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Marshall McLuhan called it “an icon” and it remains virtually unchanged after over four decades in use: Allan Fleming’s 1960 ‘worm’ logo for the Canadian National Railway Company was the overwhelming favourite among our design experts when we polled them for their favourite logos. Fleming had just turned 30 and was working at typographic firm Cooper and Beatty when the opportunity arose. CN had carried out a survey in 1959 revealing that people thought it an “old-fashioned”, “backward” organisation, hostile to innovation. Dick Wright, CN’s head of public relations commissioned New York designer James Valkus to study the problem. Valkus proposed a complete overhaul of CN’s visual image with a new logo (replacing its staid maple-leaf based design). He gave the job to Fleming.
As happens so often, the idea came to Fleming when he was on a flight from New York and he sketched his idea quickly on a napkin. With Valkus, he then worked it up into the future classic we know today (there’s a wonderful image in Fleming’s archive of an early version with the following note from Valkus: “Make it thinner & we’ve got it.”)
The continuous flowing line symbolised “the movement of people, materials, and messages from one point to another,” Fleming said. “The single thickness stroke is what makes the symbol live. Anything else would lack the immediacy and vigour.” Abolishing the R for Railways also made the logo bilingual (‘Canadien National’ as well as ‘Canadian National’), an important plus-point in Canada, and made it more suitable for the many non-rail businesses CN ran at the time such as hotels, telecommunications, and ferry services.
“I think this symbol will last for 50 years at least,” said Fleming of his work. “It don’t think it will need any revision because it is designed with the future in mind.”
Fifty-seven years on, it’s still going.
On Saturday October 20, 1951, CBS Television unveiled its new logo in station breaks voiced by a range of the channel’s stars. Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Gracie Allen each intoned that the viewer “keep your eye on this eye”. The new symbol epitomised clean, modern design but the inspiration for its creation harked back to the superstitions of 19th-century America. MORE
In 1935 Allen Lane’s newly formed publishing company needed a logo and its founder dispatched 21 year-old production editor and designer Edward Young off to London Zoo to find and draw a suitable penguin. Lane hoped to replicate the success of the Hamburg-based Albatross Books and recognised that a symbol was a vital addition to the design of his affordable paperbacks, alongside the familiar stripes and colour coding that would define Penguin books for years to come. MORE
The World Wide Fund for Nature, known as WWF (it used to be called the World Wildlife Fund and still is in the US and Canada) has a universally recognised logo which remains a potent symbol for the primary focus of the WWF’s work: the conservation, preservation and restoration of natural environments around the world. MORE
Art director Rob Janoff came up with the rainbow-striped logo that ran from 1977 until 1998. “I designed it with a bite for scale, so people get that it was an apple, not a cherry,” Janoff has said. “The only direction we got from Steve Jobs was ‘don’t make it cute’.” The stripes were a reminder that the Apple II had a colour monitor. After 1998, Apple took its design in-house. The stripes were dropped after the decision to make the logos larger on products, requiring a less obtrusive colour-way.
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Set in Bodoni, it brings the three letters of the museum’s nickname, V&A, together as a unified symbol, achieved by Fletcher’s decision to remove half of the letter ‘A’ and then use the ampersand to reinstate the missing crossbar. The resulting mark is distinctive but elegant. MORE
Wolff Olins designed the current Tate mark as part of a rebrand of the entire Tate organisation in time for the launch of Tate Modern in 2000. “We created a new brand for them when Tate Modern was being built,” says Marina Willer, creative director at Wolff Olins. “We needed to create something to unite all the different Tates.” This notion of an arts organisation as a brand was unusual (and controversial) at the time, though has since become common practice. MORE
The arrows of indecision. The barbed wire. The crow’s feet. In the 50 years since he drew up one of the UK’s most recognisable symbols, designer Gerry Barney has heard them all. But he doesn’t mind. While the public was to gradually fall out of love with British Rail as an organisation, its double arrow logo carried on, quietly working away as a beautifully simple and remarkably relevant piece of design. MORE