Corporate Creativity: A Designer Collects 1,300 Logos

Our Q & A with Angus Hyland, whose new book, Symbol, examines everything from Apple's apple logo to the CBS eye

Angus Hyland's new book, Symbol, is 300-plus pages of pictures. It's not a picture book, per se, but it contains about 1,300 images. Hyland, a designer for international design firm Pentagram, has compiled and organized a comprehensive anthology of pictorial logos, from the World Wildlife Fund panda logo to the CBS eye. Hoping to present company logos apart from their agendas, meanings, and messages, Hyland, along with his co-editor, Steven Bateman, organized the symbols not by the company type or era but by form. The book separates the images into two groups, abstract and representative symbols. Then within those broad groups, it breaks them down even further, arranging each logo by its shape (circles with circles, lions with lions).

Hyland and Bateman present the symbols without much text, hoping readers (viewers?) will appreciate the logos for their forms, without distraction. Hyland spoke with The Atlantic about why he and Bateman chose this peculiar organization, his thoughts on branding, and what drew him to commercial art (hint: it has something to do with Pink Floyd).

How did you come up with the concept for a book of symbols?

I had this idea: there are lots and lots of books on trademarks and logos, but no one had specifically concentrated on pure symbols, trademarks which are made out of pictures more than words. Unlike, say Coca-Cola, think Apple. And then I thought, actually there must be quite a few [symbols] in the world. And, if we edited a survey of them wouldn't it be great if they were categorized based by form.

Symbols, your logo, are the crucial part of an identity system. Some may say that they're dead, but I take the view that it's like the cherry on the cupcake; it's emblematic, it's signature. A lot of branding agencies would say that contemporary branding allows you to be so immersive that you can put your finger over the Apple and you know you're still in Apple. But if you take away the mark all together, then it's bereft—it doesn't have that final signature, that full stop, that mark of excellence.

The modern contemporary view on branding is that it's a fully immersive nose-to-tail experience, so that means it's not just your logo, but it's actually the entire visual application of the identity. It's the colors you use, the material, even the sound of the door on the car. It's a more sophisticated discipline than just creating a mark. I would say, this is perfectly true, but the signature has to be somehow visualized in some form or another. Otherwise all of that good will is not channeled into one focal point.

Yeah, I noticed that the book is organized by symbol type--circular logos are with circular logos, bird symbols are with bird symbols, etc. Why did you decide to arrange them like that?

There are a lot of symbols in this world that use a circle as their basis. There are all different types of companies doing different types of things, but their symbols share something in common—they're all derived from the circle, or the square, or the triangle, or a flower, or a tree, or a dragon. Wouldn't it be great to get all of those together so when you see them gently amorphous across the pages, you see these shapes, which have something in common?

And then, it was basically done by type. Section one was abstract shapes, really basic, platonic—circles, squares, etc—until we'd run out of basic shapes, and the second section was representational. Say, trees or birds or faces or crowns.

Besides categorizing them by type, how did you decide to present the shapes?

They are all done in black and white, so you concentrate the reader on the graphic quality. It unifies them and it concentrates them in a pure graphic form. And punctuated between these pages of thousands of symbols are case studies of ones that are sort of very established and enduring.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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