Past present and future of corporate identity

Essay by George Tyshchenko, do not reproduce without credits.


For this study I have chosen to discuss the future of corporate identity, specifically concentrating on how the style of modern logotypes could change with the development of new trends and new media. One theory, which I would like to investigate, is the future direction of design. Will the approach to coroprate identity become more rich and detailed to answer the aim of uniqueness. Also will the corporate identity in the future become even more flexible then it is today, will it flow from one media to another and be more prominent in the 3d space? We all know very well that a designer must take into account different media when designing a logo because the use of different media can lead to differences in the printing process, colour output etc. The world of printed media is significantly different to on screen presentation, because there are differences in resolution and the available colour gamut.Also resolution is usually lower on the screen compared to print, and in a traditional 4 colour process there is a narrower range of colours available which leads to altered colours.This means that logo for the use on computer or TV monitors needs to be prepared separately. Multiple versions of logos are also produced for different situations, for example to complement a certain colour scheme, this is when the reversed and black and white version could be used.

Maybe the trend is toward more open ended concept of logotype design, where the visual idea almost certainly be expanded continually in the future, either by changing the core or adding elements to the original design. There has been already a wave of simplification in some famous corporate designs, which are well known worldwide, with one example being ‘Nike’ logo. Nike Logo It has originally incorporated a swoosh symbol and NIKE lettering, but in the last decade the word has been dropped and the logo appears as a simple swoosh, either white symbol on black background, or reversed out. This allowes the identity to communicate to much wider global audience. A nike symbol is understood in every language. Another example is Apple computer logo, which has been known since 1970’s, which at that time incorporated a rainbow of colours, shaped in the apple symbol with a bite taken out of it. Today the logo is a solid grey or black colour sometimes displayed without any text, like for example on parts of product packaging. The reason that those corporations can alter their logo in that way is because i believe that the symbol is so known at that point that there is no more concern for being unique, the symbol therefore in itself becomes the most unique in the world, and every other symbol becomes less original, and thus not able so stand on its on as well. This means there is a constant correlation between the uniqueness, popularity and strength of the symbol. When an identity becomes more popular its uniqueness becomes less relevant while the strength grows making it more recognisable.

Apple rainbow logo Apple new style logo

History of corporate identity

While uniqueness of the corporate identity is a very important factor, which makes the identity effective, it is possible that with more companies in the global market it would be more difficult to create a completely unique symbol which poses more difficulty for designer and researchers. One effect of this challenge would lead to increased complexity of the less known designs, which then once they become more known, they can drop complex elements. A designer could employ the use of technology to create a set of rules how the logo of a company should be presented and leave the rest to the users who can freely redesign the logo themselves dynamically. This certainly is possible today with online technologies like Adobe Flash. An identity doesn’t have to be completely unique if no other identity is similar in the same industry, otherwise there could be an issue when consumers would confuse the two entities and that would lead to lost revenue for both companies or negative association to completely different business.

Nike Logo The origin of logos and corporate identity could be traced to early examples of pictograms. According to WIkipedia1 “pictogram or pictograph is a symbol representing a concept, object, activity, place or event by illustration.”

Some historians believe that the use of pictograms originated in Mesopotamia around 9000 BC. Simple pictures were used for labelling farm produce and eventually the use has spread to labelling manufacturing goods.

It is believed that the Roman alphabet has its origins in pictograms, for example “the letter A represented the head of an ox, and if it is turned upside down, a bovine head with horns can be seen.” WIkipedia1

The word logogram or logo originated in the early 19th century. In Greek language ‘logo’ means ‘word’ (Oxford Dictionary2) The early example of logos consisted of a single letters and later 2 letters interweaving together, as seen on old Greek and Roman coins for example a sacred monogram formed by letters XRSTOS which means Christ. The first two letters were connected together on the early coins. Logomagic website states “In the thirteenth century, logo design evolved from simple ciphers to trademarks for traders and merchants. These early examples of logo design include masons marks, goldsmith’s marks, paper maker’s watermarks and watermarks for the nobility.” Also the printers and publishers would often have their own trademarks printed on products.

The brand icons and logotypes were often appearing in Medieval paintings and Renaissance period and played an important role in the largely illiterate society. The logos were used extensively to distinguish products and manufacturers. Albrecht Dürer Logo Artists especially used their logo in the work as a means of building reputation and getting employed. Logo of Albrecht Dürer is a good example. Campbell's soup He was an artist, printmaker and theorist from 16th century Germany. Modern contemporary art has been much more influenced by popular culture, which is depicted in art movement of the 1950’s Pop Art. Andy Warhol painted popular brand names like Coca-Cola, Campbell’s Tomato Soup and other day to day products. He favoured American culture and consumerism in which brands play a key role. He explains “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.” He takes Coca-Cola as an example “You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

The symbolism elements were widely used in heraldry, which encompassed designing, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and badges.
The repeating themes of the symbols have been around in 15th century heraldry. According to encyclopaedia “The German Hyghalmen Roll was made in the late fifteenth century and illustrates the German practice of repeating themes from the arms in the crest” Wikipedia [5]. The German Hyghalmen Roll often represents a collections of coats of arms relating to specific events or stories.

Another early example of logos are the symbols of merchants or also known as merchant’s mark. Originated as early as 3rd millennium and were discovered in the Indus Valley in Pakistan they are impressions on coins, silk and other materials. (Wikipedia8) Those seals and emblems were used to identify and control economic administration and trade. Kelley and Wells (1995) states “Seals were used to make impressions in wet clay as a means of sealing shipments of goods.” According to Peña (2007) “Commercial inscriptions in Latin, known as Tituli picti, appear on Roman containers used for trade.”

Johnnie walker logo I think that the emerging time for corporate identity is a commercial context was 19th century. Taking as an example brewery logos and emblems. Guinness logo Only today we can easily recognize famous names like Guinness and Johnnie Walker. For example Guinness logo adopted the ‘Harp’ the national symbol of Ireland only in 1862. The harp is facing left instead of right, like in the Irish coat of arms. The Johnnie walker logo is also relatively young. In 1906 the whisky was renamed from Walker’s Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky and introduced slogan “Born 1820 – Still going Strong!” and a logo of a striding man, which is still used today.

In Britain there are numerous old pub and inn signs which have a long history beginning in Roman times when wine leaves were hung to indicate that this establishment sold wine. In Britain instead of wine leaves, bushes were used. Later the theme of the signs were religious themed. In the 12th century pub names became common, and because the majority of population could not read or write, the names were very visual in graphics. “In 1393, King Richard II passed an Act making it compulsory for pubs and inns to have a sign (his own emblem the ‘White Hart’ in London) in order to identify them to the official Ale Taster. Ever since then, inn names and signs have reflected, and followed, British life at that time.” Historic UK Website9

Before 19th century, all typefaces were Serif based because it was difficult to create and maintain straight edges of the letters using instruments of that time. This led to all the letterforms having rounded feet. The individual letters at that time had to be carved by hand in metal.

After the 19th century the emergence of superior tools allowed the creation of move precise letterforms and led to creation of first sans-serif typefaces. In the twentieth century corporate identity didn’t change dramatically until the end of the Second World War. The majority of firms and companies had an old style of identity which often used a scripted type and illstration elements which bu the middle of sixties seemed too out of touch and cluttered. After the war people in USA had a natural urge to throw away all the old corporate material and start afresh. But not just clients, also many designers felt the desire to “rebuild, reconstruct, make things more open, more democratic” By that time there has been a strong emergence of new design aesthetic in Western Europe and especially in Switzerland.

The new clean, minimalist and legible way of designing things quickly spread around the world, along with new Swiss typeface called Helvetica (which is based on the word Helvetia meaning “Swiss” in Latin). This landmark typeface has been fetured in exhibition and documentary celebrating its 50 year history. Design writer Rick Poynor in Helvetica documentary stated that “1950s an interesting period for graphic design, after the horror of WW2, there’s a real feeling of idealism, amongst many designers across the world, certainly in Europe”.

Graphic designer Michael Bierut explains that “Consultants in 1960 would propose to clients to get rid of old fashioned scripted logos, with engraved photographs, and replace them with a plain name of the company set in Helvetica”. Helvetica sans-serif typeface has satisfied the need of radical new typefaces that could be applied to corporate identity or signage to present information in intelligent and eligible way. Media writer Leslie Savan states on a subject of corporate identity in the 60’s “Governments and corporation love Helvetica because on one hand it makes them seem neutral and efficient, but also the smoothness of the letters makes them seem almost human.” The authoritarian and bureaucratic image is undesired for a large corporation or a government and Helvetica or similar modern ‘clean’ typefaces solve it by making them appear accessible, transparent and accountable.

Some people say that Helvetica typeface has the image of capitalism, but graphic designer and publisher Lars Muller disagrees by saying “its the typeface of socialism because its available all over and inviting dilettantes and amateurs to typography.” This is correct because this typeface has become a default choice in many applications where serif font would be not as suitable. The emergence of computer and onscreen typefaces has made sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Arial really popular and widely licensed and available. Microsoft Arial font, according to some typographers is an inferior imitation of Helvetica used in Windows operating systems as an onscreen typeface and typeface for use in publishing software.

“As is always the case with any style there is a law of diminishing returns. The more you see it, the more public sees it, the more designer uses those typographic solutions the more familiar, predictable and ultimately dull they become.” says Rick Poynor about corparate design of that time. Even though allot of new innovative ideas were like futurism and constructivism were discovered and implemented in that periodon, the corporate design was intentionlly constraigned by designers and clients which didnt care about the uniqueness of corporate identity because this approach seemed unique and fresh in itself untill it became overused. It was impossible for a certain idea to stand out anymore and that led to a counter trend.

The issue of legibility has been talked about since the invention of movable type many centuries ago. Fred Ferrar in his 1927 book explains that the idea behind movable type was to express information in a simple way, regardless if its a book or advertisement. In Leslie Cabargas book, the author quoted graphic designer George Salter who said, “In weighing the merits of graphically inspired deviation from assumed norms we must carefully avoid arbitrary impairment of the act of reading for the benefit of joy of seeing. We must not let the spice become the food, nor the accent obscure the substance.” That statement is especially true when designing the signs, logos and other mainstream works. The experimental designers have used an opposite strategy by creating a difficult readable, or less approachable work. The psychedelic movement in the sixties is one example where hand drawn posters have appeared illegible. The designers were happy to design experimental and illegible work but the when it came to selling a product designers often got criticized. On the other hand there is a strong opinion that legibility does not mean a successful communication. The difficult to read work can put a reader in a special mood, which would then make the containing information more absorbable, and thus will communicate better to the determined reader. David Carson said “Don’t confuse legibility with communication, and just because its legible, doesn’t mean it communicates, or doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing and vice-versa something what’s maybe difficult to initially read maybe saying a completely different message that is valid where its being used and require a little more time or involvement of the reader.”

Poster Rick Poynor stated, “By the seventies, especially in America you start to get a reaction against what it seems to those designers the conformity, kind of dull blanket of sameness that this way of designing is imposing on the world.” The ‘grunge’ aesthetic style was born and played a centre-stage for the next 5 years or so along with hand drawn typographic styles which stayed for much longer, and is till popular style today. Stefan Sagmeister was one of the leading designers who started to use hand drawn type. He often aimed in his experiments at getting it to express much more then it’s possible with a sans serif and he achieved in making text ‘speak’ to the reader. He states that “The type in an instant, in a single image tells the story of its making, tells you about its process in a very elegant and fast way”.

“And so in a post modern period designers were breaking things up, wanting to get away from the orderly, clean, smooth surface of design, the horrible slickness of it all as they saw it and produce something that had vitality” states Rick Poynor. The hand drawn type could either be presented as a distorted sans serif or a completely unpredictable scripted style, which has no equal line spacing, uniform size or spacing between the letters. The lines can flow freely in any shape and angle, and this freedom allows designer to embed more visual information in the same page than when automatically set type.

Paula Scher explained about this graphical style “It hadn’t dawned on me that typography could have personality the way drawing did” and “I realized the type had spirit and could convey mood and it could be your own medium, a broad pallet to express all kinds of things.”

American Airlines logo Italian designer Massimo Vignelli amongst other works designed the New York City transit signage in 1966 and the American Airlines logo. His opinion on design is that “There are not many good typefaces around, 10 at most” and his designs are the perfect example of minimalist approach. The American Airlines is a bold and patriotic logo that fits well in today’s world like it did in the sixties. The company unlike other airlines hasn’t changed their logo for 40 years. Vignelli’s style of minimalism was a point to which most designers returned in the early nineties after the grunge styles were exhausted. Rick Poynor said that designers tried “return to an earlier way of designing but with new set of theories to support it”. Indeed this seems to be evident, the best elements of the grunge and maximalist style have survived and now are shaping the new minimalist aesthetic in an subtle ways. Graffiti was another creative expression that was born in response to minimalist aesthetic of the corporate America and Europe yet today Graffiti influences countless works of art, logos and advertisements.

Leslie Cabarga 2004 writes “The laws of typography were made to be broken…” however “the underlying laws balance, composition and symmetry seem to be eternal.” Indeed, our eye and brain would either consciously (as in case many design aware people would) or subconsciously be alerted by visual cue. It is then possible to use this alertness to communicate a message to the viewer, which would be impossible to do if the channel hasn’t been first ‘open’.

Another interesting point which Leslie Cabarga makes regarding art movements like Dada, Deconstructionism, Bauhaus, Psychedelia and Grunge is that “The best of the weirdest stuff still follows the basic laws, just applying them in a ways that became harder to recognize”. This leads me to think that as Cabarga says, the best of the weirdest stuff is now present in all modern art because the ways of application were altered. For example without Dada movement, Turner Prize would maybe not exist today, because Dada was an attempt to break the rules of art as much as possible and today new coming artists often attempting to break the rules in order to be original or successful.

Corporate identity today and in the future

BT old logo Big corporations often refresh their logos when necessary. One company who used a number of logos in the past is British Telecom (BT). In the 1980 when the company was privatized, and the British Telecom brand was introduced, the logo consisted of stylistic capital letter T in blue placed in the yellow circle. This symbol stayed for 11 years after which the famous “piper” logo was introduced. The colour scheme this style was chosen which established the national colours prominently. The “Piper” character had an interesting design, split by red and blue with white running in the middle. This symbol was also used standing on its own sometimes, and even embossed on the company’s products. This versatility of the symbol in my opinion became very desirable for companies towards the end of the decade. This is why I think that logo was a successful design that stayed until 2002. But as the new decade began, the focus of the company changed dramatically, they started to innovate more, in fear of fierce competition which started offering high speed internet and telephone deals. BT Piper logo BT Globe logo The final logo that BT has adopted is an abstract globe symbol, which has none of the national symbolism, but has a global theme attributed to it. The “Connected world” logo represents company’s attempt at working on the global scale with other partners in the communication sphere. {Figure 12} This symbol appears to be designed to be animated form the start and the animated version was unveiled on television at the moment of the new product launch. The static version of the symbol can stand on its own quite well but it’s the animation which makes this logo appear impressive. I think this is the trend in corporate identity for the future, the creation of ‘dynamic’ scalable logos, something which will not just change colours and setting, but maybe even the basic shape of the logo could be altered, as if its a puzzle for the consumer to de-cipher. Google use their logo creatively when they respond to the global events and holidays by altering the logo in an artistic way.

One example, which has seen an incredible amount of bad press, is the London 2012 Olympics logo designed by branding agency Wolf Olins. It is reported to cost 1.2m pounds. While the design is flawed in its execution, initial objectives of having a logo flexible in its shape its colours and the way the shapes can be rearranged in animation, is a great idea for the future. The flows are in my opinion the typography which is too small and the choice of shapes and colours which do not invoke the positive emotion like other olimpic logos did. The logo has seen a critical reaction also because it doesn’t have any elements, which show London, England, or any cultural references needed to be highlighted in connection to the Olympic games.

London 2012 logo Bill Gardner from Gardner Design in his article on about current and upcoming trends in corporate identity states in relation to dynamic identity, that future trends point towards using “Lots of elements, sometimes so delicate that they would not have previously been considered to be part of a logo design, assembled into a patterned whole. “ and “Logos are designed to be in motion as opposed to logos that are designed flat and then animated”. He also points out the use of overlapping shapes with transparency trend, which he attributes to the desire for companies to look transparent to their stakeholders and customers.

Many graphic designers are creating 3D looking logos instead of traditional flat colour designs. They make that decision because some of their work will not be constrained to print, but only onscreen for example. Bill Gardner writes “We have seen many more 3-D logos that are designed to be in motion, never still or flat. These designs have completely shaken the earthly bonds of CMYK and exist only in ethereal RGB: The old logo design rules just don’t apply to them.” While I think those logos will be more and more common, there still needs to be a way to fall back to a printed paper designs. I think there will be a simplified version of logo still printed, of just a typography of the logo represented on paper. Paper will never dissapear in my opinion because its immediate, simple, approachable. So the prined logos will stay also.

Cingular logo VSA Partners, the design agency in charge of creating identity for Cingular mobile phone company had achieved great success by creating an orange symbol which charmed consumers and telecommunications market. They also were responsible for creating the name for the company. Jamie Koval (2005) of SA partners says it “was not a conventional, safe solution”. Unlike the competitors, the creative team decided to try create positioning that was “warm and human”. Jamie Koval wrote, “We wanted to make the mark to be a strong graphic symbol, but also had to be soft and playful”. And it is evident that they didn’t go for symbolism of communication, connecting people together or latest technology. They left the idea wide open for experimentation. The final logo can be used to create patterns or be a basis for photography, so it is truly flexible brand which will not become out of date anytime soon because its easy to refresh the idea without scrapping the whole language which it successfully established. {Figure 14}

With the future trends lies a danger of loosing the uniqueness of the corporate identity. As everyone tries to create something striking, it is important to have the idea, which communicates the needed message in the simplest way. Redundant elements are usually removed to create a more recognizable symbol, but that can break the balance of simplicity vs. uniqueness. When I mean uniqueness I’m talking about both the visual side and the idea. The visual side of uniqueness boils down to making sure that the competition in the certain field, do not have a similar colours or shapes, which would lead to confusion and wasted efforts on behalf of marketing. The strenght of the idia is measured in its uniqueness idea also needs to be unique but not in just the same sector but overall, because when the consumer associates the idea to the company, there might be a similar memory or image of another company invoked and that would divert attention of the customer. The strenght of the idea is often measured in the uniqueness of the concept.


It is unlikely that corporate identity in the future will have a unnecessary complex design or concepts, the natural evolution of visual ideas leads to survival of the strongest + simplest and disregard of everything secondary. The striking balance of any great identity is in both its simplicity while also in the sophistication of the concept behind it. In the future we can only expect stronger efforts to create more interaction, more battles for customer attention, and bolder approaches to design.

A carefully developed brand also needs detailed implementation and guidelines. It is important because wrong use of the logo for example can lead to not just wrong impression of the customer, but also hamper the company brand as the whole. We often see brand guidelines that specify the exact colours which should be used for logos in print, but also more importantly which layouts and the amount of empty space around the logo needed to preserve the intended visual impact. I think guidelines like that will be on seen more often and will become even more important as designers deal with new technologies.

Todays market seems to demand a quick response. The online identities for companies are often decorated temporarily with seasonal attributes like Christmas and Halloween decorations of online stores. In the future this can happen constantry. For example an electronics store can change a mascont into a character who plays the latest video games console or listens to the new music player. It would be also possible to achieve with printed media. It will be possible to write a set of programmatic rules for example for shape and color of the logo so that every time an office worker prints a letter to send to the customer, the logo would be of different shape and colour. So even with use of printed page, there could be a dynamic experince created for the customer.

So to conclude this study, it seems that corporate identity in the future will keep its uniqueness by becoming more flexible in its concepts and implementation. The simplest and most creative ideas will win and stay around us. The successful styles will be often copied, but I believe that wont be the problem as the creators of the original work are rewarded by being first in their field. If we could look at history and observe how corporate identity spread from non-existing to an important element in the business, we can make a prediction how the spread might continue. The use of interactive imagery will be used more in the daily lives. Interaction via graphics could happen on the way to work, at home, on holiday and in every public place.


1 Wikipedia, WWW page, 23/02/08

2 Oxford Dictionary definition for word logo

3 Logomagic, WWW page, 23/02/08

4 The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again) by Andy Warhol, 1975, Harcourt, ISBN 0-15-671720-4

5 Wikipedia, WWW page, 23/02/08

6 D. H. Kelley and B. Wells, “Recent Progress in Understanding the Indus Script”, Review of Archaeology. Vol. 16, No. 1 : 15-23.(1995).

7 J. Theodore Peña, Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record, p. 106. Cambridge U. Press (2007) ISBN 0521865417

8 Wikipedia’s_Mark, WWW page, 23/02/08

9 Historic UK, WWW page, 23/02/08

10 Leslie Cabarga, “TYPE: Beauty in Abstract Forms”, Logo Font & Lettering Bible, HOW design Books, p. 201 (2004) ISBN 0 7153 16990

11, Trends,, WWW page, 23/02/08

12 Bill Gardner, Logolaunge 2, Rockport Publishers Inc, p. 14 (2005) ISBN 1-59253-112-1

13 Helvetica Documentary, 2007, directed by Gary Hustwit in colaboration with Plexifilm productions