Enter the 1940s. A decade defined by a before, and an after. The Second World War would rage its way through the first half, and by the time peace was declared in 1945, the years that followed would be focused on repairing the ruin, rebuilding something better, a phoenix rising from the catastrophe of war.
For America, communism had come far too close for comfort, and in response, capitalism truly upped the ante. Huge corporations, everything from banks to news channels, would begin to compete for consumer attention with expansive advertising campaigns. Such a boom in marketing would now mean that logos alone had the power to seep into public consciousness, simple graphic designs that communicated the influence of gigantic businesses with just a singular icon.
This radical new direction in marketing and advertising can largely be attributed to one influential graphic designer, Paul Rand. Throughout his 60-year career, his work transformed opinion on visual communication. Rand’s mastery was found in simplifying the obtuse instructive advertising posters of the previous decades and distilling them into one single image. “Rand’s ads have words and pictures, but they’re all fused into one symbol,” explains Donald Albrecht, curator of a Rand exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. “He thought he was bringing art to advertising.”
By creating complete brand identities in clever, simple designs, Paul Rand changed corporate communication, managing almost single-handedly to persuade companies that design can be a powerful business tool. Under Rand’s influence, where campaigns had once been clear and obvious in their message, they now become simplified, and subtler, trusting the consumer to recognise a brand based on a singular image rather than from a series of instructions.
Take IBM. This enormous technology corporation still uses the very design that Rand coined for them back in the 1970s, the third itineration of logo designs that he produced for the company. Its genius is of course in its utter simplicity –three letters, imposing and capitalised, depicted in slashed horizontal sky-blue lines, almost like the glitching of a screen when the signal is just beginning to connect. So widely recognised is the IBM logo today that the company haven’t reinvented it in over 50 years – despite so many advances in technology, the logo is steadfast, as representative of progression now, as it was back then.
The list of Rand’s logo designs goes on and on but let us take you through just a few more household names. The United Parcel Service (UPS), characterised by doorless vans in an unmistakable brown and yellow colour pallet, had its logo designed by Rand. In his signature style, Rand took the company’s acronymised brand name and put the three letters within what is almost shield-like in shape, creating a crest out of the global parcel service, topped with a bow – brown paper packages, tied up with string.
Later, other massive companies would follow suit, those like ABC news, American Express, and Ford, all looking to distil their brand identity into one universal logo. As an author, teacher and designer, Rand confirmed the idea that good design is good business, and with his colourful combinations, approach to typography and use of media he achieved his ambition to ‘defamiliarize the ordinary’ in advertising.
Fast forward to the brands of today and many are still using the very style that found its beginnings in the 1940s. You only need to look as far as tech giant Apple to see the effectiveness of simple, iconic logos in action. The first iteration of the world’s most famous apple was depicted in a technicolour rainbow, before being stripped back further to a bold, black stamp shape. And with a bite taken out of one side, the designer behind the logo was able to ensure that Apple could never be mistaken for any other member of the fruit-bowl family, not cherry, not orange – but only ever Apple.
This simplicity has permeated much more than the logo alone, and now all of Apple’s campaigns and advertising collateral leans on trusting the consumer to know exactly who they are, and what they do, without spelling it out. For instance, their recent tv ad campaign doesn’t even show the product in use, but instead only a series of pictures taken on the latest iPhone model. These impressive high-quality images flip through on-screen before ending with the Apple, the implication being, that there really is only one option, one choice when it comes to choosing the best smartphone on the market.
Another brand whose identity is akin to that of the 1940s style of Paul Rand is the house-sharing service, Airbnb. Radical in both name and nature, this company have transformed the holiday rental market by allowing not just large hotel chains to become hosts for tourists, but anyone with a house anywhere.
Not unsurprising then that the masterminds behind this unorthodox new idea would visit the radical style of branding first masterminded in the 1940s for their visual identity. Just like Rand’s designs, the Airbnb logo features both text and graphics within one simple design. The graphic, drawn in a single interconnected line is almost heart-like in shape, reflecting the core values of the brand’s principles, and yet it also depicts the letters of the company name too. Stood upright and you can clearly see the A, turn it on its side and the B becomes identifiable too.
Like Apple, Airbnb has flooded its marketing campaigns with the kind of same simplicity. Their most recent ad campaigns don’t even show the home guests are staying in, but rather just the memories being made. Smiling faces, belly laughter and carefree spirits all flash across the screen until all that’s left is that unmistakable logo, with the tagline, ‘Made possible by hosts’.
Here at Glorious, we’ve helped several brands articulate their company aesthetic in a singular 1940s-style brand mark. One such client was the sustainable energy company H2 Energy – their unique ‘waste-to-energy’ process avoided the cost of transporting waste to an external facility, which in turn delivers significant environmental benefits. Our brief was to produce a total rebranding programme that communicated the pioneering nature of the company and its technology.
Taking inspiration from various elements and parts of H2 Energy’s bioengineering technology, we pulled together the visual representation of the formula used in converting waste to energy. Reading left to right, the first graphic symbolises the modular nature of the processing plant, the second expresses the bioengineering science and the third is the symbol for Hydrogen, which plays a key part in the process.
With an inescapable logic behind it, we created a new brand mark that has strength, modernity and a sense of technology that does justice to the innovative nature of H2 Energy bioengineering. Recognisable and memorable as a simple graphic image alone, we successfully emulated the style that typifies the 1940s by combining typography with design to distil the power – quite literally – of the brand.
So close is our affinity to the 1940s that our very own iconography takes its inspiration from the same era. As a top branding agency, we’ve spent the last 20 years operating under our token singular brand mark, a hand-drawn pencil. Chosen by us for its simplicity in communicating both our creativity and our honesty as a brand, we’ve used our trademark pencil across everything from our website homepage to our client brief responses. And now we’re proud that we can be spotted by that alone, even without our brand name sitting beneath.
So, if all that talk of singular simple icons has left you feeling like that’s the way you’d like to go with your brand image, then here are our top tips for doing so:
Consider how you can integrate both typography and graphic design into one singular image. Many of the best logos created in this style find a clever way to weave the brand names into the design itself, whereby the graphic either literally includes the text or figuratively represents it instead.
When thinking about the shape of the logo and make it almost stamp-like in its simplicity. Consider Apple, that logo could be placed anywhere from a product to a promotional ad, and it would have just as much impact – whereas make it too detailed, and the logo will only carry its weight when it’s printed on a larger scale.
The colour pallets typifying this style of design are simple too, the boldest of icons are black, dark, and prominent, rather than featuring any complicated colourways.
Ensure that confident simplicity is emulated across more than just your logo and instead into the whole ethos of how your brand communicates – Tone of Voice should be assured but not obvious, and any ad campaigns should showcase products or services with conviction but in a way that isn’t boringly straightforward either.
And the biggest tip of all, think on a global scale. The brands and companies operating under logos like these are the giants, the international corporates that all have enough self-confidence to assume they will be the ones to be recognised the world over by simple a fruit-shaped stamp. Now, you find that headspace too.
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