Evolving a Logo

As you work on refreshing/redesigning one of your old logos, I thought you might enjoy reading about some other well-known identity updates. Amy brought up the evolution of the Shell logo in class — a fine example of a mark that has evolved subtly over the course of 100 years. Each iteration reflects the taste and style of its time, and its craft suggests the prevailing tools of the day as well. Though we (reasonably) speculated that the scallop shell (technically a Pecten) was chosen to represent the idea of fossil fuels, it turns out this was not the case. Shell was originally a transport company. It later merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company in 1907 whereupon the new company adopted the shell mark as its logo. It is thought by some that the mollusk may have been suggested by one of the company’s principal stockholders whose family crest included a similar symbol. If so, it’s comforting to know that the phenomenon of peripherally-related stakeholders suggesting logo ideas based on personal tastes is not a new one!

The image above depicts the evolution of the Shell logo over time. You can read more about the logo’s history on the company’s website or in Per Mollerup’s superb book, Marks of Excellence.

One of my favorite logo updates has to be the work that Wolff Olins did for GE. According to BusinessWeek, GE is one of the 10 most recognized brands in the world. With that many eyes watching you, keeping that brand fresh (and its logo current) is a delicate task to say the least. The changes to the logo are incredibly subtle and admirably restrained.

At first glance, the difference between the 1986 version and the 2004/current version may be imperceptible. Indeed, even upon close examination they are probably near impossible to spot. The changes are incredibly subtle and have more to do with craft, reproduction and visual consistency than an overt shift in style. Here’s a more detailed view (both images via Speakup):

The more significant changes are in its execution. Though the logo wisely retains its emblematic authority, the context of its presentation positions it in a radically new light. No longer relegated to a staid corporate blue, GE’s graphic standards were updated to allow the logo to exist in 14 bright, optimistic colors. GE Inspira, a custom type face (designed by one-time San Francisco local Michael Abbink) blended precision and clarity with an openness and accessibility that transformed GE’s communications — with significant help from new grids, colors and image philosophy. In each instance the choices are thoughtful and restrained. In aggregate they add up to a transformative repositioning of the GE brand.