A company’s brand is a complicated, living thing. It consists of many components that must all integrate seamlessly and create a whole. Often considered one of the most important components of this branding effort is a company’s logo.
But what happens when a brand and its logo needs refreshing? We asked graphic designers to discuss why some changes work well and can create a rallying point around a fresh stance, a great example of this being the transformation of the Apple logo over the last 100 years. We also looked at why when the University of California changed their logo within one week public outrage was so strong 50,000 signatures were gathered in a petition against it.
A logo is a recognition tool for the public to link a service and product to the company and, if designed effectively, can bring to people’s mind an image and appeal that no other branding tool can deliver. The challenge upon rebranding is to ensure core brand values and recognition is not lost.
We spoke to graphic designer Eddie Sadowski from Scratch Design about how Apple have successfully manoeuvred the years with their Apple bite logo.
Eddie points to Apple as an example of successful logo evolution. The Apple logo has changed little since the release of the first Apple computer in 1977. Given the notoriously high paced nature of this industry and Apple’s reputation for innovation, it is remarkable it has been able to retain its freshness.
Eddie says, ‘It’s been said that in order for a logo to be truly successful, it needs to be relevant, recognisable, memorable, versatile, timeless and the Apple logo ticks all the boxes. It’s a great example of the type of logo I aspire to deliver for my clients.’
The Apple logo is not simply a literal interpretation of the brand. As with every great logo, there are several underlying connotations.
There’s a reference from the Bible story of Adam and Eve, where the apple represents the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The bite from the Apple works well with the pun on byte/bite which is, of course, a computer term.
Further, it’s been suggested that the bite mark is also a tribute to Alan Turing, ‘the father of modern computing’. Turing was an English mathematician, Secret Service cryptanalyst and computer scientist, whose concepts played a considerable role in the creation of the modern computer system. Turing was homosexual and at the time this was illegal in Britain. He was prosecuted and subjected to hormonal treatments to reduce libido. In 1954 Turing’s cleaner found him dead in his house, the recorded verdict was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered a half eaten apple was found next to him and it was speculated that this was the means of the cyanide ingestion. Therefore, it is suggested that the half bitten Apple logo is a reference to Alan Turing as a symbol to his life’s work.
There is also a ‘nod’ to Isaac Newton and his innovative discoveries. These ideas are all appropriate to the brand.
‘What has changed over the years has been the colour scheme. From the coloured bars of the original version followed by the monochrome version, the aqua-theme and the glass effect; each revamp has had meaning and kept the company current. ‘ Eddie says
The coloured bars were introduced to make the logo more accessible and highlight that colour could now be used on computer screens for the first time.
This wasn’t changed until the return of Steve Jobs to the company in 1997. The choice to implement a simplified version of the famous apple was rooted partly in production costs. Producing a coloured logo onto computers was very expensive, with one designer calling it ‘the most expensive bloody logo ever designed’.
It was also thought that the coloured logo could look dated and a simpler form was needed. Since then the logo has used an aqua format and also glass style.
Interestingly Apple have reintroduced the colour element to the logo in some publications. ‘Now the colours have been re-introduced with a modernised version of the original which possibly signifies a new era following the death of Apple’s founder and pioneer’, Eddie says.
Apple wrote in a updated corporate identity guideline, ‘Like our products and our customers, the Apple brand continues to evolve. Don’t worry: We haven’t replaced the logo, just updated it. We’ll continue to reflect who we are and what we stand for as a company in the same timeless symbol: an apple with a bite taken out of it.’
The success of this transformation? Eddie thinks it is that change has been subtle and appropriate, ‘The fact hardly anything has changed in the last 36 years is a testament to the original design and the confidence Apple have in their own identity.’
The University of California
An altogether more dramatic change occurred at the end of last year when the University of California created a new logo. The new design was to update the intricate stately seal that had been in use for the last 144 years. The change elicited a surge of negative opinions from students, alumni and onlookers culminating in a 50,000 people strong petition against it and the State Lieutenant Governor stepping in.
The university’s original logo was designed by Tiffany & co and featured an open book, 1868 date date stamp and ‘Let there be light script’. It was a clear and instantly recognisable symbol within education, but the intricate design was hard to replicate on marketing material.
Further, the idea of the new logo was to bring all of the schools in the 10 campus University of California system under the same branding umbrella. The University of California acts as an overarching company running all of the public universities in the state including Berkeley, LA, and San Diego. These universities have a clear and individual identity; the new logo was to become the main identity on all campuses state wide, while allowing the individual colleges to add a bit more local flavour.
“They wanted something that would reflect the innovation, the character of California — just more modern, user-friendly,” said Dianne Klein of UC’s Office of the President. “That’s not to take away from the gravitas of the original seal.”
It is important to note that the new logo was not meant to replace the original seal. It was meant to run along side the seal, which would still be used on degree certificates and other official documents while the new logo would be used in a more corporate sense.
Created in a range of colours it was used on used on new prospectuses, letterheads leaflets and tote bags without much notice until a December 2012 news story by Katy Murphy in the Oakland Tribune. The article, accompanied by this promotional video explaining the thinking behind it, led to an online petition and 50,000 people expressing their intense dislike at the new design.
The vitriol was unabashed and creative (check out the comments under the video for a flavour); one online article references the promotional video announcing the new brand, and likens it to
‘an outdated Internet provider appealing to “the youth” than an institution of higher learning’. And even ‘an aerial view of a flushing toilet’.
Within days the University responded to the online campaign and the new logo was dropped.
Simon Potter, a graphic designer at Unframed Media, sees this backtrack as a sign that ‘American colleges and Universities are very far behind on the idea of treating themselves as a brand and as a business.’ He sees the video as a creating a brilliant sense of brand a lot of UK universities are heading for.
‘I think with the introduction of higher tuition fees in this country Universities are trying harder than ever to stand out from the crowd, and having a strong logo and brand identity will help.’
‘One University that I feel succeeds in this in the UK is Portsmouth University. It has a very strong logo mark and very good branding and advertising materials that do help in making it stand out. ‘
So does he like he University of California’s new logo? ‘Yes. I think coming from the UK and having no attachment to the american higher education system allows me to look at it in an unbiased way. The new logo is clean, fresh and when used in conjunction with the branding materials designed with it created a very very strong brand image.
Was it a mistake going back to the old seal? ‘Yes I think it was, design should always push forward and offer new ideas, and I feel by the University backing down to public and political pressure is a bad thing, both for them and the design industry as a whole.’
Are you considering changing your company’s logo? What are you most mindful about?
Thanks to Simon Potter at Unframed Design and Eddie Sadowski at Scratch Design for their contributions to this article.
Unframed Design is a web and graphic design studio in Surrey. We offer a professional and affordable diverse range of design services. Products offered include print design, brochure design, logos/branding and business stationary, web design and development and digital publishing.
Scratch Design is a graphic design studio based Manchester. They produce artwork for print based projects, specialising in gig posters, club flyers and record sleeves.