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A Quick History of Logos

Technology and society has had a strong effect on the evolution of logos. Looking though history, we can see a clear pattern between the style of logos and the means we had of producing them.

Starting from the beginning, the first logos were found in stone or on cows. These were essentially just a way of marking territory and, to make life easier, the designs were kept as simple as possible.

The first real commercial branding was found on armour; manufacturers wanted to show off their good work, and tournament knights were the Olympic athletes of their day. Being etched onto steel, these early logos were still kept simple, remember Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale sporting a familiar swoosh?

It was during this period that the most enduring emblems appeared. The need to identify yourself spawned the age of heraldry, being painted or embroidered, heraldic symbols could afford to be much more intricate. Although non-commercial, the symbol of the Plantagenet family is still very recognisable today.

Plantagenet family Coat of Arms

Fast forward to the industrial revolution and the commercial boom of the early 19th century, and a clear mark of quality was needed. The waves of people moving into cities now bought their food as opposed to growing it. This lead to many unscrupulous individuals selling unsuitable or tainted food.

National brands such as the Co-Operative appeared, which sold quality goods to earn the trust of the consumers. This trust needed maintaining though, and in 1875 trademarking was introduced to help brands protect their hard work from imitations.

An employee of Bass Brewery slept overnight outside the registrar’s office to ensure that his emblem was recorded. Typical of the age, the Bass logo featured a red triangle with a distinctive font, this helped ensure recognisability when levels of literacy were low.

Advances in printing and a more literate population meant that logos could feature sophisticated copy. The late 19th century saw many brands similar to Coca-Cola’s iconic logo.

As we entered the 20th century we took a step backwards. The first global companies emerged and, to negate language problems, logos had to be able to stand alone, without needing a name to be recognised. The calligraphic brands of the 19th century were replaced with modest symbol such as Mercedes and Citroen.

Copy became fashionable again in the 1950’s. Where brands used to identify a product, they were now to be found everywhere. The need to look good on a brochure or letterhead meant that designs went back to the symbol and copy formula, featuring strong colours and eye-pleasing designs.

The digital age meant that we had to step back again. Companies that had stuck with elaborate typefaces such as Ford or Coca-Cola found themselves looking rather odd when pixelated on a screen. Logos of the 80’s went back to being square and rigid.

The standard of modern screens and digital printing means that logos have more freedom than ever. They still need to be adaptable though, take the Google logo, comes in many different disguises, but is still unmistakably Google.

Dynamic logos are the future; a modern logo has to stand out from its surroundings, without looking brash or misplaced. The Warner Bros logo for example, the same logo every time, but always in keeping with the movie.

About Author:
Joe Errington is a marketing executive for The MITIE Group, which includes design and printing in its wide range of business services.