Discover more from Logo Histories' Extra Issue
Trademarks and logotypes, 1978
Gillo Dorfles writes the introduction to the 1978 Annual of Top Symbols & trademarks of the world
Buy rare out-of-print design books and magazines here. Use discount code LASHOP10 for 10% of your entire order.
The following is an introduction to Volume 9 of Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World written by Gillo Dorfles and offering an insight into logotypes. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
Logo Histories' Extra Issue is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Trademarks, like everything else in the world of graphic design, are a meeting-point between two ideas: the one practical and functional, the other aesthetic and symbolic. On the one hand a good trademark must be easily recognized and immediately identified; on the other it must be pleasant to look at and if possible original, otherwise it will never become accepted by a wide public, which is the very object of its existence. These two aspects, the aesthetic one (pleasantness, curiosity, peculiarity of style) and the practical one (legibility, efficacy of the message, distinctness from other trademarks), compete with one another in giving a fitting appearance to this sign which has become so important in contemporary society. But these two essential characteristics of a good trademark are not the only elements that we should consider: there are other important things to be said about this visual graphic device.
Without entering in detail into the type of message conveyed by the trademark (whether it is exclusively of an iconic nature or rather indexical, or whether it may even be considered as an actual verbal message), I should like at least to divide the different possible types of trademark into two main categories: one is the common brand-mark, that is the mark of the manufacturer, consisting of any graphic sign to which is conventionally attributed the function of symbolizing a certain product or name of a firm; the other is usually known as the logotype, which means a mark that is made up of a number of letters or of a single letter, in such a way as to compose a formal unity of a privileged kind, which combines the design characteristics with those inherent in the semantic value of the letters themselves. Now it is the logotype which gives us one of the most significant examples of the peculiar individualizing power, both iconic and verbal, of the trademark.
A logotype is usually a short written sign, a group of letters, of initials, or even a monogram, which not only sums up in itself the main characteristic of the firm which it represents, but owing to the way it is devised and designed, succeeds in taking on a graphic-iconic appearance which will itself build up the exact corporate image of the firm or the product.
Well-known examples of this include Pirelli (with its much elongated P which for many years was a vital characteristic of this name), the Italian Supermarket esse lunga (with the long S), the mark of a chain of supermarkets, and Rolls Royce with its two entwined Rs. These logotypes are normally seen and experienced in exactly the same way as other trademarks that have no letters but are made of signs or symbols or emblems not based on letters (like the Mercedes ‘star’ or the Alfa Romeo ‘cross’); they are usually perfectly clear to the spectator quite apart from their alphabetical content. Yet in spite of this it is a proven fact that a trademark which presents the brand name in a written form will be more immediate in its impact than one without letters. The particular F of Fiat or the P of Pirelli is far more effective as a visual message than, say, the square labyrinth of the Olivetti sign, which may even be confused with other similar graphic signs. Moreover, it should be remembered that what we call the ‘linear sequential symbol’ which makes up the logotype may be made still more effective by the addition of further iconic elements (by the use of figurative features which recall or in some way refer to the characteristics of the product which they represent).
Let us look at some examples: in this logotype for ISS, International Scientific Systems, designed by Fletcher, Forbes and Gill, in addition to the firm's initials there is the iconic presentation of a computer punch-card, which provides a means of identification for the firm itself.
The trademark of the firm San Giorgio, designed by Giulio Contalonieri, presents not only the letter S, which is clearly identifiable even though it is placed on its side and not upright, but also the double head of a dragon, an obvious reference to the well-known symbol of St. George.
The logotype of Cedil, manufacturers of ceramic floor tiles, presents the letters making up the firm's name in perspective, which is an iconic reference to its production activity,
while that of Seven Seas, also designed by Crosby, Fletcher and Forbes, makes figurative use of a rope, attached to an anchor, for writing the words; here the metaphor indicates the meaning of the logotype and the firm's activity.
These few examples, like hundreds of similar ones, illustrate the extreme importance of lettering in the design of trademarks, as well as in graphic design as a whole. Lettering, indeed, is not only a way in which our own or any other alphabet can be constantly renewed and made different; it is also a subtle visual game enabling us to create effects of positive and negative, of shading, of three-dimensionality, agglutination and vitalization of a single sign in such a way that every letter of the alphabet, instead of being amorphous and lacking particular character, becomes a living and stimulating organism.
We may often observe how each single letter becomes magically transformed into something new and different simply by the fusion with qualities that are congenial to it. Ancient meanings, linked with forgotten mysteries and the earliest beginnings of the alphabet or rooted in saga and legend, magic rites, alchemy or cabalistic origins, can thus be brought to life again, even without the conscious intention of the creator of the mark, and fall in with the new nature and role that the letters are called upon to assume. Yet even without these possible - maybe questionable - analogies of a mystical or mysterious kind, it is undoubtedly true that lettering is and continues to be one of the most decisive elements in visual communication, and it is of vital importance to remember this in the designing of every new trademark.
If you enjoy reading this also check out and support these projects:
Brand Archive – Research tool for brand designers.
LogoArchive Website – Searchable modernist logo archive & research tool.
LogoArchive Shop – Vintage design books & LogoArchive Zines.
BP&O – Contemporary design editorial.
About Logo Histories’ Extra Issue
Logo Histories' Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.