by Tom Kaneshige

Tech Logos: The Stories Behind the Designs

Jun 13, 20127 mins
FacebookInternetIT Strategy

When Twitter tweaked its blue bird, the design world was atwitter (pun intended). We spoke with Silicon Valley graphic designer Steve Yamaguma of Design2Market to get his insights into a few familiar tech logos. More goes into design than most people realize. Think: subliminal messages.

A lot more goes into designing tech logos than you might think. Silicon Valley graphic designer Steve Yamaguma of Design2Market gives his take on some of today’s familiar tech logos.

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Twitter: A Blue Bird Facelift

Twitter gave its famous blue bird a facelift earlier this month. The new bird is crafted from overlapping circles to reflect how social networks, interests and ideas connect and intersect, says Doug Bowman, creative director at Twitter.

Yamaguma’s take: “To the casual eye, there’s not much difference between the old bird and the new bird. But the designers cleaned up the design with an eye towards proportion and balance. The old bird’s head seemed a little too big, and the style gave it a more cartoonish feel. With the slightly uplifted angle, [the new bird] now has a sense of taking flight.”

Twitter: “I’m Batman!”

It didn’t take long for designers to mock Twitter’s new blue bird. One of the more creative ones came from Josh Helfferich. He flipped the bird upside down (yes, again, pun intended), changed the color scheme and — bam! — batman emerges from the shadows.

Yamaguma’s take: “The upside-down Batman logo is funny. In this serious-business-oriented Silicon Valley, we do need to pause for laughter. I’m sure there are many logos that you can turn upside down and make something out of it.”

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus’ dog is reportedly the inspiration behind the company’s logo. There’s no question many Americans love their dogs to the point of obsession. Whenever dogs are abused, outrage ensues. But what does a dog say about Zynga?

Yamaguma’s take: “In terms of brand identity and communication, [the Zynga dog] doesn’t have the level of thought, care and design sensibilities that went into the Twitter bird. Why Zynga itself is so popular is beyond me.”

Google: A Rebel?

Development of the Google logo was driven by the founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, according to Ruth Kedar who designed the logo. They had a vision of a timeless design, simple and legible.

Yamaguma’s take: “The primary colors add to the simplicity, and so [the logo] can be played with. Thus it has become one of the most successful brand identities. Instead of a chromatic progression, though, the L was made with a secondary color. This brings back the idea that Google doesn’t follow the rules.”

IBM: Rock Solid

Everyone knows the IBM logo. It’s been around forever. Developed by the famous designer Paul Rand, the logo appeals to engineers. Yet the logo has evolved over time. The original logo used a different font and did not have horizontal lines. Thirteen stripes were added in the mid-1960s, later reduced to eight.

Yamaguma’s take: “Like the stars and stripes, mom and apple pie, Americans need a sense of stability. Even though IBM is not the company it used to be, it still has the sense of strength, foundation and longevity. The logo gave IBM a rock solid look that stands the test of time.”

Facebook: Ho-Hum

There’s not much to the Facebook logo, with its block lettering on a blue background. Very simple. Very boring. Very familiar. And that’s the point!

Yamaguma’s take: “Here’s an example of how a very generic, non-exciting logo can become a well-recognized everyday brand. It carries the sense of simplicity and familiarity that I believe Facebook wants to communicate. Its san serif block letters have a sense of universal acceptance. But is it endearing enough to stand the test of time?”

NASA: The Seal, Meatball and the Worm

The NASA logo represents an old brand that started out as an official seal and morphed into an abstraction of the seal, dubbed the “meatball” insignia. The meatball was retired in 1959, in favor of a logo called the “worm,” and then brought back by popular demand. More often than not, the people’s choice trumps good design.

Yamaguma’s take: “A famous design firm created the infamous ‘worm’ logotype. The logo was clearly a designer’s creation with clean, modern, slightly abstract letterforms. It had a timeless feel, easily reproduced in any medium. Yet the market clearly missed the old ‘meatball’ logo. Who knew?”

Solyndra: Clean Logo, Muddy Company

Solar panel company Solyndra’s soiled reputation contrasts greatly with its squeaky clean logo. The logo helps create a positive perception of the company and gives the feeling of a successful, bright future. So much for logos reflecting reality.

Yamaguma’s take: “It’s one of the cleaner, well-designed logos that actually had concept and meaning. Solyndra’s simplistic letter forms and the sun rays hitting the O, which represented its patented cylinder design of their solar photovoltaic system, communicated what it did and gave a sense of a sustainable company. Little did we know what their real challenges were.”

TiVo: The Happiest Logo on Television

TiVo’s fun, cartoonish logo harks back to the happy-go-lucky days of the dot-com boom. Many of those dot-com logos aren’t around anymore, and no one’s laughing. But TiVo survived and prospered, its logo has become an everyday icon, and so the TV character can keep on smiling.

Yamaguma’s take: “Their use of the logotype and the TV logo icon was used fairly consistently, which helped build their brand recognition. But it was the actual name that really bore its way into mainstream consciousness. Its name has become a verb in today’s lexicon, ‘Can you TiVo that show tonight?'”

Android Robot: R2D2

Let’s face it, the Android robot logo borrows liberally from R2D2 of “Star Wars” — and who doesn’t love R2D2? Then again, technology gets a lot of its inspiration from sci-fi movies. Eventually, real technology catches up to the future. Even Apple’s planned campus in Cupertino looks like a spaceship.

Yamaguma’s take: “The Android robot is a fun phenomenon right now. It is one of the more heavily merchandized icons today, from key chains to coffee mugs to pillows and dolls. But will it last? As real robots become mainstream, it will no longer be a curiosity item.”

Apple: Taking a Bite

The iconic Apple logo has gone through a few color changes, from rainbow to silver. One of the reasons for its familiarity is product placement. Apple places its MacBook Pros and Airs, which prominently display the Apple logo, in Hollywood movies.

Yamaguma’s take: “It is interesting how Apple first put the logo on laptops [positioned for the end user]. It was the ultimate narcissistic design decision: create a beautiful user experience and forget everyone else. It wasn’t until they started seeing the logo upside-down in movies and TV product placements that they decided to turn it around for the rest of us.”

Apple: The Silhouette

Shortly after Steve Jobs died, 19-year-old Jonathan Mak reimagined the Apple logo in a stunning and beautiful way. It’s a silhouette of Jobs, identifiable by his trademark circular rim glasses, bowing his head in reverence to the company he made famous.

Yamaguma’s take: “The Apple logo with Steve Job’s silhouette is one of those irreverent strokes of genius that happen once in a lifetime. The academic don’t-mess-with-the-logo design discipline was overridden by a sincere appreciation for the profound significance of the man who created the company and the brand.”