The (Short) Story Behind Some Of The World’s Most Iconic Logos Picture a famous logo from the 20th century. It’s very likely that it came from Chermayeff & Geismar. Here, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar founders of the influential branding and graphic design studio along with Sagi Haviv, who became the firm’s third partner in 2007, provide a glimpse into how they designed some of the most elegant and memorable logos of all time.
The peacock logo had been introduced in 1956 as a promotional image for color television. Although in reality the peacock is an ill- tempered bird, it definitely communicated color. It also had built quite a bit of equity over the years as a representative of NBC. The design firm re-imagines the form to make it more effective. They streamlined the bird’s outline, reduced the number of feathers and standardized their shape. The colors assigned to the feathers are the primary and secondary colors of television. The peacock had been facing left–the wrong way for a reader’s eye–so it was flipped to face right. Finally, the body of the peacock was reshaped to become an upside-down feather, created in the negative space. All of these details helped make the peacock less of an illustration and more of a symbol.
With no symbol that really stood for banking, and no symbol that represented Chase the designers turned to the idea of an abstract symbol. The blue octagonal mark is abstract but not without meaning. It suggests a Chinese coin or, with the square enclosed in an octagon, a bank vault and by extension the concept of security and trust.
At a time when Americans were fleeing to the suburbs in increasing numbers, oil companies such as Mobile found that they were being zoned out of new communities because of the less than graceful look of their service station. The idea of the red O came about partly to reinforce a design concept to use circular canopies, pumps, and display elements for a distinctive and attractive look. It also served to help people pronounce the name correctly (Mo-bil, not Mo-bile).
Pan Am, 1957
While the ticket offices had the complete corporate name on the facade, almost everyone referred to the company simply as Pan Am. The studio convinced their client to shorten the name for advertising and promotion purposes and designed a very simple wordmark for Pan Am. This was joined with a world globe symbol to form a clear, concise identity.
The shorthand for Showtime in newspaper listings and TV guides has always been SHO. This abbreviation inspired a powerful visual idea: by highlighting SHO in the name with a spotlight, a simple, appropriate metaphor for show business was born.
Herb Lubalin’s original logo had the P rendered as a human face in profile, which was referred to internally as “Everyman.” Suddenly, the idea that this P could form the base of a new symbol arose. The face was flipped around (to read left to right) and gave it a gentle “lobotomy.” The profile was repeated in both negative and positive form, to suggest a multitude, a public.