Trademark, a handbook of international designs, 1966, LogoArchive Shop

Trademarks, an introduction, Peter Wilbur, 1966

The past ten years have produced some of the finest trademark designs yet seen, and one of the interesting things to come out of the preparation of this book is that the standard appears to be rising. To begin with I had doubts as to whether there would be sufficient material to maintain some sort of standard within a number of categories, but | have ended up by finding it difficult to choose one out of several equally good competing designs for a particular section. Perhaps I should have eliminated projects from this survey, yet, from my own knowledge, projects can sometimes represent a designer's most imaginative work in this field. The final selection represents a survey of some of the most interesting designs produced within this period of time. 

Perhaps the first thing in talking about trademarks, however, is to define our meaning, as there are a confusing number of terms in general use which are often used synonymously.

I have used the one word 'trademark' to include any mark sponsored by an individual, a commercial or public company, a government body or a non-trading organisation*. This would normally include those designs consisting purely of letter forms and which are more properly called monograms or logotypes; but for reasons of space I have had to exclude many of these although it has not always been easy to draw a line between the two categories. As a general principle I have included only those designs where the lettering has been used in an imaginative way so as to underline or express the nature of the product or service (eg 60 for Allied Adhesives, where the letters have been bonded together or 78 where the H is evolved from the design module of this furniture manufacturer). It is being increasingly realised that the adoption of a mark by an organisation is the simplest way in which the organisation can give graphic expression and cohesion to its activities, products and services and is the one single factor which can unify all its promotional and distributive operations. Whilst the decision to adopt a mark is a simple one, the creation of a memorable and valid mark can be far from simple involving many factors.

Identification marks have probably existed for as long as there have been traders and merchants. In Britain, merchants' marks can be traced back to the end of the thirteenth century; although these formed only a small part of a much wider use of marks including masons' marks, goldsmiths' marks, paper makers' and printers' marks. The requirements for these were closely similar to those of our own day: simplicity of rendering, legibility and good recognition value. Many of these early marks were based on a central vertical stroke, with the remainder of the design elements attached to or stemming from it. It would seem quite likely that this arose through such technical requirements of reproducing the mark as the wire deckle of the watermark in paper or the heated iron for branding on wood or hide. Although close similarities exist in many of these marks, it is rare to find two that are quite the same, which suggests that some form of registration took place. The available evidence points to this being on a local scale through the well organised craft guilds. This was certainly the case with the goldsmiths and pewterers, and records exist of registers of cattle brands and even swan marks in various parts of the country. During the nineteenth century and early years of this century several new forms of mark were evolved as large industrial enterprises were built up. Of these, perhaps the founder's mark was the most common, usually consisting of the founder's initials or signature modified over a period of time by the requirements of the new methods of reproduction. The heraldic mark was widely used, occasionally derived from the founder's family crest, but more often from an attempt to confer respectability on a commercial venture. This heraldic treatment eventually became the pass- word of dignity and respectability and in many countries had a disastrous effect on the commissioning of new marks during the earlier part of this century. The other type of mark which had a great popularity was a representation of the factory or works - usually a minutely drawn aerial view. These had a tremendous fascination for their sponsors and could form a subject in themselves. Many of these marks are still in use today and I have chosen a number of what might be described as 'classic' marks to illustrate this section. They are all marks which have stood the test of time and remain as fresh today as when they were designed. This is not to say that they have remained unaltered during this period, but that the basic form has remained the same with changes in weight and emphasis reflecting new applications and speed of recognition.

It is very interesting to observe that a few of the present day marks still draw upon valid traditional symbols. Religious symbolism is the most obvious, but the use of the caduceus symbol in medicine is another example (12 and 15). This symbol of the snake twined around a staff can be traced from the Egyptians to the Greek god Hermes and was carried over to Asklepios the Greco-Roman god of medicine.

Let us now try to analyse the qualities required in a successful new trademark. 

First of all, it is essential that the idea behind the mark should be inseparably linked to the aesthetic form of the mark. Most failures in trademark design occur because the sponsor has stipulated what the basic image or idea should be and left it to the designer to find a suitable mould to enclose this idea or to tie together several, often incongruous, images. The most favourable circumstance for the creation of a good mark is one when designer and sponsor agree on a theme or approach after a careful study of the sponsor's product or services, for this gives the designer sufficient freedom to allow the form to develop out of the most appropriate imagery. This synchronising of idea and image is at the heart of a successful design. A good trademark can express many things : energy, efficiency, precision, co-operation, but, if it is to exert its fullest effect, it should concentrate on the one essential facet of the problem.

As to the nature of the idea which is taken as the starting point, it is often more important to suggest the character of an organisation than to show its products. In many fields such as banking and insurance, (118-121) the essence of the service is of an abstract nature, and in these cases it will be necessary to suggest by graphic means such qualities as security and reliability.

Secondly, it must be capable of reproduction by a variety of processes. Besides the common printing techniques some marks have to be capable of being reproduced in woven, enamelled or moulded forms, and each of these processes will make demands on the final treatment of the design. In designing a work which will be televised, for instance, particular attention must be paid to the interference pattern created by the horizontal scanning lines of the camera. The reproduction process therefore, whether it be stencilling or neon lighting, will have a strong influence on the design itself.

Thirdly, it must not date. This is a difficult requirement because it is hard to identify the 'dateable elements in a design at the time of its creation; but the design should avoid fashionable clichés and the representation of objects or processes which are likely to be superseded in the future. This is one of the difficulties in designing a mark for, say, an airline, where the means of transport and also propulsive power are steadily changing. Walter Herdeg has summed up this requirement perfectly when he says, 'A firm and its registered trademark may well be old, for age shows that they have stood the test of time; but a trademark that is out-of-date is, in both senses of the word, a bad sign.' 

Some trademarks in the following sections are of interest for their methods of application (which I have not, unfortunately, had space to show). Perhaps the most ubiquitous mark in this country in recent years has been the CND symbol which has lent itself to a great many forms of application, ranging from white-washing on walls to drawing on muddy windscreens of cars. It has also been used in several elegantly drawn versions on posters and publicity. Whatever one's political affiliations, one must concede that this mark meets all the requirements of its sponsor in a memorable way. It is also easy to memorise (essential if it is to have mass use), and impossible to confuse however poorly rendered.

An entirely original treatment has been devised by Minale, Tattersfield in their design for C. P. Wakefield which consists of two V's (representing a W) being cut into the top edge of whatever material is being employed. It is difficult to convey the effectiveness of this technique in a printed reproduction.

An animation technique was used by Mimmo Castellano for IVSET, which consists of the repetition of one letter that changes in the sequence from a geometric to an organic form. A rather special requirement for certain marks is that they shall be capable of animation on film and television, and at least two of the marks in thiscollection have been designed with this purpose in mind.

Trademark designs are still thought of as being essentially black-and-white designs, and it is true that for newspaper reproduction and moulding processes they must be capable of reproduction in one colour; but with the increase of colour reproduction and especially the advent of colour television multi-colour designs are going to have considerable importance. 

In making this selection of marks it has been interesting to discover how certain national characteristics and traditions in design have appeared in the entries from a particular country. The very free approach of many of the east European designs, for instance, the informality of some of the American ones and the more predictably disciplined, although no less imaginative, Swiss and German ones. Bulgaria and the Irish Republic are two countries, which, although less well known for their graphic design, have contributed some outstanding material.

*Unlike the British Patent Office which only allows trademarks to be registered if they are used in relation to goods, there being no provision for the registration of trademarks used for services. (Applying for a Trademark, a guide to the main provisions of the Trade Marks Act, HMSO, London)

This is an introduction to the book Trademarks, a handbook of international designs, first published in 1966. Discover other magazines, LogoArchive zines and design books available to buy here.

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