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The Evolution of Logos and the Impact of Technology on Logo Design

The word logo comes from the Greek word logos, which means word, thought, or speech. In ancient Greek philosophy, logos referred to the principle of reason and order in the universe. Over time, the meaning of logos expanded to include the use of words or symbols to represent a company or organization. Today, the term logo is commonly used to refer to a visual symbol or design that represents a brand or company.

The specific person who coined the term logo is unknown, as the word evolved over time through the use of language. However, the use of logos as visual symbols to represent a brand or organization dates back to ancient times, with examples such as the logos used by ancient Greek and Roman families to identify their lineage, and the marks used by medieval guilds to represent their trade. They were typically displayed on their clothing, shields, and other personal items. While the use of logos as family crests dates back to ancient times, it is important to note that the term logo itself did not exist in those times. These symbols, known as heraldic devices, were similar in function to modern logos in that they helped to identify and differentiate one family from another.

Over time, the use of heraldic devices expanded to include organizations such as guilds, churches, and schools, which used symbols to represent their identity and values. The use of symbols and logos for corporate branding emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the rise of advertising and mass media, and has since become a standard part of modern business and marketing.

When Did Businesses Begin Using Logos?

Businesses began using logos in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the rise of modern advertising and branding. The development of new printing technologies and the growth of mass media such as newspapers, magazines, and billboards created a need for companies to create recognizable visual symbols to represent their brand and products.

Some of the earliest examples of companies using logos include:

Coca-Cola Logo

The Coca-Cola logo was first created in 1887 and has since become one of the most recognizable logos in the world.

Ford Logo

The Ford logo was first introduced in 1903 and has undergone several iterations.

ford logo 1903
Source: Gear Primer

IBM Logo

The IBM logo was first introduced in 1924 and has since become a symbol of technological innovation and corporate success.

IBM logo 1924
Source: suree

A few logos of public corporations in the United States have even lasted more than 100 years without significant changes. Here are a few examples:

Johnson & Johnson Logo

The Johnson & Johnson logo featured the company name in a distinctive red font and appeared exactly as the signature of their first check written.

General Electric Logo

The General Electric logo, which features the letters GE was first introduced in 1892 and has remained largely unchanged since then.

general electric logo 1899
Source: GE

IBM Logo

The Colgate-Palmolive logo, which features the company name in a distinctive red and white design, was first introduced in the early 1900s.

colgate logo
Source: Turbologo

It’s worth noting that even logos that have remained largely unchanged for many years may undergo minor modifications over time, such as updates to the color scheme or typography. However, the overall design and style of these logos has remained consistent for more than a century.

How Logos Have Evolved Over Time

Here are some examples of how logos have changed over time, reflecting the impact of technology on design practices:

  • Simplification: One example of a logo that has undergone simplification over time is the Nike Swoosh. The original Nike logo, which featured a complex illustration of the Greek goddess Nike, was replaced in 1971 with the simple, iconic Swoosh design. The Swoosh is a highly recognizable symbol that conveys speed and movement, and its simplicity allows it to be easily reproduced across a range of media.
  • Color: The original Apple logo, which featured a multicolored design with a depiction of Isaac Newton under an apple tree, was replaced in 1977 with a simpler, monochromatic design featuring a stylized apple silhouette. Over time, the color scheme of the logo has varied, from rainbow-colored designs in the 1980s to a more minimalist silver design in recent years.
apple logo color
Source: Urban Geko
apple logo monochrome
Source: Urban Geko
  • Branding: One example of a logo that incorporates elements of branding is the FedEx logo. The FedEx logo, which was redesigned in 1994, features a simple, bold font in purple and orange, along with a hidden arrow between the “E” and “x” that conveys speed and movement. The logo also incorporates the company’s tagline, “The World on Time,” which reinforces the company’s focus on fast and reliable delivery.
FedEx Logo 1973
Source: 1000Logos
Fedex logo now
Source: 1000Logos
  • Digital design: In 2019, Mastercard unveiled a new logo that featured a simpler, more modern design with a brighter, bolder color scheme. The new logo was designed to be more versatile and adaptable to a range of digital media, including mobile devices and social media platforms.
mastercard logo 1996
Source: Mastercard
mastercard logo now
Source: Mastercard
  • Inclusivity: Starbucks redesigned the mermaid’s appearance from its original logo, making it more refined and modern. The bare-breasted siren was considered too revealing, so the designer covered her body with luscious long hair. 
starbucks original logo
Source: Upsiide
starbucks logo now
Source: Upsiide
  • Minimalism: An example of a minimalist logo is the Airbnb logo. The original Airbnb logo, which featured the company name in a script font, was replaced in 2014 with a more geometric, minimalist design. The new logo features a simple, abstract design that incorporates the company’s initial “A,” along with a soft, pastel color scheme that conveys a sense of warmth and hospitality. The minimalist design allows the logo to be easily recognizable and adaptable across a range of media.
airbnb original
Source: Logomyway
airbnb new
Source: Logomyway

The Impact of Technology On Logo Design

Technology has played a key role in the design of logos. From monochromatic printing, through color printing, television, to the Internet, companies have been forced to modernize their logos through technological changes.

The Printing Press

The printing press had a profound impact on logo design, particularly in the early days of logo development. Prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, most logos were created using manual techniques such as carving, painting, or engraving. This limited the ability of businesses to create consistent and easily reproducible logos.

With the invention of the printing press, it became possible to create multiple copies of a design quickly and accurately. This allowed businesses to create logos that could be easily reproduced across a range of media, from business cards to billboards.

The printing press also allowed for the use of more intricate and detailed designs in logo development. Prior to the invention of the printing press, most logos were simple and straightforward, due to the limitations of manual techniques. With the ability to create more detailed designs using the printing press, designers were able to create logos that incorporated more intricate typography, illustrations, and other design elements.

Eventually, the printing press allowed for the use of color in logo design. Prior to the invention of the printing press, logos were typically monochromatic or limited to a few colors, due to the difficulty of applying color by hand. With the ability to print logos in full color, designers were able to create more vibrant and eye-catching logos that could stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Television

Television had a significant impact on logo design in the mid-20th century, as it created new opportunities and challenges for businesses looking to promote their brands.

One of the biggest impacts of television on logo design was the need for logos to be easily recognizable and memorable, even at a distance and in short bursts of time. As television advertising became more prevalent, businesses needed logos that could be quickly and easily identified by viewers, often in the space of just a few seconds. This led to a focus on simplicity and clarity in logo design, with many logos featuring bold typography, simple shapes, and vivid colors that could stand out on a TV screen.

Another impact of television on logo design was the need for logos to be adaptable to a range of media and formats. As television advertising became more sophisticated, businesses needed logos that could be easily adapted to a variety of formats, from print ads to billboards to TV spots. This led to a focus on versatility and scalability in logo design, with many logos designed to be easily resized and adapted to different media.

Television also allowed for new possibilities in logo animation and motion design. As technology advanced, designers were able to create animated logos and on-screen graphics that added movement and visual interest to TV ads and programs. This led to a focus on kinetic and dynamic logo design, with many logos incorporating elements that could be easily animated and brought to life on screen.

The Internet

The Internet has had a significant impact on logo design, both in terms of the way logos are created and used, as well as their visual style and characteristics. Here are some of the ways in which the Internet has influenced logo design:

  1. Adaptability: With the rise of digital media and mobile devices, logos needed to be adaptable to a range of different screen sizes and resolutions. This led to a focus on simplicity and scalability in logo design, with many logos designed to be easily resized and adapted to different digital media.
  2. Accessibility: The Internet made it easier for businesses of all sizes to create and distribute their logos, leading to a proliferation of logos across the web. This created a need for logos to be easily recognizable and distinctive, even in a crowded online marketplace.
  3. Interactivity: The Internet allowed for new possibilities in logo design, with designers able to create logos that responded to user interactions or incorporated animation and other dynamic elements. This led to a focus on kinetic and interactive logo design, with many logos designed to engage users and create a more immersive brand experience.
  4. Branding: The Internet allowed for new opportunities in branding, with businesses able to create more comprehensive and consistent brand identities across a range of digital media. This led to a focus on branding elements such as typography, color, and imagery in logo design, with many logos designed to reflect the values and personality of the brand.
  5. Globalization: The Internet created new opportunities for businesses to reach global audiences, leading to a need for logos that were culturally sensitive and adaptable to different regions and markets. This led to a focus on localizing logos for different languages, cultures, and regions, with many logos designed to reflect the unique characteristics of their target audience.

Here’s a great infographic from Glow New Media that shares some of the more famous brand identities and how their logos have evolved:

evolution of logo design

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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