Logo Design History

Logo Design History: Where Do Logos Come From?

In our modern understanding, a logo is an emblem, a symbol designed to make a brand recognizable and help promote public identification. But how exactly did people appoint these images to be the identification of their brands when ‘brands’ didn’t even exist? 

The Power Of Symbols

First of all, let’s establish the main fundamental of any logo, drawn from the logo design history. 

Over the centuries of our existence, people have been appointing special meaning to different symbols: religious, cultural, or based on experience. That is exactly why today’s symbolism lays on the basis of any logo design. However subjective symbols can be to a particular culture, there is a system of mutual experience that is visually represented by the same elements all over the world.

The Ancient World of Logos

It’s important to understand that humans have identified themselves using stamps, symbols, or signatures for thousands of years. 

Ancient Egyptian Seals
Ancient Egyptian Seals

Ancient Egypt is considered the most developed civilization in the ancient world, and it becomes apparent even in the context of the early logotypes. Their writing system was highly symbolic: the images were representing words or phenomena. Just as with today’s logo design, their logo design history had specific colors appointed to different meanings. 

However, the Egyptians were not the only ones to use early signatures and symbolic images.

An ancient Sumarian tablet with one of the first personal signatures in the world
An ancient Sumerian tablet with one of the first personal signatures in the world

Simultaneously, in China, the first hieroglyphics were developed, where symbols represented ideas, words, signatures.

history if hieroglyphs

Signatures all over the world were used to identify a human, brand cattle, or even identify a manufacturer of goods – there is evidence of Ancient Greek and Romans doing that.

Medieval Logo Design History

No person in the world hasn’t seen a medieval coat of arms. Starting from the 12th-century heraldic designs were used to identify the status and property of the nobility. 

Initially created to identify the knights of different parties on the battlefield, by the 13th century CE, heraldry had spread to nobles and knights who began to take pride in bearing the colors and arms of their family predecessors.

13 Century Roll of arms
13 Century Roll of arms

At this point, the progress has led people to move to cities, where they couldn’t sustain themselves by only farming and cattle breeding. As the demand grew, more and more ‘shops’ were appearing. To attract customers, they have started to hang out signs that identified the shop and the goods they were providing. 

middle ages shop sign
middle ages tavern sign

The Printing Era

Another significant point in time for the logo design history is the beginning of papermaking and printing. After Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, the mass adoption of printing materials has caused authors and publishers to create logos to claim ownership of their work.

The first ever printed advertisement in English
The first-ever printed advertisement in English
Colonial era advertisement
Colonial era advertisement

Industrial Revolution of a logo design & the 20th Century

By the time of the industrial revolution and with the introduction of printing in colors, advertisements were commonplace. The industrial revolution in its turn has introduced the middle class – another societal group that had money to spare. New businesses appeared and grew. Branding became a necessity.

Note: Symbolic logo design language included national, nautical, heraldic, and agricultural images. National and heraldic symbols (crowns, flags, and coats of arms) meant dignity and status, while nautical, natural, and agricultural symbols (seascapes, birds, wheat stalks, and farm animals) represented purity and freshness.

Early 20th century ads
Early 20th century ads

An astonishing example of corporate identity creation is a manufacturing and marketing enterprise founded in Vienna in 1903 called the Wiener Werkstätte.

Werkstätte’s branding

Four group identity elements were used to design everything that had to do with the company, like invoices or wrapping paper: the Werkstätte’s red rose symbol plus the monogram marks of the Werkstätte, the designer, and the producer.

This is exactly when visual elements have become more powerful in establishing a business’s image and reputation than ever before.

20 century ad

The Television Era

Before the general introduction of television, the general rule for logos was that they should always be presented consistently, in static form. However, that changed following the appearance of the new format. Logo design history went one step further. New, dynamically moving images have allowed designers and brands to get creative in their works.

We cannot avoid mentioning the iconic MTV logo, which changed the graphic identity format once and for all.

mtv logo history

This logo has been regularly redesigned, animated, adapted, establishing MTV’s ultimate edgy and modern image.

The 21st Century – A Branding Era

In this day and age, there are no simple companies selling goods. There are brands with their mission, vision, and identity. Brands are personalities speaking to people’s hearts; wearing Nike shoes has become a statement, representing sports achievements, motivation, and moving forward.

Branding has become so big that even people can become brands. Remember Gordon Ramsy, Oprah, or Ellen Degeneres? Having successfully turned themselves into brands, even a single mention of their name in any goods makes them sell out like hot buns. 

Visual identity – including developing logos – is crucial, helping to establish the needed brand associations in the people’s minds. Nowadays, the logotype is not simply using symbolic images – like using a picture of a shoe and calling it a branded shoe manufacturer. Nowadays, as a designer, you need to take into account a brand’s personality and how to make it more appealing to its target demographic. You cannot ignore the trends and the evolution of design either, reflecting culturally significant events into your designs.

Bonus: The Logo Design History. From Complexity to Simplicity.

The last century was a busy one, but over time our lives have become even more complex. The more information-packed our lives become, the simpler the logo designs are. This is happening as people are consuming more data than ever before, and the simpler the design, among other things, the easier it is to remember.

shell logo history
apple logo history
audi logo history

The Bottom Line

Today, Branding is still sometimes considered somewhat redundant. As if introduced a few years ago, to some people, it looks like an unnecessary whim. In reality, though, it has been present for years – in one form or another, it helped businesses and people identify themselves and their services: from hieroglyphs to coats of arms, from cattle branding to tavern signs, as shown in a logo design history.

In the modern world, you need to try harder to stand out in the line of other companies with similar services: branding is the way to do it. By giving your brand a personality, an aura, if you will, you let people more to cling on to, except for the goods you sell.

How Gingersauce helps with branding in the 21st century?

Gingersauce is a professional tool for creating brand guidelines that combine smart automation and creativity. It’s a professional tool – meaning it won’t do a half-baked job, leaving you with a mediocre result. There is no need to do everything manually – this is the beauty of modern society. Gingersauce will gather all your visuals in one place and help you make sure your brand design stays consistent and cohesive.

You can download a created brand book right away – it will look promising even with no customization!

Create My Branding

The author

Josh Bloch
Josh Bloch

Josh is a multidisciplinary designer with over 20 years of experience in industrial design, exhibitions, branding, 2d and 3d animation, graphics for print and digital, illustration, and UX/UI for mobile and desktop apps.

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