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The Decade In Logos

Among many others, I picked up one particularly pernicious bad habit in college: shaving my hair to a quarter-inch length, by myself, using clippers. It saved money in more ways than one – few women accept dates from six-foot-tall eagle chicks. I stuck with the look longer than I really should have, transporting a 1950s style into the new millennium. Today, I look different. And, not coincidentally, am married.

Few of us, we are all pleased to report, look the same way we did ten years ago (with some notable exceptions). Likewise our favorite brands; the past ten years provided a surfeit of logo redesigns, each documented, critiqued, lambasted and praised on the internet. (No site does as thorough and admirable a job of redesign review as the Brand New blog, part of the Under Consideration website. Be warned: hours can be lost reading these reviews.)

 

Graphic from the New York Times.

Some of the changes in the past ten years have been miniscule, as with the logo for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tweaked so slightly as to be barely noticeable at even large sizes.

 

Got that?

Some, however, have been a huge change – few more so than Pepsi. Widely pilloried, the infamous Pepsi redesign suffered doubly with the release of its accompanying design document that described in detail the new logo’s emotions and energy fields. In fairness, without understanding how the line of DNA to future crosses the convention-innovation axis, it’s hard to judge the smiley little logo on its merits. So do your homework.

We’ve put together a gallery of some of the redesigns, some of which are peppered throughout this post (including my own). Companies that have done so include communications firms like AT&T and Sprint, media outlets (MSNBC and Animal Planet), old school tech companies (Xerox, Kodak), fast food (Burger King, KFC), airlines, websites, even the City of New York. Much as a sports team will change its logo to sell new merchandise, so to can a refreshed logo boost a stock price – or so the thinking goes.

But just one little link-click away lies the ugly past behind these transformations. As painful as it is for me to post the photo you’ll see below, creative directors at these firms must cringe at the color choices and line art of their predecessors. Too bad for them. The web, in essence, is the photo album brought out to show what a logo looked like in its awkward phase – and for that, it should be praised.

A good place to start is with this great post at Instant Shift.com, walking through the evolution of twenty prominent brands. (Volkswagen, for example, wisely decided to eventually downplay the swastika in its logo.) Much of this post seems to have been derived from the thorough encyclopedia of logo iterations found at LogoOrange.com, a logo design and corporate identity site. LogoOrange also describes existing trends in logo design on an annual basis – this year, psychedelia and arabesque were in, though I didn’t need to tell you that.

For lesser-known labels of years gone by, an enterprising individual took the trouble to scan an entire book of 1970s trademarks, “World of Logotypes.” Available for download as a PDF, or as a Flickr set, the monochromatic tome displays logos for hundreds of firms – many extinct, many ready for re-appropriation in sci-fi movies. (Another book, Logo RIP, pays tribute to identities of yore, its website acting as a place for fans to sit shiva.)

No discussion of logos would be complete without mentioning the secret resource of hack designers the world over: the fabulous Brands of the World. The site offers downloadable, high quality line art versions of most of the world’s top (and lesser known) brands. While a former .ru iteration of the site gave a stronger feel of Naomi Klein-style rebellion, there’s still something visceral about being able to open the Starbucks logo in Illustrator and tweak it to suit your needs. Please discuss with your attorney before doing so, and clear this page from your browser history.

I’ve always been a big fan of old advertisements, looking at how what is messaged and what is considered appropriate has evolved over time. In the moment, we often lose site of the history of our culture – which is why we love the end of a decade: it gives us an excuse to reflect upon ourselves. For the millions of dollars companies spent to develop the new logos above, a certain number of them will grow disenchanted by 2020, or 2030, and these fresh representations of what the brand stands for will slide to the left, leaving future creative directors to wring their hands in aesthetic angst.

I, however, will remain enamored of my current hairstyle forever and always. If you don’t like it, that’s simply because you aren’t privy to the research I’ve done to determine its energy fields and how it relates to the Golden Ratio.

And I’m not dumb enough to release that research to the public.
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