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.

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.