Apple

Apple’s original 1976 logo, by Ronald Wayne, was a far cry from the simplicity Steve Jobs professed. Rob Janoff designed the famous rainbow apple a year later, using the analog tools of pencil and colored paper.

Apple

Starting in 1998, the apple became a shiny and monochromatic icon.

AT&T

In 1969, Saul Bass dramatically simplified AT&T’s bell logo. After the Bell System was dismantled for violating antitrust laws, Bass reimagined the bell as a layered globe with 3-D effect.

1988 AT&T ad

In 1969, Saul Bass dramatically simplified AT&T’s bell logo. After the Bell System was dismantled for violating antitrust laws, Bass reimagined the bell as a layered globe with 3-D effect.

Braun

The German manufacturer’s brand mark is itself a timeless piece of design. The only slight redesign occurred in 1952, when Wolfgang Schmittel reconstructed the logo based on a strict grid of squares and circles while keeping the raised "A."

British Airways

Following the privatization of BA, a new all-caps logo from Landor Associates was launched in 1984. The line and sharp hook, called Speedwing, were derived from a combination of the British national flag, the Union Jack, and the Speedbird. In 1997, Newell and Sorrell transformed the Speedwing into a 3-D flying ribbon.

Heavy luggage label, circa 1979

Following the privatization of BA, a new all-caps logo from Landor Associates was launched in 1984. The line and sharp hook, called Speedwing, were derived from a combination of the British national flag, the Union Jack, and the Speedbird. In 1997, Newell and Sorrell transformed the Speedwing into a 3-D flying ribbon.

Heavy luggage label, circa 1979

Salvador Dalí is responsible for the daisy design that appears on every Chupa Chups lolly. (Read the complete story here.) In 1978, two lollipops and a keyline were added to the mark.

Heavy luggage label, circa 1979

Landor Associates updated Dalí's masterpiece in 1988, uniforming the script and adding multiple colors to the daisy outline.

Chupa Chups 1960s ad

Landor Associates updated Dalí's masterpiece in 1988, uniforming the script and adding multiple colors to the daisy outline.

Dunkin' Donuts

The 1965 rendition of the Dunkin’ Donuts logo consisted of several elements--the stacked brand name, the brand name as typographic donut, and the coffee mug--that could be used together or separately.

The Gap

The American retailer launched in 1969 with this logo.

The Gap

Updating its style to suit changing times, Gap introduced the blue square in the 1980s. In this version, the logotype has stylishly slim serif caps in Spire Regular. In 2010, the company momentarily ditched this design in favor of a bold Helvetica typeface, with the now-iconic square reduced to a background shape. Public outcry led the company to revert back to its tried-and-true mark.

IBM

IBM was founded in 1911, when Charles Ranlett Flint merged three companies into the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, abbreviated here as CTR Co. In 1924, the company changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation, to reflect its growing product range.

IBM

Paul Rand’s eight-bar logo for Big Blue, as the company came to be known, was introduced in 1972.

Paul Rand's famous 1981 "Eye, Bee, M" poster

Paul Rand’s eight-bar logo for Big Blue, as the company came to be known, was introduced in 1972.

Levi's

Still used on the back of jeans today, the first logo dates to the 1890s.

Levi's

Introduced in 1936 to make it easier to recognize a pair of Levi’s from a distance, the red tab label became a standalone brand element. The "unbranded" version was launched in 2011 for Levi’s Curve ID product line.

A 1970s "Miss Levi's" poster by Young & Rubicam

Introduced in 1936 to make it easier to recognize a pair of Levi’s from a distance, the red tab label became a standalone brand element. The "unbranded" version was launched in 2011 for Levi’s Curve ID product line.

Microsoft

You can’t get more '70s than this: Microsoft’s first logo had kaleidoscopic lettering, with each character comprised of lines shifting gradually from bold to light.

Microsoft

Microsoft introduced the "Pacman" logo, based on Helevetica Black Italic, in 1987. It reigned until 2012.

NASA

NASA made a cosmic mistake when it abandoned the streamlined "worm" to reintroduce the "meatball" logo of 1959. (Go here to read about an alternative proposal.)

Co.Design

The Histories Of 11 Super Famous Logos, From Apple To Levi's

Logo Life, a new book by Ron van der Vlugt, compiles the stories behind 100 notable logos. Here’s a taste.

Try as you might, it’s impossible to avoid the influence of advertising in the modern world. Starting as early as age three, kids can recognize and match logos to their respective brands, whether the Disney Channel or Camel. Since we’re surrounded by them every day, brand marks form an indelible part of our collective visual memory. And while they may seem like immutable features of the cultural landscape, they actually evolve with changing times, as companies pour millions of dollars into rebranding efforts in the hopes of appealing to current tastes. Logo Life (BIS Publishers), a new book by Ron van der Vlugt, compiles the stories behind 100 famous logos, from Apple and Adidas to Nike and Volkswagen, providing graphic histories of some of the world’s most influential companies.

[Paul Rand’s 1981 "Eye, Bee, M" poster for IBM]

Just how much a few of the logos have changed will surprise you. Apple’s, for instance, began in 1976 as an ornate 19th-century-style tribute to Isaac Newton, complete with a flapping banner—a far cry from Steve Jobs’s simplify-everything ethos. That was replaced by the iconic rainbow Apple, which Rob Janoff originally designed using pencil and strips of paper. Just as noteworthy is how little others have changed over the years: Braun has barely redesigned its insignia since introducing it in 1934, perhaps realizing that redesigns aren’t always improvements—something that such entities as the Gap, NASA, and Dunkin’ Donuts have failed to grasp.

In recent years, logos have also evolved to reflect a brand’s strength. High-profile companies like Nike and Starbucks have dropped their names from their marks, acknowledging that their corresponding swoosh and mermaid had become so visually recognizable that they could stand on their own.

[A cheeky 1970s Levi’s ad]

Van der Vlugt doesn’t claim Logo Life to be the definitive reference book of the best logos of all time, although certainly many of them made the cut. Nevertheless, it’s a highly useful, deeply informative survey of graphic design’s role in shaping companies’ identities, and even in defining moments in popular culture.

Buy Logo Life for $20 here.

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6 Comments

  • Brian

    Hi Ron,
    I just wanted to point out an error in your section on Levi's. You incorrectly have the new "batwing" logo (with the levi's type and ® mark) as being designed in 2000.

    I am not sure exactly of the date of the introduction of the red tab logo as a corporate logo - but late 90's-2000 is roughly correct. As you know it has been a detail on the jeans for a very long time. 

    The original batwing (without the ® and with different type and slightly different curves) was designed by Landor in 1968 (which may be in the book). This logo was partially reintroduced in the 2008 Go Forth campaign by Weiden & Kennedy (albeit in very stylized stenciled form).

    In 2009 the Levi's identity had become fragmented. Turner Duckworth created a suite of marks all leveraging the ® mark of that original red tab. This set included the "batwing" logo (with type and ®), the wordmark (with an ® in the L, used mostly for signage), the red tab, and the iconic batwing with ®. This newly crafted set of marks (typography, form, and color)  was reintroduced as a global corporate identity - replacing the red tab. The intention of the set was to provide flexibility during the transition towards the eventual use of the iconic "batwing" mark as the single global mark.

  • Shipped Carbon Neutral

    If a brand could be viewed as GOLD like - it would be..................

    LEVI JEANS
    Made in America

    Born in the USA

    Time to come home? 

    And then give it wings to fly - I would love a pair of 801's

  • Base_Design

    Belinda! You forgot OUR NASA logo! ;-)
    Great story. Really thought-provoking to see all of these in one place.

  • Ron van der Vlugt

    Hi Steve, the reason why the new Microsoft logo is not in the book is because the book was printed already before the new logo was released. I will make it up in the second print.