Today’s Most Popular Logos: Their Evolution, Triumphs and Failures

Readers:

I came across an interesting article about logo evolution in Business Insider written by Jason Nazar (photo, right). Mr. Nazar is the co-founder and CEO of Docstoc.com, one of the premier online website for small businesses that provides the best quality and largest selection of documents and resources to help start, grow and manage  your small business and professional life.

Mr. Nazar states that a logo is the visual  representation of your company’s identity. Consumers are exposed to a lot of  logos throughout the day, and they tend to treat logos the same way they would  human faces. They will pass many logos they are unfamiliar with on the street or down the grocery aisle, but if they recognize the face of a dear old friend in the crowd, they are more likely to approach that person and engage with them.

Jason points out this is the reaction every brand hopes to elicit from its logo: fondness and comfort with a touch of excitement. Every logo must walk the fine line between  nostalgia and modernity; you want to remain your lovable self, while staying current.

Many of the largest brands iterate on their logos regularly, and some of  their changes are more drastic than others. Some of history’s biggest logo  evolutions were a step forward for their companies, but others prompted a  negative response from customers. Let’s take a look at the best (and the worst)  logo progressions of all time, and see what we can learn from them.

Radical but Effective Changes

Most corporate logos go through rather natural evolutions that adapt with  changes in consumer tastes. Companies design new logos in order to embrace new  cultural design aesthetics, but still make a point to maintain recognizable  elements of their brand. Starbucks provides a good example of a logo progression  that eases customers into a new style while preserving the essence of their old  logo:

Some changes, however, are not quite as gradual. These are some of the more  extreme logo shifts throughout history that took a leap and succeeded. These  monumental brand shifts were the result of company name changes, rebranding  efforts, tackling new markets, or significant business pivots.

Canon

Canon was originally called Seikikōgaku kenkyūsho (translated to Precision  Optical Industry Co.), and they were responsible for producing Japan’s first  35mm camera, which was called the “Kwanon.” This early 1934 logo depicts Kwanon  (an enlightened female being who is revered in East Asian Buddhism) sitting on a  lotus flower with thousands of arms. Soon Canon dropped the visual depiction of  Kwanon, and in 1947 decided to change its name to Canon instead. This name and  logo change opened Canon up to a more international market and has served them  well for decades.

Apple

We’re all familiar with the famous bitten apple, but few are aware of the  quaint, vintage-style logo originally used by the now multi-billion-dollar  company. Apple’s first logo, designed by then co-founder Ron Wayne in 1976,  featured a pastoral scene of Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree.  Later that year Steve Jobs hired graphic designer Rob Janoff, who simplified the  logo to just an apple and included a bite so that it wouldn’t be confused with a  cherry. Steve Jobs insisted that Janoff also make it colorful, to humanize the  company and make it seem more welcoming (this “colorful” approach was also  successful with their first generation of iMac desktops, which were meant to  appeal to the average, non-tech-savvy user). Today, Apple has adopted a much  sleeker look to match its smooth and glossy gadgetry, but their logo maintains  the original apple silhouette that brought them so much fame.

Yahoo

The pixelated, 90s-style red logo you see above was used very briefly during  the early days of the internet. Yahoo! quickly went on to design the logo style  that most of us are familiar with, the playful (but much cleaner) font that  lasted all the way through this year. In August of 2013 Yahoo! announced that a  new version of their logo would be released in a month, and Marissa Mayer used  the 30-day countdown to promote the logo creation process as well as their newly  revamped “My Yahoo” homepage product. Click here to learn more about how the public has reacted  to their logo change.

UPS

When Jim Casey merged his American Messenger Company with a competitor and  created the United Parcel Service in 1917, he designed his first logo with an  eagle carrying a parcel and the words “Safe, Swift, Sure” written on the side.  They used their black-and-white parcel logo from 1961 to 2003, and interestingly  returned to their old brown-and-gold color scheme in their 2003 redesign after  over 40 years of a colorless logo.

NBC

NBC has gone through some sweeping changes since their first design. NBC  began as a radio station broadcast network as early as the 1920s, and used a  microphone logo from the 20s until 1942. Their timeless rainbow peacock design  emerged in 1956 to celebrate and encourage the ubiquity of color televisions.  This peacock logo experienced many permutations throughout the decades, and  today some people don’t even realize that the NBC logo is supposed to be  evocative of a bird.

Nokia

This aquatic Nokia logo from 1865 may seem fishy, but that’s because Nokia  has gone through some serious pivots since its launch. It started as a Finnish  paper mill, and opened a second mill near the town of Nokia on the Nokianvirta  river (hence the logo’s water theme). Since then, Nokia has changed focus a lot,  creating everything from rubber goods to electronics.

Bold yet Ineffective Redesigns

Almost all logos need to evolve, but when companies move forward they  occasionally take a step in the wrong direction. In an attempt to keep up with  the more simple and modern design trends, a brand sometimes misses the mark and  ends up alienating and confusing their loyal customers.

Here are a few logo modifications that have been generally regarded as “mistakes,” and which their companies ended up retracting. Let’s see what we can  learn from their blunders. (Tip: Before letting your logo hit the market, learn  how to do logo research and get feedback on your  designs).

Gap

The logo change seen above was generally considered a PR disaster for the  Gap, who decided in 2010 to stray from their famous blue and white box and try  something more “contemporary.” The new logo received a lot of extremely negative  reactions, and it was dropped after less than a week. Their president, Marka  Hansen, resigned not long after the debacle. The reality was that the Gap’s  original logo was well-liked by customers and it already had a rather modern  edge to it; many fans felt the new logo looked a little too much like basic  clipart—moving towards a clean-looking logo is popular, but remember that  there’s a fine line between minimalism and too simple.

Kraft

Kraft has been around for a long time, and many of its brands have been in  production for well over 100 years. Kraft’s logo has always had a familiar blue  font surrounded by a red oval, but in a 2009 press release Kraft announced that they were  giving their “logo a facelift to more clearly deliver ‘delicious’” through a  colorful burst and a blue line reminiscent of a smile. It would be a little  presumptuous to dismiss this redesign as a “failure,” since some fans ended up  being receptive to it, but many customers felt the logo was a little too different and not reminiscent of Kraft at all. No red oval,  lowercase instead of capitalized letters and a whole new color scheme. This is  perhaps why Kraft has held off using this new logo on their actual packaging;  when customers are walking down the aisle, you want them to immediately  recognize your products.

Tropicana

In 2009, Tropicana eliminated their old straw-in-orange look for more  modern-looking cartons. On the surface, Tropicana did everything right; they’d  been using the same imagery for decades, and wanted a cleaner look while  maintaining the same colors and theme. However, President Neil Campbell admitted  that they “underestimated the deep emotional bond” that loyal customers had with  that red-and-white straw protruding from a juicy orange. Many customers also  complained that the new design looked too similar to other brands, and they  confused Tropicana with other generic options when shopping. Tropicana quickly  returned to using their original logo, and probably will do so for years to  come. The lesson? Sometimes what you believe is holding your company back is  actually what sets you apart from your competitors.

Tip: Need help creating a logo? Learn more about logo creation and other  business design skills with this free online course.

I also encourage you to visit Jason’s Web site for Docstoc.com here.

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