Favourite logos: our expert panel
As part of the research for our Top 20 logos issue, we asked various designers and writers to nominate their favourites. We thought you'd like to see all of their choices and the reasons behind them...
Here are the first batch, more to follow
Armin Vit/Bryony Gomez-Palacio, Brand New:
1. CN (Canadian National Railway) by Allan Fleming
"A superbly simple and bold monogram that looks as contemporary in 2010 as it did 50 years ago when it was introduced in 1960. Executed in a single, uninterrupted line, the logo is the perfect visual for a railway."
2. BP by Landor
"While it was more unfortunate for nature, the 2010 oil spill forever spoiled the Helios (BP's nickname for its logo) establishing it as an icon for rotten corporate concern for the environment. When it was introduced in 2000 it redefined how a petroleum company could positively brand itself."
3. Unilever by Wolff Olins / Miles Newlyn
"A logo that represents almost every single offering from a corporation with a portfolio of 400 brands and does so both elegantly and playfully is no small feat."
4. Northwest Airlines by Landor
"Before it got butchered in the early 2000s NWA had one of the most astute monograms in the airline industry. The compass pointing northwest completed a hidden W next to the visible N. Genius. Too bad the typography next to it was crap, but we'll let it slide."
5. The Playboy Bunny by Art Paul
"There is no reason why men (or women) should see the abstract profile of a rabbit and get horny. Or think of champagne, or mansions, or expensive cars, or satin robes. Yet Paul's naughty yet gentlemanly bunny conveyed all that and more. And on the covers of Playboy you just never knew where that little rascal might end up, ears all perked up and bow all tied up."
David Airey, LogoDesignLove:
1. Mother & Child by Herb Lubalin
"An idea that once seen is hard to forget. Superbly captures the essence of nurturing."
2. Martin Newcombe Property Maintenance by Buddy Creative
"So simple it'll make everyone think design is easy. A fantastic use of negative space."
3. Swan Songs by Maggie Macnab
"There's no mistaking it's a musical swan."
4. Guild of Food Writers by 300million
"They write about food. It's brilliantly obvious."
5. Mouse by johnsonbanks
"Can you find a better example of logo-cropping?"
Mike Dempsey, Studio Dempsey:
1. British Steel by David Gentleman
"Two bent steel bars tell the story in an instant."
2. CBS by William Golden
"The most enduring television logo ever. The all seeing eye brings the world to your living room." (Check out this film on the logo's development.)
3. Victoria & Albert Museum by Alan Fletcher
"Like John & Yoko, Victoria & Albert were one."
4. British Rail by Gerry Barney/Design Research Unit
"A network of dynamic connections as fresh today as it was 46 years ago."
5. Tipton Lakes Corporation by Paul Rand
"Simple wit down to a T."
Marina Willer, Wolff Olins:
1. Pirelli (designer unknown)
"Simple, silly, obvious, wonderful."
2. Michelin by O'Galop
"A icon of an era when you could still fall in love with logos."
"Brutally honest. Warm and human."
4. Do Lectures by Do
"I love its personality. I love what they stand for. I love what they do. It's not just the looks, it's the whole experience and how the logo makes sense of it all."
5. RED by Wolff Olins
"A logo that works as a system, a starting point to a language.A great example of how brands can be inclusive, a platform for co-creation."
Tony Brook, Spin:
1. British Steel by David Gentleman
"David Gentleman's wonderful Identity, my first logo love, it still kills me every time I see it. Designed in 1968, often copied and never bettered."
2. Randstad by Ben Bos
"Still working hard, still utterly contemporary, the Ranstad logo by Ben Bos in 1966 is so wonderfully flexible and has brilliant presence. One logo from the Total Identity stable, all five of my choices could have come from Total Design."
3. National Theatre by Ian Dennis/FHK Henrion Studio
"I find that relationships between letters in logos are often forced and awkward, this punchy, powerful beauty, designed in 1971 by FHK Henrion studio is perfection."
4. British Rail by Gerry Barney/Design Research Unit
"Incredibly, bearing in mind our familiarity with it, and its association with late running trains, the British Rail identity's bold and confident presence still resonates."
5. The Woolmark by Franco Grignani
"Designed in 1964 by the wonderful Franco Grignani. Possibly my favourite graphic design story and logo combination. The logo was the subject of a design competition, Grignani although a member of the jury couldn't resist and entered under the pseudonym of Francesco Seraglio. [Or did he? The controversy over the identity of the Woolmark designer is explored in the issue, with the Woolmark taking the #1 spot on our list.]"
6. CN by Allan Fleming
"There is a lovely sense of purpose and optimism in logo designed by in 1960 by Allan Fleming, it is a total classic. It hasn't dated at all."
1. The Red Cross
"Because the symbol, the name and how you say it, are all one."
"Because it's original. The way it's been used has style and wit."
3. His Masters Voice
"Because it's so unlikely as a name and memorable as a symbol."
4. North West Airlines by Landor
"Because it's straightforward and simple."
5. Penguin (latest version by Angus Hyland shown)
"Because it's whimsical and courageous – once seen, never forgotten."
Michael Johnson, johnsonbanks:
London Underground by Frank Pick/Edward Johnston
CN by Allan Fleming
British Rail by Gerry Barney/Design Research Unit
"We're surrounded by mass transportation symbols every day of our lives, so it's no great surprise that these three keep appearing on lists of the 'greats' of logo design. London Underground's, as one of the oldest, didn't look much like the finalised symbol above for a while. But it's always involved a blue line through a red circle, which eventually became a key part of the map, and has become ingrained in our collective consciousnesses. Many people might not even 'think' about this as a logo, so everyday has it become. It's without doubt the unofficial symbol of London.
"I've included these two Railway symbols because they are true trailblazers. Plaudits should really go the CN symbol – the first rail symbol to simply imply travel, rail, linkage and 'a route', and highly influential on countless rail symbols worldwide ever since, as well as opening the door for NASA's 'worm' logo a decade later. How much it influenced British Rail's is open for debate, but there's no doubt that the DRU design inspired many others too (including the Dutch version in 1967).
One little known fact about the BR symbol is that it looks painfully simple but is actually beautifully drawn: to make the outer arrows work, optically, they are drawn splayed so that they appear parallel."
Channel 4 by Robinson Lambie-Nairn
CBS by Bill Golden
"There are many, many candidates for TV idents but these are the two for me. One, the CBS eye, because it has effectively ringfenced 'eye' symbols for its own use (try designing one and you soon stop - it dawns very quickly that Bill Golden's geometry steals it every time). Martin Lambie-Nairn's stencilled '4' may actually have looked merely 'of its time' had it just been presented as a multi-coloured block, but from the outset it was a moving, exploding and rebuilding device and they have managed to keep that principle in all its different forms for thirty years (and it still feels up to date). For me it's a pre-cursor to the flexible, mutable identities that we are interested in now, across all media."
Time Warner by Chermayeff + Geismar
"A decade later, Steff Geissbuhler's eye/ear symbol was drawn for the merger of Time and Warner, and although it's been shunted around the organisation a little, and recently redrawn, it's one of the few true symbols of the recent era that have genuinely attempted to create something new in terms of its symbolism. An idea that worked fine as a scribble, legend has it that all attempts to draw it on a computer failed until eventually Geissbuhler tried painting it at home one weekend with big, fat paint brushes."
Amnesty International by Diana Redhouse
"Designed by member and artist Diana Redhouse (and tweaked and twiddled but never changed since). Having worked for many charities and NGOs, and tried to design symbols with 'emotional' qualities you soon run up against brick walls. But this design, chosen for Amnesty's first Xmas card, somehow manages to encapsulate the entire organisation. Fantastic."
Tokyo Olympics 1964 by Yusaku Kamekura
"At first sight, you might wonder why this would be hailed as a great symbol. Red dot for Japan, Olympic rings, bit of type. So what? But this the first time that modernism and the Olympics combine – prior to this all we saw were posters of discus throwers and medal designs but no true symbolism. Kamekura stripped everything out, took the dot from his flag and locked it to the rings. So simple. So great (and you can just see his iconic posters in your head as you look at it). No Olympic symbol has even come close since."
Woolmark by Francesco Saroglia [Franco Grignani]
"From the same year as the Tokyo Olympics, and again familiarity should breed contempt but this mark is an Op masterpiece, done before Bridget Riley really got into her stride and a full four years before Lance Wyman's Mexico Olympics scheme."
Fedex by Landor
"Of contemporary logos, this is one that steals it for me every time. Painfully simple, the carefully worked typeforms reveal an arrow, perfect for a delivery service. But it's not overstated, and FedEx themselves have always shied away from making a big deal of their 'invisible' asset. In fact, show it in a lecture and it's always guaranteed that gasps will go up from the dozens of people only seeing it for the first time."
American Bicentennial by Chermayeff + Geismar
"Not included for its typography (which I'd judiciously remove) but for its wonderful symbol, the three American flag colours swirling beautifully around a single five pointed star. To me it's the highpoint of post-war American modernism."
Musee d'Orsée by Bruno Monguzzi
V&A by Alan Fletcher
"I hadn't meant to put these two together, but when you look at the dates, and the typography, you start to view them as a classic 'pair' of museum idents from the late eighties. Monguzzi's is the forgotten classic (certainly to a transatlantic audience) but look at that typographic sleight of hand, the removal of the 'd' and 'M'O' get me every time (especially in its cropped form). Fletcher would have known of Monguzzi's masterpiece, for sure, but I don't think it's a steal (even though both share the same Bodoni/Didot lineage). Whilst Monguzzi removed the 'd', Fletcher removed the side of the 'A', and the ampersand neatly fills the gap. Both great, both timeless."
MIT publishing by Muriel Cooper
"I've included this because I think a lot of people have neatly forgotten about this great piece of reductionism from Muriel Cooper – the M,I,T and P of MIT Publishing are boiled down to seven vertical bars. Hugely influential."
ENO by Mike Dempsey at CDT
"It seems to be out of fashion to love this symbol but Mike Dempsey's singing face remains one of my all-time favourites, with cap 'E' making a perfectly closed eye and that bold 'O' for a mouth. Great. Already twenty years old, and unless the English National Opera change their name, no reason to change for at least another twenty."
Bovis by Wolff Olins
"Included more for its symbol than the type, but the sheer chutzpah it took to persuade a British construction company to adopt a hummingbird (native of tropical islands, not our windy and rainy one) takes some beating. Those with long memories insist that the original proposal was for an orange goldish, not a hummingbird..."
Tomato Bank by Shigeo Katsuoka
"It's not clear if Tomato Bank is still in existence, but this is one of the great examples of Japanese design, and their ability to look at a problem completely differently. Just for starters, 'Tomato Bank' is an odd name, then a tomato stuck onto the word 'BANK' is even odder. But you never forget it. This taught me to look across the world for inspiration, not just close to home."
Parcs Nationaux de France by Grapus
"Included because, in true Grapus-style, it breaks all the apparent rules of logo design yet succeeds brilliantly. Rather than try to pick one or two of the National Park's inhabitants for a symbol, they simply arranged hundreds of them into a twirling shape. When you see it large, you see everything, see it small and it's a memorable spiral. Messy, 'wrong' but brilliantly right and a constant inspiration to try things a little differently."
Michael Evamy, author, Logo (Laurence King)
1. Canadian National Railway, designed by Allan Fleming
"I've never been to Canada, let alone travelled on its railway, but this monogram makes me want to. One line of single thickness – absolute simplicity. Fifty years old last year, believe it or not, sketched out by the 30-year old Alan Fleming on a plane, ironically, not a train."
2. Columbia Records, designed by S Neil Fujita, 1954
"I'm attached to this because it's one of the first logos I can remember, on LPs my parents had by Johnny Cash and Simon & Garfunkel. Simple, diagrammatic (of a record on a turntable), intriguing – and still in use. You could interact with it, too: the turntable spindle passed through the central 'hole'."
3. Kellogg's by Will Keith Kellogg
"I have a soft spot for handwritten wordmarks and how a simple signature, with its guarantee of authenticity, can transcend the layers of marketing and analysis a logo typically has to pass through. I grew up with this one, and it has hardly changed since its earliest days."
4. Manchester Literature Festival by Mark Studio
"I'm currently collecting material for a sequel to LOGO – a collection that focuses solely on logotypes. I like marks that blur the lines between image and letterform and this one does it brilliantly. A case where staring at the bookshelves really did provide inspiration."
5. Hotel Olympia by Designers United
"I love this. Not just the initials of a hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece, but also a reference to the establishment's watery origins as a spa and Turkish baths (H20) and, ingeniously, to the image of an old room key. Something incredibly condensed and simple that rewards repeated viewing - a good aspiration for any logo."
Marksteen Adamson, ArthurSteeneHorneAdamson:
1. The Red Cross
"I love this symbol. It’s simple, powerfull and universally reconisable from a great distance. It’s perfect in every way. In a time of conflick it the one logo that brings rest, peace and healing. A safe haven."
2. The Fish
"This is the ultimate symbol of faith. Invented as a secret code for believers, this symbol was a means of survival for early Christians under fierce persecution in Roman times. It’s simple yet very powerful. Sadly, it’s also issued to irritating Volvo drivers who hog the fast lane and command the exact national speed limit when you’re trying to overtake. No wonder the Romans fed the Christians to the lions."
3. Che Guevara
"I love this logo that Jim Fitzpatrick created when he took a photo by Albert Korda and tuned it into a simple graphic image. It’s not just the fact that Che was a legend, but the image itself ironically is almost Christ-like. It made rebellion cool and sexy and even to this day it’s still relevant as an icon for change and resistance. It’s an attractive symbol that still looks good on a T-shirt."
4. The Smiley Face by Harvey Ross Ball
"I love the simplicity of this logo. It’s all about happiness and it makes me smile every time I see it. I had the T-shirt when I was 8 years old and I wish I still had it. Harvey Ross Ball was an American commercial artist. He is recognised as the earliest known designer of the 'smiley', which became an enduring and notable international icon. His design came about in 1963. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts (Hanover Insurance) purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio – the merger resulting in low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this, Ball was employed in 1963 as a freelance artist to create a smiley face to be used on buttons, desk cards, and posters. In less than ten minutes the smiley face was complete. Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley and earned just $45 for his work."
5. Mother and Child
"I love this logo. I think it’s genius. It was the original and so many have tried to imitate and copy the thinking, but this one still stands as an all time master piece. I also love it because it's about the birth of new life."
1. Smiley by Harvey Ross Ball and various
"Precursor to the emoticon, amazing."
2. No More Tears for Johnson and Johnson
"I can't disassociate what a logotype says from what it looks like."
3. That's All Folks for Warner Brothers
"Nice animation and memorable mnemonic."
4. Production logo for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
"Impressive positioning and memorable mnemonic."
5. Arnold Machin Queen's head for Royal Mail
"Dimensional classicism that has stood the test of time."
Angus Hyland, Pentagram (co-author Symbol; Laurence King)
Image: Brians Rail Web
1. British Rail
"The combination of two arrows pointing in different directions to create a train track is at the same time so, duh, simple and yet so clever that it became the archetype for the sector, rather like the Chase Manhattan logo in finance."
"Everyone loves a cuddly bear but what's so great about the panda is that it can be accurately and graphically rendered in stark black and white as a symbol which remains as emotive as a fluffy illustration. Here the viewer is required to complete the shape for themselves using amodal perception. Bloody marvellous."
"This famous Op Art mark is based on the Mobius strip and is simultaneously soft and dynamic."
4. Mont Blanc
"Fantastic! A snow capped pen. What a brilliant piece of product branding."
Image: David the Designer
5. National Theatre
"This pre-dates the V&A logo and uses the same idea of bringing together two letters through the sharing of a common part - what could be simpler?"
6. Deutsche Bank by Anton Stankowski
"Every company wants its profits to rise so what better mark for a German bank than to show a positively rising stroke safe within a square."
In 1961 Cassandre designed the YSL logo. Simply by placing three letters together its composition has created a timeless mark belonging to the French patrimony. I find in these three letters very strong references to the purity of Graphic design. The logo has nothing do to with trends that go in and out, rather with concepts, thinking and modernity. YSL logo is like a Japanese seal that holds extreme elegance which reflects the extreme creativity of the Grand Couturier. Three letters placed together, or rather sewed together relates the Haute Couture. Shapes and counter shapes balance each other in this composition through the use of black and white. Today, this same logo is seen giving out more prominently than ever, with a strong originality and beauty, a real flavor and touch of the French culture.
The logo for the RMN (Réunion des Musées Nationaux) was designed in the 1970s by Adrian Frutiger. It was created for the Publishing house of the national French museums bureau and for the organization of major exhibitions at the Grand Palais in Paris. In the beginning, the logo was constructed with a single "M". Over time this logo has been unnecessary touched-up as the letters "R" and "N" have been added to either side.
The original logo which I present to you is solely made up from the letter "M" which I believe is enough in combining all the functions it has to offer, pure formal design and relevant communication. One can feel the energy of hand writing through the logo; a connection not only to the italic style of letters, but also to French typography and specifically linking to the italic Garamond font. The beginning foot of the "M" gracefully follows through until it reaches the other side and there, continues as the circle it creates around itself. More than anything, it is a symbol and mix of tradition on modernism. Connecting in deeper ways to culture and art than just a surface symbol, this logo is one of the great marks that shows the consistency of intellectual concern and the presence it has within French daily lives.
1974, a logo for the Pompidou Center was designed by Jean Widmer. Standing alone, this mark holds within itself fabulousness. By representing the whole building through this pictogram styled image it appears almost like a road sign, something that is clear and direct, a signature that represented an abrupt change in the style of communication. Through its sharp geometrical lines the rhythmic composition reveals the avant-garde qualities of the real life architectural piece. A significant image to architect; only in black and white it succeeds in representing the timelessness found in the real life colorful building. This image first came across with such force that it instantly acquire popularity and became an emblem of strong modern and contemporary culture. Its capability to bring a monumental work or architectural sculpture to a very small scale makes it unbound to time. Indeed, it is full of wit and energy.
Over time these three marks have been used through generations constantly presenting their meaning through their simply, yet powerfully constructed compositions. It is impossible to redesign something better for the logos than what I have presented. In truth, who would dare? These strong images portray the very spirit of design. Whether it be through "sewing" the letters into place, capturing the culture through a single and continuos line, or representing an entire monument. These marks like other great designs are not meant to be changed, they are meant to be kept and maintained thus, creating the everlasting mark.
This logo demonstrates a powerful blend of word and image to express unity, and to signal a passionate struggle for freedom from Soviet repression. The urgently painted individual letterforms band together to form a cohesive body and raise a flag of freedom. I think this is a wonderful example of how great graphic design can support and facilitate positive social change. Designed for Solidarity, the Polish Trade Union, by Jerzy Janiszewski in 1980.
Everyone knows what Pirelli makes. This timeless wordmark expresses, in a brilliant and memorable way, the intrinsic elasticity of the products. The original concept dates from 1908; the designer is unknown.
The Man with the Golden Arm
It was coming across the simple, reductive, and evocative work of Saul Bass in 1960 that made me want to be a graphic designer. Saul Bass didn't just design publicity material for movies; for each film he created a distinctive visual identity system that could be expressed in print and on-screen in the animated title sequence. At the heart of his identity for The Man with the Golden Arm is the jagged arm motif combined with complementary hand-drawn lettering. This core logo is supported by a set of bold graphic and typographic elements that create a flexible and instantly recognisable identity for the film. I have always admired this creative solution because it encapsulates and expresses the essence of the movie in much the same way as a great corporate identity system does for a company. Designed in 1955.
Canadian National Railways
This corporate signature, derived from a railway track layout, is economical, and immediately recognisable as a reflection of the organisation's business. Designed by Allan Fleming in 1960.
Symbols are most effective when they express the company, product or service they represent. There is no doubting what this symbol stands for: an endorsement of quality, designed in Italy for the International Wool Secretariat by Francesco Sargolia in 1965.
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Can you catch a mouse, hands down.
Woah! The FedEx logo is mentioned. Couldn't there be a set of twenty logos in which it does NOT feature?
I suppose it's like having a list of the top ten films of all time and not having Citizen Kane at No.1, even though the last person who could bear to watch it from start to finish died in the late Seventies.
I'm glad you've included my favourite - the FedEx logo. The arrow is so well hidden that I didn't see it until someone pointed it out to me. Now every time I see a FedEx van, I smile when I see the arrow. Perfect for a delivery company.
I've never seen the American Bicentennial one before - very cool and woolmark really is beautifully put together.
The British Rail, Deutsche Bank and the V&A trademarks are my preferred in this collection. Having said that, now I know what the little symbol means on the Mont Blanc logo (i'm such a muppet for not 'getting it' sooner), its definitely going to be up there in my all time favourites.
my goodness - I had never noticed the arrow in Fed Ex either!!! I am not sure it is good design if it needs pointing out?
goldish -> goldfish
"my goodness - I had never noticed the arrow in Fed Ex either!!! I am not sure it is good design if it needs pointing out?"
I think it's fantastic that it doesn't jump out and in your face. If it was overly obvious it would probably take away, rather than add to the logo.
I'm happy to see that the CN logo popped up a few times (although, I do come from a CP Rail family, it has always been one of my favourites).
I am a fan of the Unilever logo, which surprisingly works well on a small scale, but I saw it executed very, very poorly on a large building sign in Toronto. Kind of ironic.
What an amazing bunch of logos and graphical treatments, all done without modern day tricks. It is great to see an idea done in it's simplest form. I would love to see more of today's logos done in this way again instead of designers (myself included) using gradients and falling into trends. What a great post!
Michael Johnson wrote:
"...Fletcher would of known of Monguzzi's masterpiece,..."
Shouldn't it be 'would have known (or would've)'?
Yes it should - and we should have noticed it. I'll change it now, thanks.
that is all.
British Rail looks like two airplanes. Can't stand it.
The designer of the logo for "The Man With the Golden Arm" is unknown? It was done by only the greatest graphics designer to work on film logos, Saul Bass. Google his name and "images" to find examples showing the amazing breadth of his brilliant creations, which also include "Anatomy of a Murder" and the "West Side Story" fire escape posters, just to name two.
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