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Logology

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Logology

A deep dive into America’s long, fraught tradition of racist logos

A photo illustration with different line textures around a box of Pearl Milling Company pancake mix and a bottle of its syrup.
A photo illustration with different line textures around a box of Pearl Milling Company pancake mix and a bottle of its syrup.

The Black Lives Matter groundswell last year prompted reckonings across many aspects of American business, including branding. The criticism of long-established commercial icons like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, which had been building for decades, finally reached a tipping point. The result was their removal from packaging in overdue recognition of their roots in racist stereotypes, and their eventual replacement. So it was announced this week that the Aunt Jemima brand will now be known as “Pearl Milling Company,” replacing the character’s portrait with a drawing of a 19th-century water mill.

Late last year we saw a handful of these…


Logology

The new look has already been compared to Goodwill, Photoshop and an elephant

The new General Motors logo in front of a silhouette of a car.
The new General Motors logo in front of a silhouette of a car.

Normally, when a blue-blooded titan of American industry overhauls its iconic logo for the first time in 57 years, as General Motors did on Friday as it announced its new focus on electric vehicles, it creates quite a stir. But it seemed by the end of last week that Americans had little outrage left to expend on matters of graphic design and branding. Sure, there was the usual Twitter snark, but in the unsettling twilight of the current presidency, jokes equating logo redesigns with war crimes just hit differently.

Nevertheless, there were the typical rote reactions to any new logo…


LOGOLOGY

Is the streetwear company that gamified artificial scarcity really worth billions?

The Supreme logo replicated several times over a red background with various templated graphs and lines.
The Supreme logo replicated several times over a red background with various templated graphs and lines.

The November sale of streetwear icon Supreme to apparel and footwear giant VF Corporation for north of $2 billion raised the question of what exactly was the retail conglomerate getting for its money? To the uninitiated, Supreme’s business model seemed to be based on little more than slapping its familiar red and white “box logo” on T-shirts and sweatshirts produced in limited numbers to create a perception of exclusivity. Could a logo really be worth that much?

The value of intangible assets like logos has been a topic of conjecture for more than a century. In 1912, the most valuable…


Logology

Why everyone from Goldman Sachs to Netflix is investing in their very own typeface

A collage of different images with various brand custom fonts like “Salesforce Sans,” “Southwest Sans,” and “Uber Moves.”
A collage of different images with various brand custom fonts like “Salesforce Sans,” “Southwest Sans,” and “Uber Moves.”

Apparel retailer Banana Republic found itself in hot water last month, accused in a lawsuit filed by New York typographer Moshik Nadav of unlawfully appropriating the ampersand from his Paris Pro typeface. But the attempt to add some sparkle to the clothing retailer’s brand — after a recent rough patch for both Banana Republic and its beleaguered parent, Gap Inc. — fell flat.

The recent appeal of the ampersand is undeniable: Its use in U.S. trademarks is up 31% since 2000. But before purloining Nadav’s ligature, perhaps Banana Republic should have considered a strategy being employed by an increasing number…


Logology

A contrarian take on Google’s unpopular rebrand

Google Workspace logo
Google Workspace logo

Anytime a company alters an iconic logo — or one that’s merely familiar — it inevitably faces a cry of public backlash. It’s only human nature: People are inherently wary of change, and the default knee-jerk reaction to any logo change is skepticism or downright hostility. For recent examples, look no further than Airbnb’s Bélo symbol, which Gizmodo declared “the sexual Rorschach test for our time”; Uber’s “atom and bit” logo (since expired); and Spotify’s crooked frequency waves.

So Google was certainly treading lightly through its recent rebranding of the company’s G-Suite collection of productivity apps to Google Workspace, which…


Logology

The soda giant’s latest imitation project is a relaxation drink that deploys all the millennial branding tricks

As if LaCroix, Liquid Death, and Topo Chico weren’t enough to keep the beverage aisle exciting, there’s a new water upstart slated to make its way onto supermarket shelves in the first quarter of 2021. And it comes from none other than PepsiCo.

In September, Pepsi announced it would launch a new product called Driftwell, an “enhanced” non-carbonated water beverage containing L-theanine and magnesium that is supposed to aid with sleep, although the company cannot legally make that claim and is left to drop vague hints about “relaxation.” Pepsi’s development of Driftwell stemmed from an internal pitch competition called “The…


Logology

The music company has succeeded despite its branding, not because of it

A mobile phone screen displays the logo of Spotify in Antalya, Turkey on February 27, 2020.
A mobile phone screen displays the logo of Spotify in Antalya, Turkey on February 27, 2020.

There is no romantic story behind Spotify’s name.

In a post on the question-and-answer site Quora, Spotify founder Daniel Ek writes that, in 2006, he and co-founder Martin Lorentzon “were sitting in different rooms shouting ideas back and forth… even using jargon generators and stuff,” when Lorentzon shouted a name that Ek misheard as “Spotify.” Ek Googled the name and saw that nobody else was using it. “A few minutes later,” he writes, “we registered the domain names and off we went.”

The story highlights how the founders moved quickly and decisively to capitalize on a bit of luck in…


Logology

A new wave of company logos all include the same three-letter word

A collage of logos including Humboldt, JC Penney, Kangol Vintage, The Shave, Coors Light, and more.
A collage of logos including Humboldt, JC Penney, Kangol Vintage, The Shave, Coors Light, and more.

Does your local craft brewery’s logo helpfully inform you that the business was “Est. 2019”? Is the sign outside the trendy coffee shop down the street proud to declare it was “Est. 2016”? Logos declaring the year that a company was founded are gaining rapid popularity. In particular, businesses like these seeking to adopt a hipster aesthetic appear to append an “Est.” to their logos just as often as they use crossed objects or mustaches in their trademarks. Why the sudden popularity of this visual quirk?

In recent years, “Est.” has made quite a comeback, appearing in trademarks at a…


Logology

How a shift toward logo modernization in the 1960s ushered in an era of rubber-stamp designs

Outlines of various bank logos such as Chase Bank, Bank of America, etc.
Outlines of various bank logos such as Chase Bank, Bank of America, etc.

When a new logo is unveiled these days, we know what to expect. An announcement on the company website and social media, peppered with the usual branding buzzwords: “iconic,” “bold,” “unique.” Perhaps an inspirational video that concludes with a dramatic reveal of the logo, like Airbnb’s Bélo symbol. Maybe even a diagram that shows how the mark conforms to the golden ratio, like this one for Apple. All done seemingly not so much in the hope of provoking a positive reception, but rather heading off an online backlash.

Until around the second half of the 20th century, the thought that…


Logology

From Target to ShopRite, major retailers are co-opting muted pastels, serif fonts, and ampersands

At a slightly run-down grocery store at the foot of the Catskill Mountains, the paper towel shelf is in the midst of a hipster makeover. Next to reams of shouty, Crayola-colored packs of Bounty, calmly sits a new brand of paper towel that looks like it was dreamed up by either the millennial marketing whizzes at Glossier or an Etsy crafter from Portland. It’s Paperbird, styled with a lowercase “p” and accented with a feminine hand-sketched silhouette of a perched creature, all packaged in soothing tones of cream and lavender.

Paperbird is not, however, some homespun artisanal cleaning-products brand. It’s…

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