Marks of Excellence

Marks of Excellence maps the evolution of some of today’s best brands, including 3M, whose last redesign was in 1978 by Siegel & Gale. "Everything goes fast and faster," writes Per Mollerup, "but not necessarily the development of trademarks. When they are simplified to the bone, they last."

Logo Evolution

The same trend toward simplicity can be seen with Shell, Westinghouse, Bayer, Agfa, and AEG.

Leaves

But what’s unique about Marks of Excellence is how it classifies logos according to their visual themes. Here are many variations on leaves, which have been associated with success and victory since the classical period, when winners of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece donned wreaths of laurels.

From top (left to right): Adidas, Cannes Film Festival, Atheneum Hotel, Fred Perry, Air Canada, Vanderbilt University, Liberal Party of Quebec, Aer Lingus

Birds

"There is great diversity and even disparity in the meanings attached to birds and their individual species," Mollerup writes. "Their association with flight means that they are often used to represent physical flight and flight of thought. In addition, since ancient times they have symbolized political power." From top, left to right: Twitter, Munsingwear, Allianz, Swarovski, American Airlines (the Vignelli original), Bahrain, Garuda Indonesia (airlines), Singapore Airlines, Grey Goose, The Independent, Great Southern Rail, Australia

Birds

From top, left to right: Lufthansa, Ving, United States Postal Service (by Raymond Loewy), NBC, Booksellers, Denmark, Bantam, Tipton Lakes Corporation (by Paul Rand)

Arrows and Bull's-Eyes

The double arrow, signifying speed and direction, has become almost synonymous with transport.

From top, left to right: Fedex (read about its hidden arrow here), Inxight Software, Subway, Carrefour, Amazon, Target, Skoda, Budget

Crowns

A crown decorates the products of such varied brands as Rolex, KLM, and Hallmark--whether there’s an association with royalty or not.

From top, left to right: Rolex, KLM, Parex Banka, Regus, Operan, Hallmark

Restaurants

A smattering of fast-food restaurant logos; in the case of Starbucks and Pizza Hut, their redesigns, in 2011 and 1999, respectively, are shown for contrast.

Humans

Human figures are especially popular among humanitarian and health-care organizations. From top, left to right: UN International Children’s Relief Fund, Chiquita, Henckels, Delphi Forums, PBS, Cingular, Azko Nobel

Handwriting

"A logotype in the form of a handwritten signature signals guarantee, responsibility, pride and quality," Mollerup writes. Here are just a few such marks: Chupa Chups (read the story of how Salvador Dalí came to design the icon),

Handwriting

A logo is just one indicator of a brand’s ethos. Every year, Interbrand and WWP publish a list of on the world’s strongest and most valuable brands, respectively. There are some differences in the lists, but, Mollerup notes, "Both companies use composite models to make their assessments, and they both try to isolate the brand power. …This is probably the fact where the role of the trademarks is best reflected: how much would we pay for similar unbranded running shoes."

Handwriting

Buy the book here for $47.

Co.Design

The World's Most Famous Logos, Organized By Visual Theme

Marks of Excellence, a freshly revised book from Phaidon, compiles today’s most identifiable logos according to their visual tropes.

A brand is more than a logo. But a company’s mark is its calling card, a shorthand for all that other stuff—the quality of the product, the level of service, the history of the company—for its composite brand. To understand the cultural power and currency of a popular logo, all you have to do is survey a set of preschoolers, who, while unable to order off a menu, can handily identify McDonald’s golden arches, as well as the emblems of Disney and Nike, to name but a few.

Once used as a means of denoting ownership or authorship (“This is my cow,” or “I made this ceramic vase”), logos have evolved into creators of value, with consumers often willing to pay much more for products with identifiable marks than for those without. The newly updated and reissued Marks of Excellence, by Per Mollerup, goes deep into the evolution of logos—charting their origins in heraldry, monograms, and owner’s marks—but, more interesting from a graphic-design standpoint, it also organizes the countless logos we come across every day into tidy taxonomies of recurring themes. Suddenly, you’re drawing visual connections between companies you never would have thought to associate with each other.

Look, for instance, at the prevalence of birds in branding (Slide 4). They’re often used by airlines to evoke flight, but they’ve also become synonymous with everything from fancy crystals (Swarovski) to British literature (Penguin) and social media (Twitter). Or take the crown, which can be found decorating products as diverse as beer (Carlsberg), coveted watches (Rolex), and stationery (Hallmark).

We’ve previously featured books that map the histories of famous logos, and Marks of Excellence does some of that, but it also sets itself apart by classifying marks according to type—providing a fascinating look at both the nuanced differences and common traits shared across a wide range of industries. For a taste of its encyclopedic content, check out the slide show above; to purchase the book for $47, go here.

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6 Comments

  • Mr. White

    Is there any reason why the logos are so honking big on the pages? Just my opinion, but they could use a little more white space.

  • Halit Bozdogan

    Very cool. It would be great to see something similar on the evolution of Logos as well :-)

    Thanks

    Halit

  • NOone

    Can’t wait for the book.
    However, classifying marks according to type isn't a new thing. Angus Hyland and Steven Bateman have done exactly that in their book "Symbols" two years ago.