So where do logos come from?

It’s both an interesting and useful question to ask.

Interesting, because the answer tracks the history and development of business itself. Useful, because knowing the journey and evolution of the logo helps you to understand what the role of a logo and a brand is in the 21st century.

Let’s dive right into it, (or skip to the bottom of the post where you can see our summary with a few big examples in our latest INFOGRAPHIC ‘The Evolution of Logo’.)


The Ancient Origins of the Logo and the Brand

The term logo is a shortened form of ‘logogram’ which means a sign or character that represents a word or phrase (originating from the Greek word ‘logos’ which means word).

So, in its purest form the logo is simply a visual sign that communicates a word or phrase. Hieroglyphs and pictograms are therefore some of the earliest historical examples of logos and you can imagine how important they would have been in a non-literate world. Back then, the ‘logo’ or sign outside your shop was the only way to explain what kind of business you did.

The clue to the origins of the brand is in the name. It was what farmers did to their sheep and cattle to identify them – they branded their mark into the skin of the animals so they could tell which ones were theirs.

The important thing about a logo was that it told people what you did, whereas for a brand the important thing was to have a unique mark to distinguish you from your competitors. These are facts which are still true today, and a nuance that a lot of business owners do not understand;

logos are about communicating, brands are about identifying.

In the medieval period we see a few examples where the logo and brand start to be pulled together into one design. Heraldry, for instance, was a unique design that identified the house you belonged to or were fighting for, but it also communicated a message about the values and characteristics of that house through the imagery it employed.

However – in business – logos and brands were (for the most part) relatively separate and still quite changeable. But as the world evolved, and business evolved with it… this began to change.

How the Print Era changed Businesses and the Logo for Good

Can you imagine how different owning a business must have been before the days of print communication?

You probably would have been the sole trader of your product or service in your area, and you would likely have had only one competitor nearby that anyone knew about.

The advent of the printing press changed all that, and it was a real turning point in the history of logo design.

Now, for the first time, people had an easy way of finding out about businesses across the country – or even the world. In other words, distinguishing yourself just got a lot harder, but the benefits got a lot bigger.

Enter the creative entrepreneur…

Savvy entrepreneurs were quick to cotton on to the fact that effective design and communication through advertising could bring in huge amounts of business.

Over time a pattern started to emerge where the communication logo and the identification brand started to overlap and share characteristics. Consistency was the key to being remembered and gaining staying power in a larger market. Having a logo that was also your identifying mark was a big benefit in the market.

Now, (as well as communicating a message) your logo had to be unique, memorable and identify you.

The Evolution of the Logo in the 20th Century

By the 20th century we were starting to ask a lot more of the humble logo, and we were constantly learning how important it was to have an effective one.

Competition got tougher, advertising and marketing budgets got bigger and the modern design, advertising and marketing industries were born. These professionals dedicated their careers to refining logo designs and figuring out what makes the most successful logos in the modern world (HINT: it’s all about saying all of the above in as simple a way as possible).

You can see for yourself how the trends have constantly gone towards simpler designs that still encompass the values of communication, identification, uniqueness and memorability.

Just take a look at our infographic which shows you with 6 examples just how the logo has evolved overthe 20th century (as well as an overview of the history of the logo up until that point).

Download the full size infographic by clicking here.

(Feel free to share this infographic and post it on your own blog. Just be sure to credit it to us (British Design Experts), the designer (Tracey Rickwood) and the researcher & writer (Jake Croft & Amy Hardingson))

Download the full size infographic by clicking here.

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