artists made their artworks remained in good ratios and proportions. Besides, grids allowed uniformity in the same illustration-making.

At the same time, Chinese people developed characters that became the roots of calligraphy. Each word appeared in a different symbol, and this lettering foundation affected other languages of the time come, including languages with fewer visual letters.


Visual Language for Communication

Moving into medieval times in Europe, two apparent visual languages existed. They were heraldic crests and symbolic signage. Heraldry denotes a system of assigning decorated elements that show social status and meaning. For instance, a noble family came with particular shapes and sets of colors.

The combination of these symbolic sets made a distinctive coat of arms. The original purpose of heraldic symbols was to identify the proponent and opponent armies during the war. Then, those visual elements offered particular meaning and helped brand identification.

Beyond aristocrats, most people during that era were still illiterate. People started to grow and moved to the cities for various trades between 900 and 1300 AD. It generated more commodification as shops began using hanging signs to show the goods or services offered.

King Richard II in England brought a new law regarding hanging signs of brewed beer in 1389 that led to the use of heraldic images to differentiate businesses. Then, those images became their names. It gave sponsors the impression of brand loyalty to their preferred brewer.


Paper and Textile Invention

Around 105 AD, China started its paper-making industry, and it expanded to Japan in 610 AD. However, Italy created its first paper in 1276 AD after Arab traders imported it to Europe. Finally, England also made its paper around 1495 AD. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing machine.

This led to the higher production of printed materials and began the phase of modern logo design. More artists and authors claimed their ownership of work. At the end of the 15th century, multiple printers used logos for their work identification. This caused more printed work making.

Then, the first printed newspaper circulated regularly in the mid of 1600s. The printed newspaper soon raised in popularity at that time as it received funds from advertisements. This printing needs made businesses make different decisions from their competitors.

Businesses did not want to spend money on existing cobblers in the advertisement. They were preferable to make an advertisement for their self-supporting cobbler.


Early Branding Development

The development of logo design and industrialization are inseparable. The industrial revolution highly associates with the appearance of steam engines, cotton gins, and big factories. Yet, there were not only technologies that evolved in the 19th century. 

Massive printed materials production in the 1800s also affected it. The new steam-powered designs applied in the production of the printed material changed the printing press structure. In 1840, chromolithography that could produce multiple-color printing came to the US. 

Hence, it was very normal to see colorful advertisements, printed labels, and posters there. Industrial Revolution also influenced the middle class. It allowed mid-class people to have disposable income for the first time. This condition surged the retail as well as urban centers. 

As businesses built and grew, branding naturally developed. Let us take a look at the following famous logo evolving as examples. 


1. Coca-Cola

The modern logo design era began when Frank Mason Robinson made the Coca-Cola visual branding in 1885. Probably, how people looked at Coca-Cola at that time was similar to what people look at Starbucks today because this company has highly strong branding. 

Everyone knows Starbucks and looks for it to drink coffee. People at that time were willing to stop by a shop with a Coca-Cola symbol after they were back from work or hang out in town and have a Coca-Cola drink. Coca-Cola belongs among the most renowned brands worldwide. 

From 1886 to 1940, Coca-Cola still used the monochrome concept in its logo design. Then, commercial logos became a public sight in Europe and the US from around 1910 to 1913. Those affected Coca-Cola Company too. 

The company created a significant update on its color in 1950 by making Coca-Cola a white wordmark above the red background. It changed continuously by playing with the combination of white and red colors. Even in 1993, the company added a coke bottle illustration behind the wordmark to strengthen the branding.


2. Olympic flag

    In 1914, Pierre de Coubertin made the Olympic flag, and it extended the commercial market. It set back to the roots of logos that existed before most commerce identities and returned to its functions as identification and cultural communication. It emphasizes that logos are just commercial brands.

    They have deeper meanings related to culture and society. Consumers in this new era might be the first who perceive logos publicly. They might see the messages that these visual identities try to deliver or what they provide to society. 

    After the modern logo design era, people worked creatively to create simple yet thoughtful designs that apply to different purposes. During this time, patterns, colors, and shapes appeared less than before. Instead, artists used a single shape, an illustration, or a letter, but it looked very iconic.

    In the 1950s, a paradigm shift occurred in the thought of existing logos. The designs that emerged during this time were either huge trends or iconic images. Companies started to recognize how powerful the symbols are. People started to step forward by designing practical symbols for identification goals.

    Then, they worked harder to purposely put the branding in those symbols to boost their businesses. Below are some examples of meaningful logo development that have appeared throughout design history.


    3. IBM

      In 1956, IBM introduced a new logo that came with a unique pictographic design combining a human eye, a letter, and an 'M' letter. Most logo historians perceived this as a watershed in logo design history. This new identity look came out to support IBM's new motto. 

      Instead of directly writing the name IBM, Paul Rand, the logo design maker, used images that people would closely pronounce to the letter. He used Eye and Bee to replace the letters 'I' and 'B,' followed by the M letter shaped from arranged white bars.  

      The company continues to use this design, and it receives some modifications, such as monochrome colors and features of different scales. Many people argue that it is the fourth version of the IBM logotype exist. In the early 1960s, leaders of London graphic design collaborated to improve this field.

      Encouraged by the hype of meaningful logo design, they established D&AD in 1962, which is the abbreviation of Design and Art Direction. The goal of this organization was to promote quality in the advertising and design field.


      4. I heart NY

        A sign from the following change in the logo design came up around 1962 to 1964 as Michael Noll and Charles Csuri made several pioneers of computer arts. Milton Glaser followed them by designing the classic pictogram 'I heart NY' in 1977. It was a marketing campaign for the Department of Commerce in New York.

        This New York pictogram made 1977 became a year of exceptional marketing production. The creativity put into the pictogram successfully delivered a message to love and remember New York. When looking at the pictogram, you can see the meaning of 'I Love New York".

        The unique thing about this pictogram look is instead of writing love, Glaser replaced it with a heart shape in red color. It was simple yet delivered a meaningful message. Instead of writing New York in the full name, he went with the initials' NY' to match the design composition.

        The combination of three black letters, a red heart, and white background made it distinct. With simplicity and thoughtful meaning, people began to use this pictogram campaign in T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and other stuff. Even people modified the pictogram by replacing New York with another city.


        5. NHTSA

          In the same year, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also contributed to this history. This US agency introduced its trademark called the Star of Life. It appeared to be a rectangular blue star with six points and a Rod of Asclepius in the middle. 

          It is a symbol you usually see in the ambulance and other scientific medicines. A logo design is obligatory for businesses in the second half of the 20th century. It allowed customers always remember a specific business. 

          If customers see it, it will make them directly think about available products or services from a business. That is the reason why this visual identity must be minimalist, unique, and clean. Simplicity often works better in delivering messages. Designers understood this concept and applied it to their works during this development era to draw attention.


          Digital Shift

          Digitalization caused a significant shift in many fields, including design and arts. The invention of the designing app on the computer has made designing work easier and more creative. It brought more styling and adaptability through several stages of development as follows:

          1. Graphic design tools

            Some designing technologies like CAD (computer-aided drawing) and CGI (computer-generated imagery) evolved during the 1970s. The rising popularity of personal computers around the 1990s also improved visual identity significantly in terms of appearance. Designers started to play with multiple colors.

            At the beginning of the 2000s, Adobe came up with its two famous design products, namely Photoshop and InDesign. Those two designing tools produce more sophisticated design qualities for society. People were using those tools widely to do creative works for various kinds of design purposes.


            2. Dynamic concept

              Digitalization also changed society as people became more and more drawn to screens and media. A more creative logo design for branding appeared massively. The most distinguishing example is MTV. This music television program previously used a basic concept for its branding.

              However, it continually changes. MTV's brand seems to stick to the dynamism in its logotype. It came out as animation, blowing up motion, and even crumbled look. Most importantly, MTV keeps changing, which led to the alternative option, an edgy brand message of this television program.

              This kind of manipulation was impossible before digital screens existed. In the timely era of the internet, designers promote the adaptability to new technology for viewers. They made everything that appears on screen look like its original appearance off-screen. This design style is well-known as skeuomorphism. 

              The designers manifested their works by adding gradients and drop shadows for the accents. Moreover, metallic textures and faux wood became more common in a lot of designs because they bring depth to the final appearance of artworks.


              3. The 2000s look

                A bit of change also occurred during the beginning of the 2000s as Web 2.0 came up. It is a term that generally denotes a shift in how websites evolved and what technologies came on those websites. However, this shifting also turned out to be a visual movement. The symbol of Web 2.0 used a universal look.

                It combined rounded letters, vivid colors, and various gradients. People might see a distinctive demarcated line laid horizontally in the middle of the wordmark, showing a gradient although it used a similar color. People soon became more comfortable with digital technologies in creating a logo design.

                Digital technologies also made designers leave a 3D look on the 2D designing surface. Although mimicking the 3D look was quite popular in previous days, people seem to find another fresh concept in the branding world.


                4. Flat and minimalist concept

                  It is none other than a minimalist and flat concept, a new look that refreshed the branding style. At first, many people might perceive the flat concept as backward in the design progress. This new concept has different characteristics from the 3D illustrations by removing the dropped-style look like shadows and gradients.

                  Those dropped elements created a 'lifting' look to the wordmark and other graphics when presented on the printed surface or a computer screen. Yet, the flat concept and minimalist logos present a cleaner and crispier feel. They also exude a modern feel and contain fewer distractions toward the message delivered.


                  5. Adaptability to the current look

                    As the design world developed, people began to leave the flat concept. Recently, that concept is no longer popular. The changes happened during the 2010s and created a new concept for branding. Brands must bring adaptability to their logos. Hence, companies are no longer been using the same logo for years.

                    Previously, a single version of the logo still cached the market within 20 to 30 years. Hence, companies did not need to modify them regularly. Stay current is now the key to following the market and remaining distinctive. Even huge brands recognize this demand and stay current in their branding.

                    This condition requires companies to update their logos or visual branding regularly. It does not mean that companies need to change the whole look. R, they can make small stylistic changes to their visual brandings, so they keep current. We can look at Google as an example of a company that made subtle modifications.

                    Google updates its logo design regularly. The change might be indistinctive from one to another as it is always slight. The first design looked classic and began to reduce the pointy look of the wordmark and develop its size. The current logo looks modern and more rounded, yet still easily recognizable.


                    Final Words

                    Regardless of the original roots and general chronology, the best thing about logo design history is it allows different interpretations and develops continuously in front of us. The ability to represent individuals or things that are meaningful to us will produce numerous additional innovative versions.

                    We can make new signs and symbols through our interesting shared culture. It is also beneficial and fascinating to have a flashback of the design history, so we know what influences the current brands. This development seems to happen naturally, yet it brings the culture and past into the new branding concept.


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