Logos that left their mark

The symbols that linger in the social imagination are often the product of focused intuition rather than a planned, rigorous undertaking. Here’s a look at some social, political and commercial icons that have left their stamp on the world.

Text: juan guillermo tejeda


photo: gettyimages


When barack obama launched his 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, his advisors clearly understood the need for an alternative visual image, so they gave Shepard Fairey (the creator of the OBEY guerrilla street art) the green light to come up with an innovative poster. In a single day, Fairey designed the famous graphic: Obama’s face at an angle that recalls the official photo of JFK, emblazoned with the word HOPE. Rendered in a four-color silkscreen technique, the result was a spontaneous, viral success. Fairey knew how to connect with voters’ needs in a fresh, anti-institutional style. Later, however, the designer faced a lawsuit for copyright infringement over the Associated Press photo on which he based his work (which was eventually settled amicably).





Push pin studios designer Milton Glaser never thought that his idea for the city’s – and later the state’s logo – would end up becoming his most successful piece. In fact, he did the work for free and gave up all rights. The famous symbol – which consists of three upper-case letters in American Typewriter font and a single red heart – had a tremendous impact, not only on the New Yorkers and the people of the United States, but also around the world, becoming an international icon. Used in posters, t-shirts, souvenirs and an endless array of items, this logo is still vital nearly 40 years after its creation in the 1970s, with the contrast between the typography and the red heart working as a successful marriage of reason and emotion.




In 1971, design student Carolyn Davidson did some freelance work for the company that would later become Nike, including the famous logo that today accompanies the phrase, “Just Do It.” Davidson was paid US$35 for her work. Later, the company made up for this meager remuneration with a diamond ring and an undisclosed amount of stock. Known as the “swoosh,” the shape manages to evoke physical activity, movement and – when paired with the slogan – an attitude. Logos work best when their creators are in tune with the emerging sensibility of their audience. Freedom of self-expression and not overthinking every action are the some of sentiments that underlie the immense global success of this design bargain.



photo: gettyimages

According to Forbes, Nike invests about US$3 billion a year on advertising, and today, the sportswear company is ranked 21 on the list of the 50 most valuable brands in the world.



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The famous “We Can Do It!” poster is an illustration by J. Howard Miller commissioned by the U.S. company Westinghouse in 1942 during the Second World War. Both the government and private industry saw the need to recognize and encourage the significant efforts made by women who were stepping in for men. The poster, which only circulated in Westinghouse factories and offices, evoked the iconic figure of Rosie the Riveter, a determined woman who was taking on a traditionally masculine role. In the 1980s, the poster was rescued from the archives, and the image powerfully captured the society´s imagination as a symbol that recognizes women’s abilities.




More than just a creation, the AIDS ribbon was an appropriation of a cultural tradition reimagined by HIV-positive artist Frank Moore for the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus in New York. In 1991, the disease was still a relatively recent phenomenon, and the symbol was needed not only to promote the search for a cure but also to fight discrimination and misinformation. Moore had watched women in his neighborhood hang yellow ribbons in honor of their husbands and boyfriends sent to fight in the Persian Gulf, an old wartime ritual. Ribbons have historically demonstrated concern or respect, and the red ribbon had been used to address issues like alcoholism and drug addiction. Jeremy Irons sported a red ribbon on his lapel during the 1991 Tony Awards and the used of this symbol was quickly taken up around the world as the international symbol of solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS.




IBM launched its iconic three-letter logo 43 years ago, and it has remained basically the same ever since. However, Apple traded the rainbow-striped apple for a single-color version in 1999.



The historic rivalry between these two giants came to an end with a partnership signed in 2014. On one side was the centralized and hierarchical posturing of IBM’s driving forces from the 1980s, with their dreams of huge computers in the service of powerful governmental and corporate agencies, and on the other, Steve Jobs’ vision of the home computer, a digital culture closer to the lives of everyday people.

This rivalry was even reflected in their logos. In 1972, IBM adopted a design by the great (but notoriously ill-tempered) Paul Rand: three very solid upper-case letters, in a tech-evoking blue, crossed by transparent lines. In 1977, Apple bet on the fruit of the same name (with a bite taken out of it) and a rainbow color scheme, created by Rob Janoff. While there’s much discussion about the hidden meaning of the apple, it’s a friendly everyday natural symbol, despite connotations of Biblical themes like temptation (thanks to the bite, which according to Janoff was added so that the outline wouldn’t look like just another fruit). For IBM, Rand later tried a “lighter” version of his own logo, but it still lacks the playfulness of Jobs and Janoff’s apple.




Each edition of the Olympic Games, hosted in a major world city, offers a unique opportunity for graphic design.

The general Olympic logo of five interlocking rings, created by Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin, was first used in Amberes in 1920. The logo for the Games held in Mexico City 1968 was another highlight. And in Munich 1978, the images dreamed up by the celebrated – and notoriously strict – rationalist designer Otl Aicher included pictograms representing the different competitions, as well as the first-ever Olympic mascot: the charming dachshund Waldi. Another very popular mascot was Cobi, a dog with a more postmodern edge, created by Javier Mariscal for Barcelona 1992. At the time, Mariscal was the unofficial designer for the city, and his original style – somewhat vintage – was a terrific representation of Barcelona’s dreams of modernity in the 1990s. Mascots are useful in wide range of applications, and Cobi proved his strength in a number of different formats, including illustrations, comics, sculptures, stuffed toys and an animated feature. in



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