There is no denying that our lives today are practically littered with logos. After taking a quick look around the room from where I’m sitting at my home desk right now, I was able to easily spot 58 different logos on various products, boxes, and on my computer screen. I’m sure if you took a minute to look around from where you are at right now, you too would be surprised at just how many logos you can spot.
Most researchers estimate that a person living in a city is exposed to over 5,000 logos each day. Those numbers might be hard to believe at first, but they go beyond just the logos printed on physical items in our environment. It also takes into account the huge amount of branding real estate space on our smart phone and computer screens.
Despite their overwhelming prevalence in our lives, most people probably don’t give logo designs much thought. Yet, if you start to read through business and design blogs, you’ll see quite a large number of articles and posts dedicated specifically to logo redesigns and how they either help or hurt the brand. In fact, because of the almost absurd amount of online hype and criticism recently surrounding logos and branding, Virgin America made it the butt of their April Fool’s Day prank this year, by creating a cheeky new logo redesign of their own.
(Virgin America’s logo April Fools redesign explanation video)
But, How Did We Get Here?
To better understand this craze around log design and what to expect moving forward, we should first take a look back at where it came from.
Technically speaking, logos have been around practically as long as writing has existed, but they haven’t always existed with the same purpose or importance they have now. Over the course of time the way people used and viewed logos has consistently changed with the times, but the most impactful changes have come just within the past century.
Ancient Egyptians were some of the first people to use unique symbols to identify items that were either owned or crafted by a certain individual. As people started trading more, the symbols they used not only had to help differentiate them from their competitors, but they also had to represent what type of goods or services a person provided –so those who couldn’t read or speak the same language still knew where to go for certain goods and services. The Medieval traditional glazier (glass craftsman) sign below is a perfect example of this. It not only is made out of glass to show the quality workmanship of the shop, but it also features the symbol of the glass craftsman guild the owner was a part of.
(traditional glazier guild sign from the Medieval Germany. More information on Guild signs at electrum magazine.)
For most of human history, logos were used in this way to simply identify and represent the work a craftsman or business did. But in the mid 20th century, they started to take on even more meaning and importance.
Then Came The Golden Age
With new printing and travel technology, businesses in the mid 1900s were able to get their name out there and grow into new markets much easier than ever before. This change not only meant they would have a wider range of clients, but also a lot more competition as well. Most companies during this time found that the best way to stay successful in the competitive markets was to invest in good branding and advertising that would help them draw in and keep the most customers possible.
With the new focus on the aesthetics of a company’s brand, this period was really the birth of modern graphic design and branding design. Iconic designers like Paul Rand proved just how powerful a solid well-designed logo could be for businesses, and they started to heavily invest in design agencies and in-house designers. People began to understand that logos that were simple and easy to read and remember were far more successful that the busy illustrated style of logos they were using before. The evolution of the iconic IBM logo redesign perfectly demonstrated this shift.
(Changes to the IBM logo from 1888 to 1972. More information at Famous Logos.)
In addition to keeping logos clear and simple, they started to take on more meaning. With many competing companies, consumers began to choose which brands they were more loyal to based on the values that company had that was in line with their own personal values. So designers we tasked with finding new ways to demonstrate the values of a brand through simple visual elements in the logos. Going back to the evolution of the IBM logo, you can see that in 1972, the horizontal stripes were added. These were to meant represent “Speed and dynamism.”
Then Came Digital
Towards the end of the 20th century, technology began to change again in a major way. TVs, computers and the internet were quickly becoming a much bigger part of everyday life. And with these new platforms to reach consumers, came new challenges and opportunities to branding a logo designs.
One of the major opportunities that came from this time was the opportunity to expand on how logos functioned. With TV and the internet, people were consuming media much faster than before, and some companies found ways to keep their branding consistent but while also being able to quickly change styles to reflect the trends of the time. Probably the best example of this is MTV’s logo. From the early 80’s on, they have used the same basic type treatment for their logo, but have portrayed it in hundreds of different styles to keep viewers interested and stay relevant.
(Variations of the MTV logo from the 1990s and early 2000s. More versions here.)
Another important consideration for logo design during this period was the fact that the screen resolutions on these early devices were so low, that more complex designs would not show as clearly and would often be too pixelated. This challenge really reinforced the “simpler is better” approach to logo designs. If companies wanted to keep their logos consistent from print to screen, they would have to simplify them so they would look the same online as off.
The last major change to graphic deign at the end of the 20th century, came with the increased use of the internet. With more businesses going online, two new areas within graphic design opened up: web design, and user interface design. Companies and design agencies started to bring on designers that specialized in adaptable designs for the web. Because of the nature of the web these designs not only needed to remain simple, but also be more versatile to fit different screen widths, and eventually to be used in different ways –such as a simple icon or button.
Where That Puts Us Now
Media technology has continued to advance at an astounding rate since the early 2000s. Experts say over one third of the words population today is currently connected to the internet, and by 2020 more than half of the world will be connected. And in the US alone, about two out of every five households currently subscribe to a video streaming service, according to a new report from the media measurement company Nielsen.
Not only is this great for businesses to continue to expand and reach a larger audience, but it also creates a world in which consumers have more power too. Consumers now have more options than ever before, expect much more from top brands, and have a bigger platform to voice either their approval or disproval of those brands.
The Tech Behind The Trends
Since the early days of the in-home computers and dial-up internet, computer screen resolutions have come a very long way, and there are now even extremely high resolution smart phone screens. All of these new high quality displays allow for much crisper and clearer images, and this in turn allows logo and branding designers to do more than they could before with digital logos. A few great examples of these trends are the line drawing logos, and the multi colored logo, and the realistic logos. Can you image how these logos would have looked on a computer over 15 years ago with much lower pixel resolution?
(Apple, Slack, and Cycle Slam Logos)
Not only have there been major improvements to screen resolution, but also the ability to create smooth motion graphics for web pages and apps. Animations can make transitions within apps feel more fluid and natural, and they can also add an element of playfulness to websites. When companies and designers can find ways to add motion into their branding, it can have a huge impact. Last September Google rolled out a rebranding of their own featuring the logo, a set of animated dots, and a monogram. The new logos got a lot of praise around the internet for being “spot on” by Brand New and “a vast improvement” to their old logo by Web Designer Depot. After 16 years with their pseudo-3D logotype, they dropped the serifs and shadows created a logo system that might otherwise seem pretty plain and boring, if it weren’t for the playful animations of the elements.
(Google’s 2015 New Logo – Branding Elements & Doodle Evolution – Animated HD Google Doodle)
Food For The Critics
Much like the how internet first introduced new challenges for branding and logos, smart phones have now brought a whole new range of challenges to design as well. Yet again, designers have a platform that requires more dynamic branding and logo designs that will work in a much wider range of sizes. Many companies now develop a set of icons that can be used in addition to the main logo, or even additional logos for the various products a company offers that all work together. While this is typically a great way to further show how strong a brand is, some brands can easily find themselves in over their heads with this approach. In fact the ride hailing company Uber caused quite the stir this past February. Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick (not a designer) decided to take on the redesign of the logo, and various app icons himself with the help of Uber’s design director Shalin Amin. The results Techspot said the redesign was “confusing”, and Gizmodo said it resembled an “asshole.”
It’s safe to say no designer or company ever wants their customers to realize that their branding resembles horrible body parts. In addition to Uber, AirBnB can probably back that up. But it doesn’t take much for word to spread on the internet nowadays, and it’s basically impossible to quiet the critics.
Most people remember the backlash that the Gap received after changing their logo in 2010. The internet erupted in a firestorm of disproval at the new design. Some customers even took to social media to say they were no longer going to be shopping at the store because of the logo change. It seems crazy to think that changing one visual element, which has no real effect on the quality of the product, can cause such outrage but it did. Probably because the customers saw it as a poor choice made by the company and lead them to believe that the company would then be making other poor choices in the future After the online backlash, the Gap decided to restore the peace and revert back to their old logo.
Since then, there have been countless other logo and rebranding backlashed. Some of the most recent and notable being:
What’s To Come