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Most of us are made to believe that logos are related only to businesses and marketing. Though this notion may be true to a certain extent, it is not the complete truth. There are logos all around us, and they have been with us since time immemorial, and the markets have been using them to their advantage.

Most of the activities, which have very little to do with the commercial world, have symbols representing them. We see them all around us in our everyday life, but we are either too busy to recognize them or too used to having them around that we take them for granted and never give them a second look or thought. But they have been there!

In fact, if we take the ‘logo’ phenomenon seriously, we are bound to recognize that logo designing is a religion in its own right. It is human nature to have a ‘symbol’ to show a person or a group of people direction, guidance and solace in times of disaster.

Wilson – the Wilson volley ball in the film ‘Cast Away’

Wilson – the Wilson volley ball in the film ‘Cast Away’

The best example can be found in the film ‘Cast Away’ in which a man stranded on a remote island after his plane crash-landed on the sea near an island survived with the help of an imaginary companion in the form of an icon. In this film, the character Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) uses the washed off things from the plane to survive on the island, and one of them is a ‘Wilson volley ball’ on which he paints a human face-like figure with his bloody hand and names it ‘Wilson’. And most of his four year’s stay on the island, Noland uses it as a guide, mentor, companion and even a ‘god’!

He talks to ‘Wilson’ as if it were a real person, and after losing Wilson in his attempt to escape from the island, he loses all hope and even the will to live any longer. This is one of the traits human beings alone have and the object ‘Wilson’ is nothing but a symbol of faith in one’s own self – so when Noland lost the ball, he lost all hopes of living because his faith was lost!

So, it is not uncommon to see people having a symbol of some sort, mostly from the things they like or fear much, to keep them going. In ancient times animals were used as symbols – most of the ancient gods and goddesses, and the saints after them, have an animal each to represent them.


The most ancient and most important symbol is the 4000 year old “rod of Asclepious” which the WHO (World Health Organisation), Royal Society of Medicine, American Medical and Osteopathic Associations, the British and the Australian Medical Association incorporated in their insignia (logos). The old shape, the ‘rod with a single snake’ took the shape of a ‘rod with two snakes and two gryphons on either side’ in the later years; by and by, this icon again is given more than one subtle shape with minor changes here and there and has been used by several international pharmaceutical companies in the modern world.


And the most popular life-saving symbol, logo, is the ‘red cross’, a voluntary organisation founded by Henri Dunant of Switzerland in 1875 to give medical assistance to the wounded soldiers, irrespective of their nationalities, in battle fields. This symbol, a red cross + mark on white background, the opposite of the colour of Swiss flag, is an icon of humanitarianism which has been saving thousands of lives, military and civil, all over the world.

The most common but the least talked about is the ‘chevron’, the symbol ‘>’, supposed to have been found on the entrances of some of the ancient tombs, which is now used in military and police uniforms to show the wearer’s rank. There are several companies and sports clubs that use this sign in their logos, not to mention the multi-billion-multi-national Chevron Corporation, the oil and natural gas giant.

International Olympic Committee’s logo

The Olympic Games is a global event that is celebrated in a different city once every four years. Pierre de Coubertine, a French national who was responsible for the revival of the ancient Olympic Games designed the International Olympics logo and flag, the Olympic Rings, to inspire people of the five continents on the Earth to unite and play games fairly. He said at a meeting of the Union des Sports Athlétiques in Paris on November 25, 1892: Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future… He designed it in 1912 and then it was used officially for the first time in the Antwerp (Belgium) 1920 Olympics.

And each city (country) that has hosted so far has its own Olympic logo and flag, starting from 1896 to 2008. It is amusing to learn how the design has been developed over the years: the simple pictures of people have changed to the pictures of important landmarks of the host city (country) to abstract designs that just represent the spirit of the host and the games.

We can see from these Olympics logos of different hosts that the logo design has come a long way from mere photo posters and pictures of people to the pictures of the famous landmarks of those cities to the graphic designs with animation in which only the abstract symbolism is highlighted. There has been a radical change since 1984 – the Olympic design of any host’s Olympic logo and flag has had the touch of Olympics only with the Olympic Rings. The Beijing 2008 logo, for example, has the Chinese language character made into an athlete in a running position on the red background that represents the colour of the Chinese national flag.

Not all logos are welcome!

Not all logos are very welcomed by the people in general, and one recent incident is the London 2012 Olympic logo. The London 2012 Olympics Logo Design has been under great criticism not only from the British but also from the logo designer all over the world. The design became such a faux pas that some Londoners even wondered whether the date of release of the logo was the first of April and the logo designing company was trying to fool everybody just for kicks!

However, in support of the logo, Lord Sebastian Coe, Organising Committee Chairman, said: “It’s not a logo; it’s a brand that will take us forward for the next five years. This is truly innovative …” The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said: “… When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life. It is a deliberate change from previous Olympic logos, which often feature images from the cities.” {This logo is supposed to inspire young people.}

Then there are logos of international organisations we see almost every day. The UNO (the United Nations Organisation) which was formed in 1945, presently with 192 member nations, has the logo that encompasses the entire world.

It is interesting to know the simple beginnings of a great logo. When there was a meeting of the newly formed UNO, ‘an identifying pin’ on the lapels of the delegates was needed, and a Navy officer, Mr. Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, was asked to make one, and he, in turn, assigned his assistant, Mr. Donald McLaughlin, a graphic designer, to design one. Mr. Donald McLaughlin made this round design with the globe showing all the five continents surrounded by a wreath of olive branches. That simple round design with a very minor change has been the logo of the UNO – just an identifying pin design became a symbol of peace and global cooperation!

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has adapted the same design, with wing-like projections on either side of it.

The international clubs, such as the Lions International and the Rotary Club International, have their logos seen by almost all the people of the world as they have clubs (branches) in almost every major city of the globe.

The ‘Lady Justice’, a young lady with a set of weighing scales in one hand and a double-edged sword in the other and with or without a blind-fold, is a very common symbol at court houses around the world. A statue at the entrance of a court house reminds people of impartiality in the weighing scales, power of Justice and the consequences for being guilty of something immoral (punishment) in the double-edged sword, and the treatment the people get irrespective of their position, status and appearance in the ‘blindfold’. A ‘logo’ representing the entire business of that house!

We have had this line “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1594.

Yes, a rose flower gave us the same sweet smell even if we gave it a different name, but that was long, long time ago. In the present world, we have hybrid rose flowers of different colours, different shapes and different smells; we cannot name a flower by its shape, colour or smell any more. The development of logo is like-wise!

A logo expresses symbolism, honour, neutrality, unity, theme and other practical activities the establishment owns it. But does it have to be? Do all logos contain all the details? Is it possible to show all the details in a design that measures 4X4 ? The answer is a simple ‘NO’. We have seen that mostly people and animals were used in the logos of the past, and some things found in the nature were used in the later days, and finally we see virtual images that have nothing to do with the original theme or purpose of the logo in the present day logos. Is there anything terribly wrong with the present day logo designing? No, not at all! It is the CHANGE we see in the logo designing in general. When there was only the technique of sculpting, we had just those statues representing the theme. As the technology developed, the fine arts including the logo designing simultaneously developed.

Back To Logo Designing In The Commercial World

Naturally, every establishment, commercial or non-commercial, likes to have a logo of its own – a different one from the rest of the designs (and it should be different because of the ‘copyrights’). And each designer has a vision of his own. But the point here is that in days gone-by, it was easy for the people to understand the theme from looking at the logo, but these days, it is not so… it is like ‘artificial insemination’. People do not actually get the theme by just looking at the logo; they need some explanation. Therefore, most of the time we cannot understand the logos; we just look at them! It is like the logo has become a status symbol rather than the representation of the spirit, theme, etc. {Well, it hardly matters for most of us as long as we are given some feedback on the product or service the logo represents.}

For example, the first one of the beautiful designs we see below, which needed a lot of computer manipulation, is attractive to look at, but does it give us any information? I don’t think so. The purple coloured line is supposed to be, according to the designer, the letters V and S – video and sharing. I had not been able to make out the shape until I read the designer’s note under the heading ‘Inspiration’. The other example is the second one, ‘ultimatennis’ – the symbol is supposed to be a tennis ball with letter U in reverse (in black) and letter T in light green. Well… And in the logo for ‘alera’, according to the designer, the bird represents freedom, and the two projections, which I thought were the wings of the bird, are, in fact, a hammock! The ‘edgelink’, on the other hand, has a look of its own – the letters being linked to one another, and the designer is proud to state that it is an ambigram – a word or design that looks the same even when reversed or rotated, and, of course, it does represent ‘edge’ and ‘link’. It is to be noted that, after all, not all names can be given this sort of treatment, however efficient and imaginative the designer may be.

People In The Logos

In the modern era too we see some exceptions. There are popular logos with the pictures of real people – the KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, for instance. The statue of Colonel Harland Sanders is placed at the entrances of some KFC outlets in some countries. Though it has had its share of changes and improvements made to it, it is a good looking logo, but we certainly cannot expect every logo to be with the picture of the owner of that establishment and, to be frank, not all faces look as pleasing as that of Colonel Harland Sanders – we get bored!

Client’s Logo Choice

The outcome of a logo is directly dependent on five factors: the type of business, the client’s concept, the budget, the customer target, and the designer. Of the different types of logo designing – Iconic logos, Illustrative logos, Enclosed emblem type logos, Text based logo, etc. And again, like the Shakespeare’s line ‘A rose by any name …’, the basic purpose of a logo is the same: to let people know, get attracted to and remember the logo, the brand and the product that logo represents! In addition, keeping the terminology aside, every individual business has a specific market target, and the logo that represents it must be appealing to that particular market.

For example, a florist in a town can be very liberal with his logo that is more illustrative with relevant words, but a multi-national software company needs a design with a modern concept, like that of Apple Inc. , because in the international market language and complicated design do not serve the purpose, and translated versions may not give the desired punch, and in addition, young people who are the potential customers of the computer software sector like to see their favourite brands in modern and chic logos! On the contrary, not all international products fare well with only a simple symbol.

The company that produces the Christmas cards, for instance, needs a logo that is full of merriment – jingle bells, coloured ribbons, tree, bright ornaments, etc. that represent nativity story. An international food product company certainly needs an iconic logo that shows, without much use of words, that the content in the pack is an item of food – the Nestlé can be a suitable example.

In case you are curious to know more about the LOGOS, you are free to visit SpellBrand, and have lots of fun!!

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.