“The logo has become a staple in all aspects of human activity,” writes designer and author Jens Müller, who is no stranger to the history of graphic design. “Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a university, group, medical practice, community initiative, or app without a personalized source identifier made up of shapes and letters.”
In Logo Beginnings, published by Taschen, Müller goes back to the roots of the logo mania. According to him, the earliest recorded example in the United States was an eagle holding a paintbrush against the Chicago skyline – created for paint manufacturer Averill in 1870. Europe joined the United States in 1875, with a red triangle for the English Bass Brewery – a brand that’s surprisingly minimal and modern in appearance.
Müller notes that logos first appeared as a result of trademark law, used as a way to differentiate products from competitors. And according to the author, those early logos set the convention for years to come.
“Even early in this development, diverse and sometimes conflicting logo design concepts emerged, including wordmarks, acronyms, figurative designs, and abstract shapes,” he writes, noting how many of them work. still good today, despite a completely different approach. media landscape.
Logo Beginnings examines some of these early efforts, with pages filled with historical examples arranged chronologically, divided into themes – for example, symbols representing people or landscapes, or geometric shapes. It is interesting to follow the gradual simplification of the design over time, moving from complex illustrated marks to the more simplified forms that we expect to see today.
The book also features some of the now-defunct logos of well-known companies, for example an Esquire Magazine logo designed by Paul Rand, featuring a huge, wide-eyed face, or an illustrated Michelin drawing from 1898, showing the character clutching a martini and a cigar.
Müller stops at particular companies, for example the French production company Pathé, which has changed its logo several times since 1898, without ever quite abandoning the rooster.
There’s also the entertainment company Universal Pictures, which has been married to the globe symbol since 1912; the insurance brand Prudential, with its different representations of the Rock of Gibraltar; and the oil company Shell, which has kept its scallop shell for more than 120 years.
It’s a fascinating book to dive in and out of, and a reminder of the hold symbolism can have on business and popular culture. “It is impossible to predict exactly what brands will look like in the future,” Müller writes in the introduction to the book. “What is certain, however, is that the original fundamentals used in various ways over 100 years ago will continue to play a role.”
Logo Beginnings is published by Taschen; taschen.com