Logo: The power of symbolic graphics

Logos are usually simple, iconic graphics that effectively represent individual business and the whole brand. Maybe you didn’t pay attention to that ever before, but people have been identifying themselves using signature marks and emblems for hundreds or even thousands of years! It wasn’t called logo icon at first – that’s clear, but a symbolic graphic, that communicate identity visually, has been spotted many, many years ago. Much earlier than we could suspect. ?

One of the most visible example of first symbolic illustrations and graphics was noticed in Ancient Egypt. Egyptians are fathers of a formal writing system called hieroglyphics and first, complex symbolic images and sculptures that held certain meanings and content. After seeing particular image done back then, people knew the hidden message or they associated it with a specific notice. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes! The same process happens when we look at logos nowadays. Usually, when we see the most popular of them, we immediately know what do they represent and how do we feel about them. It is the power of association.

Medieval logos?

You say: no way! Impossible. History says: yes! Medieval Europe had its two distinct visual languages: symbolic signage and heraldic crests. Second one was reserved for aristocracy. ?It was a system of assigning graphic elements certain, societal status and meaning. Like particular set of colors and shapes represent one group of people or one family. Heraldry let people create unique everyday items that showed and pointed who is their owner (for example tablecloths with a certain emblem).

In Medieval times, most of the society was illiterate, but as the population started to grow and spread, cities has enlarged, people changed their life style and started to pay more attention to education. It was the time when more specialized and diversified trade appeared. All shops owners started to use graphic to represent their businesses by hanging up signs to let society easily identify, what goods or services are available in each place. All of this led to businesses (like pharmacies, barbers, breweries) differentiating themselves by adding specific, characteristic images to their signs, which usually turned into names. And it allowed patrons to develop some kind of sense of loyalty and recognizability between society. That was the very first example of icons that influenced people in a very similar way to current logos. The graphics themselves were not as specific and unique as we have them now, but this is the history. Nothing has happened at once, from nothing.

Paper and printing revolution

Paper and print inventions were revolutionary for many aspects of life. Graphic was one of them. Gutenberg’s printing press caused massive production of ?paper-based materials, that with time became more and more common. At the same time the whole design field has grown bigger and it set the stage for modern kind of logo creation. As a result of a merge of advertising with industrialization, we got an early branding. Yes, that is correct. It was seen for the first time in late 1600s when printed newspapers, funded by advertisements were a common thing and each business saw themselves as an unique unit, that needs to be separated and distinguished from every other business.

Powerful 1800s

Mass production of printed materials has grown even bigger. Thanks to that people made some important changes in the whole structure of printing press and new steam-powered designs. Very significant moment was when color printing has appeared. That new feature became a common sight after 1840. As the technology spreaded its wings, more and more businesses naturally established themselves and grew, so the whole branding thing could evolve.

One of the most recognizable logos nowadays is a Coca-Cola logo. It was designed in 1885 and it was the very first icon that started completely new, modern era of logo design.

Getting over the hump

After 1913 commercial logos were just as common as the Internet access nowadays. The biggest evaluation of that signs were seen in Europe and USA. About 40 years later there was another breakthrough, that was started by Paul Rand, who designed a pictographic IBM logo. It featured an eye, a bee and a striped M letter, so as you can read, it is Eye (I) Bee (B) eM (M). That design is seen as a turning point in the whole history of logo creation.

Companies started to realize that usage of symbols can be very impactful and easy to remember, so the whole brands and businesses can gain much more attention and recognizability thanks to that kind of graphic. They began to move away from creating only utilitarian logo signs for the purpose of identification, they wanted something more, they wanted intentionally brand their businesses.

In 1962 the Design and Art Direction was founded in London. The purpose of that organization was to promote the excellence in design and advertising. A few years ago, first computer art appeared. It was another turning point in logo and in the whole graphic design.

Going digital

1970s brought fast and intense development of computer science, including computer-generated imagery and computer-aided drawing technologies. We can say that after that time, every year was full of new stuff that was putting many new and helpful features into the design filed. In early 2000s Adobe created its first InDesign and Photoshop software, that enabled sophisticated and way more advanced digital graphic design.

Want to learn more and see how logos changed during the time? Read our next article about Logo evaluation: a journey of simplicitation.