Logo evolution: the evolution of famous logos over time

Logo evolution of famous brands: what we can learn from these 11 examples

Reading time: 15 minutes

Brands need to evolve to stay relevant—and so do their logos. What was spiffy, neato and keen in the 1950s, brought into present day just looks kind of weak sauce. If a brand wants to come across as modern or cutting edge, they need to regularly redesign and update their logo by modern standards. Logo evolution, survival of the stylish.

If you’re planning a logo redesign and want some pointers, or if you just want to see for yourself how ridiculous Canon’s original logo was, below we offer nine logo evolution examples from famous brands.

1. Shell

Shell logo evolution examples

Shell logo evolution from 1900 to today

Long gone are the days of literal logos, where a company called Shell could just use an ambiguous illustration of a seashell and that was enough to satisfy consumers. That original shell comes from 1900, and it wasn’t until 1904 that we see something recognizable to today’s version.

Shell logo evolution: 1904

Shell logo, 1904

Here we see the definitive, front-facing shape of the popular shell logo, which removes much of the ambiguity over what the object actually is. Although it’s done in a realistic style, those kinds of details aren’t as popular nowadays because they’re hard to make out at a distance and a lot is lost when replicating them at smaller sizes, like smartphone icons.

What’s really interesting, though, is we see the origin of the ridges that exist in their modern-day logo. Today’s Shell logo features a series of leading lines pointing to the near-center of the design, a design technique that makes the logo, and the brand by extension, seem more dynamic and active.

Shell logo evolution: 1948

Shell logo, 1948

In 1948, Shell introduced their iconic yellow-red color scheme, which makes sense considering the psychology of color and technology in that era allowing easier color printing. The choice of yellow and red is an interesting one—this color pairing is usually reserved for the food industry (McDonalds, Denny’s, etc.). As warm colors, yellow and red both energize and invigorate the viewer, which complements their dynamic use of leading lines discussed above.

From their introduction of color, Shell’s logo evolved to become more minimalistic—smoother edges, less details and a bolder outline. And thanks to their brand awareness, not to mention an appropriate choice of logo imagery, they can safely remove their name from the logo and consumers still know who they are.

2. Baskin-Robbins

Baskin-Robbins logo evolution examples

Baskin-Robbins logo evolution from 1945 to today

The first logo Baskin-Robbins used isn’t bad per se, merely outdated. But the Baskin-Robbins logo evolution is a case of improving on the original rather than “fixing” it.

From the start, the main selling point of Baskin-Robbins, compared to rival ice cream vendors, was their wide selection of flavor options. We don’t even need to tell you how many, because their branding has done its job over the years. It was always a smart choice to include that number in their logo so ice cream fans would associate the Baskin-Robbins name with a multitude of flavors.

Baskin-Robbins logo evolution: 1991

Baskin-Robbins logo, 1991

They stuck it out with their original logo until the 90s, when they opted for a more modern, minimalist style and a more focused color scheme of pink and blue. Front and center, though, is their iconic “31,” again surrounded by a circle to underscore its importance. Although subtle, the circle is cut off at the bottom, resembling an ice cream scoop.

In 2006, they redesigned their logo into the current version: a visual pun that combines the “31” with the initials “BR”. This builds on the strategy they’ve used since the beginning—associating their brand name with their top selling point of flavor variety—and takes it to the next level with an image that tends to stick in viewers’ minds.

3. Levi’s

Levi’s logo evolution examples

Levi’s logo evolution from 1890 to today

Unlike other logo evolutions on this list, Levi’s embraces their original designs instead of burying them. You can still see a variation of their first logo, albeit a simplified version, embedded on some of their flagship jeans. After all, two horses failing to rip a pair of jeans in half still communicates the product’s sturdiness, just as it did in 1890.

The story of Levi’s logo evolution is one of minimalism and simplification. While that detailed and wordy logo was normal in the 1800s, over a century later it looks out of place on a tablet screen or digital billboard. So Levi’s minimized everything, including their brand name.

Their current logo is small and simple enough to print clearly on a centimeter-long tag. The choice of red, one of the most attention-grabbing colors, makes it easy to stand out as well. And when the brand does have the opportunity to feature a more detailed logo, they can fall back on their original, just to remind their customers, “hey, we’ve been doing this for over a hundred years!”

4. Apple

apple logo evolution

Apple logo evolution from 1976 to today

Apple Inc., which gave us the MacBook, the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod and quite a few other pieces of technology that people literally camp outside of stores to get their hands on, is arguably the most recognizable brand in the world.

And so is their logo. While the original logo that the company launched with in the mid-70’s was a little… strange (it had Issac Newton sitting next to a tree. Seriously.), they switched to their iconic apple imagery in 1976.

And while the company has made minor changes in terms of color and finish, the logo has remained intact for the last 30 plus years. What works about the Apple, Inc. logo is that when you see it, you immediately think Apple products. There’s no confusion about what you’re getting or what they’re dishing out.

5. Canon

Canon cameras logo evolution examples

Canon logo evolution from 1934 to today

Although most of us assume Canon gets its name from the English “cannon,” it’s actually the Japanese spelling (“Kwanon”) of a Chinese goddess in Buddhist mythology. Canon’s predecessor, Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory, produced the first “Kwanon” camera in 1934. According to Canon’s website, they choose this Goddess of Mercy because she “embodied the Company’s vision of creating the best cameras in the world.” Take that factoid to quiz night.

Canon logo evolution: 1935

Canon logo, 1935

The name, along with the religious imagery, did not translate well to American markets, so the company revised it quickly and registered the “Canon” trademark in 1935. That’s when we see the originals of their modern wordmark logo—with a spelling variant that seemed “right at home” for English speakers.

Over the last century, the logo format has stayed largely the same, but with increasingly refined typography. As the decades piled on, the letter strokes got bolder and the serifs more pronounced, plus they added the attention-grabbing red color—all techniques commonly used with wordmark logos as a way to keep them visually interesting without other imagery.

6. Starbucks

Starbucks logo evolution examples

Starbucks logo evolution from 19371 to today

Any discussion about the logo evolution of famous brands should always mention Starbucks: the ugly duckling turned beautiful swan. If you thought mermaids were supposed to be the epitome of beauty, you’ve likely never seen the original 1970s Starbucks logo.

You probably don’t need us to explain to you why they changed it. Especially in the food & drink industry, you want to attract customers, not scare them away. What’s fascinating about the Starbucks logo evolution, though, is that despite the flaws of the original, the subsequent redesigns stayed surprisingly faithful.

Starbucks logo evolution, 1987

Starbucks logo, 1987

The 1987 redesign, which first introduces their iconic green color, is a noticeable step up from the original. It comes across as someone handed the original concept to a master designer, who made it both aesthetically pleasing and simple enough to be printed conveniently on a coffee cup.

By 2011, Starbucks was a household name, and their distinct green logo was easily recognizable to customers. They had grown popular enough that the company could trim some of the fat from their logo. That’s where their modern logo comes from—they removed their brand name and converted their whole color scheme to a monochrome green.

7. Pepsi

Pepsi logo evolution examples

Pepsi logo evolution from 1898 to today

The history of the Pepsi logo evolution is well-known among branding experts, with 12 redesigns over 122 years. From 1898 to 1940, the brand stuck with its wordmark logo, using the red color to keep their visuals vibrant. (Interestingly, their rival Coca-Cola didn’t start using red until the 1950s.) The redesigns in this period revolved around different typography and fonts, and even adding call-to-action words like “drink.”

Pepsi logo evolution, 1906

Pepsi logo, 1906

We don’t see anything close to their modern logo until 1950, when they framed their now-iconic red, white and blue wavy stripes in a circular bottle-cap. This format, including the order of red, white and then blue, persists to this day, along with wavy curves.

Pepsi logo evolution, 1950

Pepsi logo, 1950

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Pepsi maintained their unique emblem, which had quickly come to identify the brand. The biggest changes in these years were the word Pepsi: sometimes it appeared in the middle, sometimes on the bottom; sometimes it was black, sometimes it was blue.

Somewhat recently, in 2008, Pepsi made one of their boldest redesigns yet with the logo we see today. Although they didn’t quite abandon the three-tone, wavy line circle emblem, they did reenvision it, with a new asymmetrical wave to come across as edgier and more modern. At the same time they abandoned the all-caps version of their name, opting for a more casual lower-case typography—coinciding with the minimalist trends of the late 2000s.

8. Chevrolet

Chevrolet logo evolution examples

Chevrolet logo evolution from 1911 to today

Car lovers can recognize Chevrolet’s “cross” logo from a mile away, but it actually wasn’t their first choice. The original company logo from 1911 was a seemingly handwritten wordmark with little flair aside from the cursive and a small point in the underline. The famous cross emblem didn’t appear until 3 years later in 1914, and according to legend it came from the cofounder Willian Crapo Durant, inspired by wallpaper he saw in a Paris hotel.

Chevrolet logo evolution, 1914

Chevrolet logo, 1914

Once they got it, though, they never let it go. As far as logos, it’s an ideal shape: the rectangles suggest strength and sturdiness, important for automobiles, while the multiple corners make it engaging to look at.

And to keep it from looking bland, the common drawback to square-shaped logos, they tilt the left- and right-most edges, just to add a little spice.

The Chevrolet logo remained largely the same for the bulk of the twentieth century, with only minor changes to the typography, and in the 70s switching from black-and-white to blue. But in 2003, Chevrolet made quite an exciting redesign by introducing its silver and gold color schemes, with a textured effect that makes it look shiny.

Both the luxurious color choices and the “shiny” texture make the brand seem more elegant and valuable, a strategic and deliberate choice for market positioning. The last 20 years has been spent perfecting this style, culminating in the logo we see today.

9. Microsoft

Microsoft logo evolution

Microsoft logo evolution from 1987 to today

While Microsoft has had some missteps in recent years (I’m looking at you, Zune and Windows 10), the redesign of its long-time logo in 2012 was NOT one of them.

While the logo the company used from 1987 to 2012 was fine (I especially liked the mark in the “O” that made it look kind of like Pac-Man), it left a lot to be desired on the design side.

The new logo, with its use of color, feels a lot less harsh. And the use of cubed window to represent each of Microsoft’s major product offerings (blue for Windows, red for Office, green for Xbox and yellow for… well, yellow actually doesn’t stand for anything, but since a window can’t have three panes, we’ll let it slide) was genius.

10. Doritos

Doritos logo evolution examples

Doritos logo evolution from 1964 to today

The rule for using timely trends in logo design is that it’s good, until it’s bad. Using the styles that are popular during the time period make your brand seem modern and cutting-edge, cool and stylish. However, in a few short years, the same design choices that made you look hip now make you look outdated.

Just look at Doritos original logo, using the trendy, multi-colored squares around each letter that embody 60s typography. It’s surprising that they held on to this obsolete trend for so long—until 1992—by tweaking it in small ways to keep it relevant. For example, by the end of the 70s they switched to more muted colors, and abandoned the one-square-per-letter style.

Doritos logo evolution, 1979

Doritos logo, 1979

But nothing about the logo explained what they are, with the exception of the triangle dot to the I in the 1985 version. In 1992 they decided to overhaul their logo with a triangle image, to represent their triangular chips. They even colored it appropriately, with the food industry’s favorite red-and-yellow pairing (mentioned above with Shell’s logo).

Doritos logo evolution, 1992

Doritos logo, 1992

The triangle shape suited Doritos well, not just because it was more relevant to their product, but also because triangles in logo design depict the company as an authority or leader. Throughout the 2000s, Doritos experimented with different versions of the triangle, all involving a scribbled or electrified style of line work.

The final version, released in 2013, cemented the electrified line work, but worked in the familiar red-yellow-black color scheme they’ve retained since the 90s.

11. Buick

Buick logo evolution examples

Buick logo evolution from 1899 to today

What was wrong with Buick’s first logo, you say? What says “modern car company” better than a dapper man in a top hat walking across the arctic circle dragging a primitive steam engine?

Like Pepsi, Buick has reinvented itself over and over again. They’ve used all sorts of logos throughout their 116 years, from nearly illegible wordmark logos…

Buick logo evolution, 1911

Buick logo, 1911

… to royal shield crests with esoteric deer symbolism.

Buick logo evolution, 1942

Buick logo, 1942

It was from that shield logo that their current logo was born. We see a lot of similar elements besides just the shield: the red, white and blue color scheme, as well as the diagonal checkered band that lies across the shield.

Buick logo evolution, 1959

Buick logo, 1959

You can see the similarities yourself when you look at the 1959 version: it seems Buick knew precisely what they wanted to keep and what they wanted to get rid of.

Buick logo evolution, 1975

Buick logo, 1975

You would think it was a quick step from that to their modern logo, but that journey wasn’t exactly a straight path.

In the 70s Buick ventured completely off course with a new bird of prey logo, one with no acknowledgement to the logos that came before.

Buick logo evolution, 1980

Buick logo, 1980

This diversion was short-lived, however, and by 1980 they were back on track with the three-shield logo we know today. The only major changes since then were in 2002, when they abandoned the colored logo for a silver monochrome one we know today.

The moral we can all learn from Buick’s logo evolution is a timeless one: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

How does your logo evolution end?

Where are you in your logo evolution journey? Is your logo stylish and modern with all the unspoken signals of a cutting-edge brand? Or is it one you’ve been carrying around for years, beginning to show its age?

If you’re looking to redesign your logo but don’t know what, exactly, needs redesigning, we can help. 99designs can partner you with a freelance graphic designer who fits your needs, industry and style. They’ll help bring your branding up to date so customers get excited about working with you… instead of thinking you went out of business ten years ago.

Want more logo design tips? Learn how to design a logo here.

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Author: Matt Ellis