May 17, 2013 Alchemist Studios

The History of Logo Design

You might think that logos are a relatively recent development, springing into being with the advent of brands like Coca-Cola or the Ford Motor Company… But you couldn’t be more wrong. – as soon as humans were daubing paint on the walls of their caves, they were designing symbols to represent ideas, identities and concepts.

Early symbolism History

Humanity’s first recorded use of symbols dates back literally thousands of years. From the cave paintings at Lascaux, through Egyptian hieroglyphics to Greek and Roman coins, there is a strong thread of symbolism. Small pictograms become invested with meaning and associated with a person, place or an idea. The Egyptians branded their animals with hieroglyphs, the ancient Greeks sealed documents with personalised animal seals and the early Christians used secret symbols to communicate with each other.

Merchants’ marks

During the Middle Ages the merchant guilds became strong and powerful. Heraldic designs were used to identify the nobility, and this idea was appropriated by the merchants and craftsmen to use as identifying marks for their products. Early adopters in particular were the manufacturers of china and pottery, printers, stonemasons and gold and silver smiths. Some artists also developed a logotype like branding for their signature, for example, Rembrandt and Durer.

Come the revolution

With the spread of industrialisation during the 18th and 19th centuries, manufacturers were producing more and sending their goods further afield. They needed to distinguish themselves from other producers and the corporate logo developed into a badge of identity for diversifying organisations. In the early 20th century, a group of craftsmen and designers working in Vienna developed the concept of the corporate logotype as we know it today. The Wiener Werkstatte came up with a graphic identity that they used on all their products and communications.

20th century ad men history

By the 1950s the concept of corporate branding had become established and the golden era of Madison Avenue advertising agencies brought about the design and development of some of the most iconic logos that are still in use today. Farseeing executives and talented designers created logos that spoke volumes to an increasingly sophisticated consumer. The logos themselves became simpler so that they would have more impact and could be used in a variety of ways – compare the intricate line drawings used for Victorian logotypes with today’s highly graphic pictograms.

An eye to the future

This era has been called the Information Age and the logos that are being designed today must work on screen as well as in print. Once brand recognition has been built and a strong logotype is globally recognised, it becomes a very powerful tool. Famous brands are now introducing a new dynamic: subverting their logo, animating it, decorating it and re-visualising it in endless incarnations. MTV started it and Google continues doing this on almost a daily basis without losing the essence of the Google logotype.

In an era where the brand has become king, the humble logo now stands as the power behind the throne.

About Author:

Martin Christie is a Creative Director and founder of Alchemist (formerly know as LOGO DESIGN LONDON) at – a leading UK and London based Graphic & Logo Design Agency specialising in high quality Logo Design, Stationery and Graphic Design.

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