The Logo Design Revolution
Aug 29, 2018
The fields of graphic design and semiotics are inextricably linked. In this way, the first logo creators were most likely the ancient Egyptians, who designed images to convey socio-cultural values and established visual codes of representation. But as the industrial revolution began to give rise to consumer culture as we know it, logo design remained mostly utilitarian; images that represented brands often depicted either the product, the service, or something related to its manufacture, such as a factory.
Then came Paul Rand with his iconic rendering of the IBM logo in 1956. Many design historians see this as the definitive turning point in logo design. Shortly thereafter, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar founded a design firm that would take things one step further.
“They revolutionized the field when they created simple, bold, memorable, and whimsical identities for companies in a time when soulless corporate modernism was the trend,” said Dan Covert, whose short documentary, 60 Years of Logos, details the contributions of the grandfathers of logo design. “And because of that, their work has stood the test of time.”
These days, said Covert, it’s rare to find a logo that survives five years before it is redesigned. “If you look back at the list of companies Chermayeff and Geismar designed logos for that are still around in their original or slightly altered form, that’s enough to argue their staggering contribution to the field,” he added. Among the companies that boast a Chermayeff and Geismar-designed logo: Chase Bank, PBS, Barney’s, NBC, National Geographic, NYU, The Smithsonian, Cornell University, Brown University, HarperCollins, Showtime, Mobil Gas, PanAm, and Merck.
In the film, Chermayeff and Geismar say that their theory of design reflects a company’s identity more so than it does a company’s purpose. “We interview a lot of people, and you get a sense of the culture,” says Chermayeff. “[In the interviews,] we’re not talking about design; we are talking about what they do, who they are, and how might they best be portrayed. It’s a process of investigation, creativity, and politics.”
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.