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Around Since the Dawn of Time
Ancient logos you didn’t even realize were logos, and what you can learn from them.
Obviously, logos are just little pictures that companies use to identify themselves. Right? Like this one.
I mean, this particular version has been around for literally over 100 years. That’s old. And it’s a company. What am I missing?
Turns out, I’m missing about 4000 years.
Logos serve a purpose: to give the audience a visual code word that refers to the essence of its owner. Clients can be afraid of letting go of the details that make them feel that all their messages are covered, but the most timeless logos use extremely simple shapes which are adaptable to many subsidiaries, media and changing styles. The best minimalist logos are so embedded in our conciousness that we don’t even realize that they’re there. Or that they’re logos.
Let's Go Back in Time
Logos were created millennia before corporations ever were. Before the paper money they bring in was even invented.
Ever seen this?
Developed in ancient Mesopotamia, this symbol has represented divine protection since the dawn of Western civilization. It is still very much in use all over the Middle East and North Africa (check out your local souk or market), and it still means divine protection. Although the original divinities whose protection was sought were pagan ones such as Ishtar, Jews and Moslems adapted it to represent God’s protection, and (less widely known), Christians to represent Mary’s. (source)
The concept of the safety provided by this all-seeing divine hand has followed its use throughout.
It’s simple, obvious, and well-recognized. One meaning, different societies. Now that’s a logo that retains it’s message!
You think Coca Cola is famous?
There is one logo that, while not as ancient, is much, much more famous:
Yep. That’s a logo. By 400 C.E., the first variant of the cross (below) —known these days as the Greek Cross— was in widespread use as a symbol of victory. That’s over 1600 years ago.
All the other variants developed over time, mostly in the middle ages (even the more prolific version we all know) when a bajillion different Christian sects began to emerge. You’ve seen them —some with Jesus, some without, some with two crosspieces, some with more….The list goes on. (source) (source)
Sew it on a tunic, scratch it in the dirt, tie it together with twine, or ink it ornately on vellum. No matter how you make it, everyone knows what it is.
I would call that a highly developed branding system in which all the subsidiaries have adapted the original basic icon to their specific divisions. Beautifully, each and every one clearly references the original logo: that simple drawing of the post on which their visionary’s life tragically ended.
This logo is successful because it is so simple and thus incredibly easy to adapt without losing its recognizability.
Aside: What about the icon used by pharmacists (ahem CHEMISTS) in some countries? What does THAT have to do with Christianity? Turns out, they borrowed the icon from the Red Cross—that Christian medical organization known for saving the world. (source). Apparently the Swiss flag also has its roots in Christianity: the iconic medieval uniforms of the soldiers and knights (source) You know, the Crusaders and all those other bloodthirsty types.
Logos Are Everywhere
What is a flag besides a national logo? You see one of these on the upper right corner of a site, you know you’re using the language of that country. You see it on a soldier’s uniform, you know who he or she is fighting for, next to a number; a currency . . .
The simpler the flag, the easier it is to identify in all it’s possible dimensions (hillside spraypaint perhaps).
A flag even comes with a branding system: its colors. Sometimes shorthand references to the symbols on the flag are added to strengthen the connection to the logo. When locals here see a crowd of people wearing only blue and white, we know they are dressed in honor of Israel, and it’s very likely to be Israel’s Independence Day. And if I was in New York City and saw thousands of people in blue and white, chances are I’d be attending the Celebrate Israel Parade (source)
But if I saw this:
I’d know I was at the wrong parade, because these guys are branded “Puerto Rico” head to toe.
Logos aren’t a 20-century invention. They’ve been around since humans settled down. Take a cue from ancient cultures: less is more.
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