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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Logo Art

The Christian fish logo.
The Christian Chi Rho symbol dates
back to around the third century AD.

"A picture is worth a thousand words." It's a very old, trite and true, axiom dating back so far no one really knows how far it dates back. Nowhere is this ancient observation more meaningful than in the art of logo design. A logo is a symbol. Today, logo designs are used to represent everything from corporate identities, to consumer products and services, charitable institutions, government bureaus, and religious organizations. In fact, likely the oldest logo still in common usage is religious in nature. Even older than the iconic Christian cross is the Christian fish (above, left). The simple arching lines had their origin as an acronym, Iota, Chi, Theta, Ypsilon Sigma, meaning Jesus Christ God Son Savior--ICHTYS the Greek work for fish. The symbol seems first to have appeared during the first century AD and to have been used intermittently down through the ages, gaining renewed favor during the 1970s and since. Almost as old is the Greek Chi Rho symbol (above, right, the Greek abbreviation for Christ) superimposed one upon the other. The symbols for the zodiac may, in fact, be as much as a thousand years older than these, though they had no standardized image, a critical requirement for any logo.

Company logos grew from the advent of print advertising late in the 18th century.
In the modern era, many companies have laid claim to having the oldest logo in continuous use, perhaps the most valid being that of the British firm Twinings (above), who have been marketing tea for over three hundred years and whose simple, arched, upper-case, Helvetica type face has represented the company since 1787. Even more impressive, the firm was founded in 1706 and still has its headquarters at the same London address where it began. On the American side of the Atlantic, the John Deere company logo appears to be the oldest, dating from 1876, though, like most, it has evolved, having been modified and updated many times since. For the record, runners up include a few logos from the 1880s such as Johnson & Johnson, Union Pacific, and Coca-Cola. Many others, though now quite old, had their advent in the early 20th century with the coming of nationally circulate magazines.
The evolution of a logo. The little log in the logo disappeared in the 1950s.
Despite the Twinings example, virtually every longstanding corporate logo has evolved, some quite a number of times; in some cases recently, almost on an annual basis. Google seems to change its logo almost daily. By the same token, some logos have changed little in the past hundred years. The General Electric script "GE" inside a circle dates from 1900. The only change has been the addition of color. In general, though, companies have urged their logo designers toward modern "less is more" updates, usually over the course of several years; though today, the changes are sometimes quite radical, even involving changes in the corporate name itself. "Esso," the one time moniker for the Standard Oil Company, became Exxon in 1973 accompanied by an all new logo.
An example of what time can do to a logo

One of the corporate "granddaddies" of
them all has quite a lengthy legacy of
However, not all logo changes are successful. Often this accounts for multiple changes over a short period of time. For example, Pepsi seems to be undergoing this type of identity crisis at the moment. Some companies have even gone so far as to return to a previous symbolic incarnation. On the other hand, some new logos simply take some "getting used to."

The "new" Colonel was
somewhat startling at first.


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