Nike's "swoosh." The "golden arches" atop every McDonald's restaurant. The white script spelling out "Coca Cola" on a red background. We see logos every day and we remember the good ones.
In fact, we remember them so well that they can propel a business to the top. A great logos design attracts attention, creates brand recognition, and can become part of the popular culture. A logo like this one, for instance, let's people know a lot about the nature of a business in a single glance!
If you want to pinpoint the beginning of the logo, your "start date" is going to depend on how you define the term. There are those who will say the logo is a "pictorial representation designed for easy recognition." If you look at it that way, you can go back to some of the earliest societies and find examples.
Others say, there is a difference between logos and symbols. A logo requires a commercial interest. It has to represent a seller of goods or provider of services. Others argue that a logo has to involve both an image and text. An image alone, they say, is an "emblem" and not a true logo.
Those details are interesting to history buffs, but they don't tell us a lot about how we moved from a logo-free world to today's society where logos adorn everything from tags of our underpants to the hoods of our automobiles.
So, when did logos, as we understand them today, start popping up?
You could argue that the 13th century marked the beginning of logos. The simple symbols and ciphers of previous generations gave way to trademarks for merchants and artisans. That kind of activity continued for several centuries, with producers indicating the items they had personally made.
The nineteenth century, however, is when logos really exploded. The industrial revolution was in high gear and consumer products were rolling off the first assembly lines at a record pace. Suddenly, the men behind the factories had to find a way to sell the things they were making to larger markets. The old models involving selling a handful of handmade items to a small regional population weren't much help in this brave new world.
Consumers had a hard time telling company A's offering from that of company B. Many customers were unable to read in the first place, making it even harder for competitors to differentiate themselves.
Slapping a black crescent on a spool of thread created a better chance of buyers recognizing "Black Moon Thread" over nondescript competitors. These attempts at increasing identification worked. Logo use went into full swing. Companies like Procter and Gamble began stamping crates of their products with simple symbols to reduce confusion during shipping. They soon found that their symbols were becoming associated with their products and began using logos more aggressively.
Logos began to appear everywhere. From cattle brands on the high plains to name-brand tools and home supplies, mass-produced items bore the easily recognized symbols of their creators. Some of those logos survive today--Prudential Insurance's famous "Rock of Gibraltar" logo first appeared in the 1890s, for instance.
As industrial progress continued, so did the use of logos. Although styles have changed, the principles behind their use have remained the same. By the early 1900s, the first professional graphic designers were selling their logo design talents.
Today, we usually separate logos into three different types.
- Textual Logo: Logotypes feature the name of the company in a unique style or script and don't involve any additional images. Here's an example of a great logo type design. You can see how the form of the text uniquely positions the company.
- Illustrative Logo: These logos feature a unique design that is usually related to the business itself. Logo design experts make these branding masterpieces unforgettable symbols. Here's an example of an illustrative logo design. You can see how the symbol grabs attention and creates an association with the company.
- Iconic Logo: Integrated logo designs combine the logo type name and an illustrative piece. They can be very effective. This is an example of a well-made integrated logo. Notice how both the name and symbol come together to send a clear and effective message.
Logo design has its roots in simple trademarks and the necessity of standing out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Today, logos are the symbols of their owners and are considered a key to marketing and branding success. No one thinks about trying to launch a new business successfully without first securing a great logo design.