Design: All done for the love of logos

Companies take trademarks very seriously - just look at how much they spend on them.

AT THEIR best, logos are welcome friends, like the sight of the London Transport roundel indicating a tube station on a dark and dubious street. Virtually unchanged since 1933, Edward Johnston's design classic will make its latest appearance on the six new underground stations of the pounds 3.2bn Jubilee Line extension.

On the other hand, logos can arouse intense annoyance. The high streets of Britain were scarcely enhanced when the Midland Bank replaced its familiar gryphon with the red and white lozenge of its current owner, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. This spiky motif was adapted from HSBC's towering headquarters in Hong Kong. Sir Norman Foster's design, which aroused the disapproval of the island's feng shui experts, is an unlikely symbol of fiscal prudence since it is said to be the most expensive building ever constructed.

Understandably, institutions place great importance on symbols of corporate identity. Unfortunately, they often get it wrong. Few of BT's millions of customers can have warmed to BT's blue and red piper sign. This curiously fey figure, known colloquially as "man drinking a yard of ale", was a central element in the company's pounds 50m redesign in 1991. This wispy, stylised figure is curiously similar to the logos of the main UK political parties. At a distance, the stylised red rose of New Labour could be mistaken for the red and blue Tory torch, which in turn resembles the flame-like wings of the Lib Dems' yellow bird symbol. Going by their web-sites, however, we can see that the real logos of the parties are the leaders, whose features loom over the weedy symbols. The slow revelation of William Hague's Mekon- like dome is a particularly disturbing experience. The fact that institutions tend to think alike about trademarks is revealed in Marks of Excellence, Per Mollerup's visually appealing, but stodgily written, exploration of logos, which has just been re-issued in paperback (Phaidon, pounds 22.95). His taxonomy draws together those companies which, for example, use birds, flags and crowns as their symbols. Dogs are particularly popular: Greyhound buses, HMV records, the bulldog of Mack trucks, the cartoon hound on Niceday stationery and, most appropriate of all, the Scottie with wagging tail formed by the letters "Spratts." Other animal symbols range from the leaping cat on Slazenger rackets and the dromedary on Camel cigarettes, to the Qantas kangaroo and the Lacoste crocodile. (A tennis champ of the Twenties, Jean-Rene Lacoste, was nicknamed "The Crocodile".)

Logos in the form of handwriting include Coca-Cola, Ford and Harrods. Mollerup notes that the Paul Smith signature which appears on the designer's label is not what appears on Mr Smith's cheques. But he fails to point out that arguably the most famous "signature" of all, the Walt Disney logo, was not the work of the eponymous film producer. Companies whose logos make striking use of initials include Volkswagen, McDonalds, Rolls-Royce, and the burgeoning retail chain whose name commemorates the initials of its Swedish founder, Ingmar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.

Some trademarks have not stray- ed far from their heraldic origins, such as the EIIR monogram on Royal Mail postboxes or the BP shield. What Mollerup fails to add is that BP spent pounds 1m researching its logo in 1989. After much heart-searching, the company took the less-than-earthshaking decision to italicise the two initials. The revamp cost around pounds 100m. In contrast, the BBC recently spent pounds 5m on a corporate redesign whose main outcome was to stiffen the backbone of its previously italicised logo.

The cost of such tinkering may seem preposterous, but Mollerup, himself a design consultant, insists that "every design programme needs to be adjusted to meet changing conditions". Presumably, that's why we've lost the green gherkin and "57 varieties" from Heinz products and the clock from Crosse & Blackwell. Fortunately, Tate & Lyle had the good sense not to tamper with its tins of golden syrup, which still bear the quotation "Out of the strong came forth sweetness" (Judges 12:6) illustrated by a decaying lion corpse and swarm of bees. Though much modified, the Camp Coffee label still boasts its tartan-clan defender of the Raj. In retrospect, however, the US detergents giant Procter & Gamble may wish it had updated its "man in the moon" logo, which first appeared in 1886, before a gaggle of paranoid conspiracy-hunters denounced the trademark as a sign of corporate satanism.

Mollerup notes that the Shell scallop "would hardly be recognised as a shell if the company did not carry the name." In fact, this carefully guarded symbol looks more like a sun-rise in its latest formulation. But such simplification is not always the rule. After modernising the label, Colman's quietly re-introduced a horned bull's head on its mustard a few years ago.

The Michelin man, one of the most famous of all trademarks, has scarcely changed since 1898. The founding Michelin brothers got the idea of Bibendum from a stack of tyres at a trade show. Drawn by the poster artist O'Galop, this cheery endomorph continues to humanise the image of the tyre company in a humorous way. But I doubt if the woman whom I once saw being chased down Brixton High Street by a man in a Bibendum costume feels very warmly towards the trademark.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project