The history of logos

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October 9, 2017

The history of logos

The history of logo

It could safely be said logo is a language in itself. A language that makes use of: symbols, emblems and pictures to communicate rather than letters. The most unique trait but very essential for its survival is how it is dynamic and in a constant state of change – never static, always evolving.

Overtime, logo has taken a life of its own – think about it – a well designed logo can speak volumes to its viewer, without ever uttering a sound.
In today’s age, a logo is the identity of its brand. This present understanding of a logo is the culmination and meridian of almost two centuries’ worth of progression.

Let us cart you through the very early days of logos that started out as hieroglyphs used to brand domestic animals – to present day sophisticated images particularly designed to influence human psyche.

The foundation

The groundwork, though laid by primitive people all around the world from different cultures in the form of animal paintings in caves, Egyptians were the most prolific and notable artists.

People and cultures were using visuals and illustrations to identify themselves, their ideas. Accompanied with this was pottery that expressed cultural and socio economical info.

An important early milestone was the hieroglyphics by the Egyptian. Aided with prolific artistry they to developed hieroglyphics, a formal writing system that used imagery to represent words and sounds.
This ingenuity was further enhanced by the later use of grids to maintain dimensions in their drawings.

As time passed, these illustrations were used for an array of purposes ranging from expression – that had its roots in hieroglyphs – storytelling, aesthetics, religion, marking ownership, etc.

Medieval Europe and heraldic symbolism

Fast forward the logo timeline to medieval Europe – a significant milestone.

Perhaps the most notable occurrence during this era is the heraldic tradition that lives to date.

Heraldry is the use of symbols, designs, and such to represent the family you were fighting for, supported, or belonged to. The elements in this imagery such as colors and shapes had specific meaning associated with them and were used to identify nobility. Similarly, showing ownership of all the properties and estates belonging to the nobility also came under the umbrella of heraldic tradition.
Though the original purpose was to mark and identify friend from foe during battles and wars, the unique design elements started to become a brand.

Another important development was the use of hang up signs to convey the purpose of a specific shop or an establishment. The masses were illiterate, and as the influx of people urbanizing increased, this way of visual communication was not only accepted readily but flourished. Consequently, the early logos, or trademarks began to be used to show originality and craftsmanship.

By fourteenth century, it became mandatory for businesses such as breweries to show what they sold by hanging up signs.

This further aided the evolution of the concept of brand loyalty.

Logos and a brand identity were not quite born yet but the grounds were beginning to be laid.

Printing press and the industrial revolution: 

logo evolution on steroids

All the flair and drama set aside, the invention of print was really the turning point. Before the printing press, wooden block stamps were used. However, in the mid fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and changed the face of advertising forever.

Production of printed material became easier and widespread which meant more newspapers. More newspapers meant greater and better opportunities for advertising your product. Even though brand as we know it was still not formed, logo was well on its way.

The market got tougher; it became important to distinguish yourself from others. People began to get creative with logos to set themselves apart from competition as the advertising industry boomed.

Enter the industrial revolution.

This era was not just limited to mass production in agriculture, textile, and transportation. The invention of huge steam powered machines resulted in mass production of printed material.

This mass production led to the birth of branding – now that you could pick favorites from an assortment of choices – and the consequent association of a brand identity with its logo.

Modern logo

 The roots of modern logo designing can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, logo design was well evolved.
As lives got complex and fast, the idea of less is more was set forth. Humbleness and simplicity was the key. These three examples are the most notable of that era:

  1. Coca cola:
    A poster child of simplicity and being memorable. The stark red and white contrast in swirly handwriting is one of the most recognized logos to date.
  2. IBM:
    The logo designed by Paul Rand is accountable of bringing logo full circle, back to its roots. The human eye and bee showed designers how potent symbolism too, could be. This led to businesses looking for more meaningful and imaginative logo designs.
  3. The Olympic flag:
    Sure, businesses were employing logos to the best of their abilities but logos were not being limited to merchandise only. The Olympic flag made sure of it. Again, logo was finding its way back to its ancestral roots.



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The digital age

Computers changed our lives forever in every aspect – including graphic designing too. The development of computer generated imagery in late 1900s brought about complex and highly sophisticated logos. Once again, logo saw a change as 3D animation became popular. The goal was to mimic real life look.

The twenty first century brought about commonality of desktop computers. As computers got rampant logo saw a dynamic shift again.

People had become acclimatized to the digital life and the need for skeuomorphism disappeared; it was no longer necessary to mimic real life. The level, 2D look was back in the streets.

Throughout its vast history, logo has changed along with people’s minds, never remaining static.

If this recounting of the whole timeline has shown us anything, it is the progression of graphic arts is everlasting.


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