One might be on a passerby's carrier bag, another on a van and a third on a hot link from your favourite web site. Whether or not you notice them, the average consumer is exposed to 5,000 corporate messages every day--and most include a logo.
Some are cute. Others are witty. Many are boring. Which are the best ones? The Nike swoosh? The hand-lettered Coca-Cola script? Apple's half-eaten fruit? IBM's stripy initials? Or the
lovable Michelin Man? And what makes them so memorable? R.O.B. Magazine teamed up with the London Financial Times to identify the Top 50 corporate logos of all time.
A panel of judges was assembled, including eminent architect Norman Foster, design, retail and restaurant mogul Terence Conran, and the acclaimed industrial designers Marc Newson and Karim Rashid. Also on the panel were Paola Antonelli of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, John Hegarty, one of the world's top advertising art directors, Tyler Brûlé, the Canadian journalist who founded Wallpaper* magazine, and John Pylypczak, the Toronto graphic artist who designed the new logo for this magazine, first seen on the cover of last month's re-launch issue.
The judges (a full list appears on page 96) were first asked to contribute to a long list of more than 100 logos, from which the final Top 50 would be chosen. They then awarded points out of five to each of the logos on the long list. The criteria were that the logo should not only look great, but should accurately reflect the company's activities and aspirations. The judges also had to be convinced that the logo had had a positive effect on perceptions of the company among employees and the public. To win five points, a logo had to fulfill all those criteria.
Voting papers, sent in from around the world, were collated in late summer, and now the Top 50, published here in reverse order, can be revealed. The winning logos are an extraordinary collection. Some were the work of celebrated graphic artists: IBM, ABC and UPS were all designed by Paul Rand, Yves Saint Laurent by Cassandre, and Bell System by Saul Bass. Other equally famous symbols have more haphazard histories. No one knows who designed Volkswagen's VW, or Rolls Royce's double R. The Citroën chevron came from an engineering sketch of an early 1900s car gear, and Mercedes' three-pointed star was originally a doodle on a postcard.
One logo--the Red Cross--is not a corporate logo at all. But the brilliant simplicity of its design made it irresistible to our judges--so much so that it very nearly beat some of the greatest corporate logos to the No. 1 spot.
What the winning logos have in common is that they are so cleverly designed and conceived that they instantly convey the owner's chosen message. Norman Foster, one of the judges, likens the best ones to "the hands of an analogue clock, which can tell you the time at a glance--no thinking, no mental processing. The clock face doesn't even need numerals."
If R.O.B. Magazine were to repeat this exercise in 10, or even five, years time, the Top 50 might look very different. Many of the older logos in this Top 50 were created at a time when they were expected to appear only in print. These days, more and more corporate messages are conveyed on screen, and companies increasingly need symbols that will be equally effective in all media.
One or two of the Top 50 have already been "retired" because they did not work on the internet. The Reuters dots, for instance, were too fuzzy. Many companies will commission new logos, but let's hope that the best of the existing ones will be adaptable for the screen, because life would be duller without them. As Terence Conran says of the corporate logo voted No. 1 by our judges, "It's been drawn in thousands of different ways over the years, but always looks extremely stylish and, most importantly, always makes me smile." You will have to turn to the end of our Top 50 to discover which one he is describing.
50 - ABC: The letters A, B and C were a dream for an accomplished designer like Paul Rand, who realized that, in lower case, they had a natural rhythm. Even so, his idea of depicting the letters in three circles of the same size framed by
a bigger circle was brilliant. Rand came up with another designer's trick for the TV network's new logo: Just as car designers distort lines to create the optical illusion of perfect ones, Rand dented his big circle to make it look rounder. "This is Mr. Rand