Logo Evolution – The Rise of the Company Brand

logo evolution

Nike’s swoosh, Pepsi’s globe, and McDonald’s golden arches are just as iconic as the companies they represent. But the logos of yesterday didn’t start out that way.

The logo evolution started with nothing more than an identifying mark, but don’t underestimate the power of symbols.

Symbolism is central to visual communication. That’s why more than 90% of companies favor visuals in branding and marketing.

The First Logos

So what became of these seemingly simple product symbols? Companies began using them on the front lines and the company logo was born.

The earliest logo can be attributed to popular beer brand, Stella Artois. While the brewery has gone through its own logo evolution, it still has its signature horn symbol from the 14th century.

400 years later, the world was introduced to Shell Oil’s simple yet iconic shell logo, Levi’s original horse logo, and Heinz’s virtually unchanged logo.

A Logo Evolution in Design

Logos didn’t become a branding force to be reckoned with until the early 20th century.

Art Nouveau was the perfect time period for a logo evolution to take off. This popular art style favored early graphic design, bold colors, and fluid organic shapes, all fundamentals of compelling logo design.

Do these brands look familiar? Their original logos were designed at the turn of the century. How have they evolved into the 21st century?

  • Pepsi
  • Coca-cola
  • IBM
  • Nokia
  • BMW
  • Audi
  • General electric
  • Smuckers Co.

Let’s see what the roaring twenties had in store for logo design.

Logos in the 1920’s

The 1920’s was a time of rebellious change, and it didn’t go unnoticed in logo design. The 20’s brought us MGM studio’s famous roaring lion, Harley Davidson’s classic logo, and Walt Disney’s Castle.

Designers also explored the idea of function before form. Logos started to represent brands in action, as seen in Goodyear Tire’s winged-foot symbol and Jaguar’s iconic wildcat logo. Both symbols elicit feelings of speed and are still going strong decades later.

The Art Deco Period

The 1930’s ushered in the creative Art Deco period. Like Art Nouveau, logo design flourished under the influence of Art Deco.

This style also translated well to commercial print. But this time, Art Nouveau’s curves and swirls were replaced with the strong lines and sharp angels of Art Deco.

Recognize the Art Deco influence in these early brand logos?

  • American Airlines
  • Fisher-Price Toys
  • 20th-Century Fox
  • Publix Super Markets
  • LEGO Blocks
  • Kodak Film

Despite being founded during the Great Depression, these companies are still operating today.

A Post-War Logo Evolution

The post-war era was a time of optimism. Both logo artists and the public wanted to experience design in a fresh way. This inspired a new fascination with simplicity, clean lines, and modernism.

This exciting era gave rise to some of the most influential graphic designers of the time, like Paul Rand and Saul Bass. This new decade in design gave way to iconic logos from NBC Studios, Crest Toothpaste, Sony, and Dunkin’ Donuts, just to name a few.

But this post-war influence didn’t end in the 50’s. Let’s take a look at how the swingin’ sixties shaped the logo evolution.

Brand Logos of the 1960s

Warning: this next stage of the logo evolution will make you hungry!

Many of your favorite junk food brands defined logo design in the ’60s. Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, and Doritos introduced deliciously colorful logos that leveraged red and yellow to elicit feelings of hunger.

Like the ’20s, the 1960s was also a decade of change, freedom, and expression. Graphic design was dominated by rainbows of bright colors, psychedelia, flower power motifs, contemporary art, and Andy Warhol soup cans.

Graphic designers Milton Glaser, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, and Roy Lichtenstein all found prominence at this time and made a lasting mark on brand design well into the ’70s.

How Logos Changed in the ’70s and 80s

Lights, camera, action! These next two decades in logo design were dominated by such themes as technology, the future, science fiction, and the forward-thinking films of the ’80s.

The psychedelic influence of the 60’s survived part of the ’70s, but it was eventually replaced with disco, glamour, and the emerging technologies of the time.

Brand design in the ’80s embraced tech full-on. Who could forget Atari’s rainbow ‘Fuji’ logo, MTV’s signature logo, and the unforgettable ‘Miami Vice’ logo. Nintendo also unveiled what was to become their signature logo, which has gone virtually unchanged since.

Which designers were making waves at this time? Check out the work of Patrick Nagel, Michael Beirut, and Alan Fletcher.

The ’90s and Beyond

It’s hard to believe that ’90s graphic design is considered a classic, but here we are! There’s been a real longing for 90’s style lately. This decade was truly it’s own, whereas, previous decades were heavily influenced by their predecessors.

Probably, the most influential aesthetic of the time was grunge. While short-lived, grunge dominated fashion, commercial design, film and TV. MTV’s logo quickly adopted the grunge look, and bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam introduced covers and logos that defined this popular aesthetic.

But the 90’s weren’t just about flannel, garage bands, and angst. We also had cartoons for days, Lisa Frank, ‘Saved By The Bell’, and neon windbreakers. Don’t forget – this decade also gave us the iconic Nickelodeon ‘splat’ logo, GAP’s simple logo, and Billabong’s wave logo.

Lookout for more ’90s influence in logo design in the coming year.

What’s next for the Logo Evolution?

Design is often a reaction to what’s going on in society. Expect more designers and brands to take chances in design, but don’t discount the growing trend of nostalgia in marketing and branding.

History can teach you a lot about your own logo design. So make sure to bookmark this blog when you’re ready to go back to the drawing board.