Who hasn’t heard of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Apple, Nike, Mercedes or Coca-Cola? These are some of the greatest business companies ever. Though many factors have made the incredible destiny of these brands, a key secret of their rise to eminence is their great logo designs. These corporations have some of the best and most perfect logos of all time.
Whenever we hear the words “Starbucks,” “Apple” or “Nike,” what first comes to our minds is the mysterious twin-tailed siren, the iconic bitten apple and, of course, the legendary swoosh. These wonders of graphic design – indeed some of the best logo ideas ever – have so much to do with the growth of the businesses which they represent that anyone who wants to create a professional business logo should seek inspiration in their stories: they are supreme examples of what a great logo looks like. These logo classics are so well conceived that we ended up confusing them with the brands themselves: in a way those outstanding logos ARE the brands.
What do those iconic, professional and, if you want, ‘cool’ logos mean? What can they teach us about the best logo design? Here is the incredible story of three of the greatest logos in business history.
First things first: Starbucks. The iconic siren logo comes on top of the list of the best logo designs of all time. Founded by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl in 1971 as a single store selling coffee beans near the historic Pike Place Market in Seattle, Starbucks soon became the main representation of the United States’ third wave of coffee culture and “the world's largest coffeehouse chain” (Bondarenko 2020).
The ingredients of such a success are of course numerous: all the usual stock in trade of successful business. But to be sure the innocent looking siren played a key role in the meteoric rise of Starbucks.
Starbucks founders, two university lecturers and a writer, had the great idea of the mysterious siren motif as a logo for their then starting up coffee beans business. All three were great coffee and tea lovers, so it was expected that their business meet, as it did, with immediate success. The quality of their commodities was, as expected, as great as their love of the drinks.
However, Starbucks’ growth into the huge multinational we know today is another story in which the logo definitely played an essential part. Behind the surface simplicity of the logo lies a whole set of learned mythological, literary and Historical allusions and some of the most potent symbolism a logo can contain.
Smart academics, the three men decided to call their enterprise “Starbucks,” after the character of the same name in Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick. Besides this clever allusion to Melville’s popular protagonist and novel, the trio decided to support their marketing strategy with an emblem, the Siren logo. It was a perfect move as the logo proved to be the best that could be thought of.
There are many theories about the meaning of the Starbucks logo. The smiling, crowned and twin-tailed siren is a mystery, a fact which only adds to the logo’s greatness. One of the claims is that the crowned maiden is the Biblical Queen Esther.
However, according Starbucks’ official history, the original Starbucks logo was modelled after an image from “a 16th century Norse woodcut.” The woodcut in question is said to feature a bare-breasted and twin-tailed mermaid like that of the early Starbucks logo. What’s more, the siren on the woodcut apparently screamed, “Buy coffee!”. Another theory has it that the logo’s point is “to capture the seafaring history of coffee and Seattle’s strong seaport roots' (Roos 2010).
In fact, the Starbucks logo seems to be an allusion to the sea beast in Moby Dick, a reference meant to give Starbucks a mythical dimension. The whale in Melville’s novel has been replaced by a mermaid, a more popular, more inspirational and more sympathetic mythological creature. The mythological references of the logo also evoke stimulation of creativity and imagination, the major virtue of tea and coffee.
Finally, the logo’s allusions to mythology and creative literature bring to mind the link between the stimulating drinks sold by Starbucks and reading. The siren logo thus seems to be meant to give Starbucks a universal and timeless dimension and aura of the kind we associate with classics. However, Starbucks’ ultimate intention stays an enigma, and perhaps always will.
The success of the Starbuck logo has been dazzling. Initially a single store opened partly with borrowed money, “Starbucks” is now, according to an Encyclopedia Britannica article, the largest coffeehouse chain in the world (Britannica 2020). Dave Roos wrote in “10 Things You Don't Know About Starbucks (But Should!),” “Nothing says marketing genius like an extremely vague literary reference”(Roos 2010) Starbucks logo proves him right.
The second inspirational logo design is no less magnificent. It’s Apple’s wonderful bitten apple pictogram. What does the legendary Apple logo mean? Here is the story behind the logo of the forbidden fruit. The apple logo makes three interrelated allusions making it one of the most powerful logos ever created.
The first is the myth of Creation and the Fall of Man according to the major monotheistic religions. In Western symbolism in particular, an apple symbolizes the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the Forbidden Tree from which Adam and Eve, lured by Satan, ate against God’s commandment. As a result, they got banned from Paradise. The apple pictogram on Apple’s computers thus reminds us of the Divine origin of Knowledge and the high price Man has paid for ‘a bit’ of it.
That also explains the bite taken from the apple. However, there’s more to say about that bite. For Dan Redding, in “What Does The Apple Logo Mean?,” “The first bite of the apple represents the fall of man.” As Redding further comments, “the forbidden fruit grants wisdom, just like Apple computers do (…) If you’ve ever seen the Terminator movies, you know that technology will also be the fall of man! How appropriate” (Redding 2018).
To cut a long story short, Apple’s logo suggests that Knowledge is more than essential; it insinuates that knowledge is Divine and is the secret of immortality.
In addition to its reference to mythology, the Apple logo has another meaning: it is an allusion to ‘Newton’s apple.’ Isaak Newton’s discovery of gravitation is said to have been inspired by an apple which fell on him while he was reading under an apple tree. Apple’s great logo pays tribute to both Newton and ‘his’ apple.
Apple’s emblem also connotes that computers play an enlightening role, just like Newton’s apple. The original logo placed on Apple’s first computer featured Newton reading a book under an apple tree with an apple about to fall on him.
Last but not least, the Apple logo pays tribute to one of the most genial people of science: Alan Turing. Turing is often considered as being the father of computer science. A genius, he contributed foundational findings to both computer science and biology.
However, despite his monumental contribution to human progress, Turing has been victim of prejudice. He was convicted for indecency due to 'homosexual acts' and had to choose between imprisonment and probation. He chose the latter option which caused him health issues and led to his suicide. He was only 41.
When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and it was speculated that this was the means by which he had consumed the fatal dose of cyanide that caused his death . The apple logo is a moving and powerful homage to this inventor of the computer. Turing’s story has been the subject of an American film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore, entitled The Imitation Game (2014).
Behind its seeming simplicity, Apple’s logo is a mighty symbol. The Apple Corporation is aware of the power and the sacrosanct character of their logo. As Redding put it, Apple’s “simple logo design deftly carries the heft of centuries of meaning. Apple likes their symbol so much that they’re very protective of it, and they don’t like when other people attempt to use apples in their logos”(Redding 2018).
The third and last great logo we would like to tell you about is as simple as it is great and popular. It’s the logo of American sportswear designer and retailer Nike, known simply as “the Swoosh.” The Swoosh is one of the most recognizable brand logos in the world and one of sport's most iconic images. It is also one of the most valuable logos, worth $26 billion.
The first thing about the significance of this incredible logo is, like the movement and mark of a teacher checking a correct answer, it symbolises the quick, smooth, confident and gracious motion of great athletes heading toward victory. It was created in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, then a graphic design student at Portland State University.
Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, had insisted that his company's new logo be a simple design that is fluid, conveys motion and speed and above all is different from the three stripes of Adidas. The result is the unique logo known today globally as the Swoosh.
In addition, the mythical Nike logo is a symbol of the wing of the Greek goddess of victory, to whom the Nike Company owes its name.
When first created, the swoosh logo design was made in several colours. However, the company mostly used red and white for its logo. Those colours represent the virtues of sport competition: the red symbolises passion, energy and joy while the white color represents purity and grace.
The success of the logo is crazy. The Swoosh is now one of the most recognized brand logos in the world, and has made Nike one of the most successful and most highly valued brands. Nike made great use of their Swoosh logo. Having realized the logo’s great role in the company’s growth and in the safeguard of its prestigious reputation, Nike devotes about 10% of its revenues on branding. Harvard Business School professor Stephen A. Greyser was right to describe the great logo as “the living, vibrant symbol of the firm” (Wikipedia).
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How to create a perfect logo for free? What do you need to create a logo like Apple’s, Starbucks or Nike? Based on the above stories, iconic logos have 10 characteristics in common. Having these aspects in mind will help you to create a perfect logo online. Here are the 10 commandments for a great and unique logo design:
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Article published by Danny Le Juste
Danny is an academic and web-content writer for Izeelogo. He holds a Ph.D. in Anglophone literature which he completed at the University of Sheffield (UK). He’s interested in all modes of representation of reality, including literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, photography, media and graphic design.