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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.

  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Starting in 1998, the apple became a shiny and monochromatic icon.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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."</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Salvador Dalí is responsible for the daisy design that appears on every Chupa Chups lolly. (Read the complete story <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669224/salvador-dal-s-real-masterpiece-the-logo-for-chupa-chups-lollipops" target="_self">here</a>.) In 1978, two lollipops and a keyline were added to the mark.</p>
  • <p>Landor Associates updated Dalí's masterpiece in 1988, uniforming the script and adding multiple colors to the daisy outline.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>The American retailer launched in 1969 with this logo.</p>
  • <p>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. <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662452/gap-on-disastrous-new-logo-were-open-to-other-ideas" target="_self">Public outcry</a> led the company to revert back to its tried-and-true mark.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Paul Rand’s eight-bar logo for Big Blue, as the company came to be known, was introduced in 1972.</p>
  • <p>Still used on the back of jeans today, the first logo dates to the 1890s.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Microsoft introduced the "Pacman" logo, based on Helevetica Black Italic, in 1987. It reigned <a href="http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2012/08/23/microsoft-unveils-a-new-look.aspx" target="_blank">until 2012</a>.</p>
  • <p>NASA made a cosmic mistake when it abandoned the streamlined "worm" to reintroduce the "meatball" logo of 1959. (Go <a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670258/nasas-logo-redesigned-to-be-truly-out-of-this-world#1" target="_self">here</a> to read about an alternative proposal.)</p>
  • 01 /22 | 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.

  • 02 /22

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

  • 03 /22 | 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.

  • 04 /22 | 1988 AT&T ad
  • 05 /22 | 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."

  • 06 /22 | 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.

  • 07 /22 | Heavy luggage label, circa 1979
  • 08 /22

    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.

  • 09 /22

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

  • 10 /22 | Chupa Chups 1960s ad
  • 11 /22 | 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.

  • 12 /22 | The Gap

    The American retailer launched in 1969 with this logo.

  • 13 /22

    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.

  • 14 /22 | 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.

  • 15 /22

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

  • 16 /22 | Paul Rand's famous 1981 "Eye, Bee, M" poster
  • 17 /22 | Levi's

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

  • 18 /22

    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.

  • 19 /22 | A 1970s "Miss Levi's" poster by Young & Rubicam
  • 20 /22 | 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.

  • 21 /22

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

  • 22 /22 | 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.)

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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