Friday, February 11, 2011

IBM Logo Design Review (A Double Feature)

Good design. Good decision. It is said the stripes are to suggest "speed and dynamism," so why did they reduce the lines from the above 13 to 8? The logo is renowned today; created by a renowned designer, Paul Rand. He created a solid logo version (no stripes) in 1956; he then revised it in 1972 to employ 8 stripes that make up each letterform, and this is what is used today. But in-between those two versions was a 13 striper, appearing in 1967---same typeface, same concept, but there were just more lines to visually sort through. (Note: Rand's skill in deciding where, how many, and how thick to make the line consistency is very well designed. If you've ever tried to use lines streaking through a variety of different solid shapes, you know how difficult it can be because of how prone the shapes are to sometimes leave a mix of small "slivers" and big "chunks" depending on their placement.) We all know this logo is recognized as a classic that is still in use today and looks as modern as ever, but the case we're making is that of contrast. This is not a matter of form as much as it is function because the 13 striper looked great and was visually interesting; capturing your eye with it's bold letterforms slashed through with those "speed" lines. But if you look at it in reduced scale, and you imagine it on all those products in the '60s and 70's, then more lines with less negative space between them meant for a more difficult and inconsistent output when production quality was not as sharp as it is today. Scaled, those same lines that made it "dynamic" start to blend together into a solid shape again. Hence, the decision, likely based on the reasons said, was made to simplify the amount of lines to 8; making each line stronger and more distinctly visible, even at the smaller scale. None of the visual intrigue was lost, but greater functionality was gained---a win/win. Good design. Good decision. 

R A T I N G S  (1-color version)
Scale: Bad, Fair, Good This is all in the context of the 1-color version, not rating the full color version.
Recognizable: Good
Scalable: Good
Use of Pos/Neg: Good
Form: Good
Craftsmanship: Good
Functional: Good


  1. When I worked at AT&T ages ago, the death star logo existed in two (actually, many, but we'll get to that later) versions, with different number of stripes depending on the intended use and output resolution. It seems that this was later simplified to one stripe-number for all applications. I wonder if the IBM logo also existed as multiple versions at one time.

    Going back to what I said earlier, AT&T had a bewildering array of logo variations, not only in the stripe number or color vs. B&W or vertical vs. horizontal, but the reversed logo is a specific design itself, not just with the stripes whited out on a black background. Here's a moderately recent (2001) ID guideline for a taste (I can't find guidelines dating from when I worked there) -- -- I have to wonder if this was all Saul Bass's work or the result of corporate tinkering.

  2. Anonymous, thanks for the comment and sharing your history with the AT&T logo. Interesting id guidelines to look at. I appreciated the link. I see what you mean regarding the variety of versions for different applications...I actually found the positive versus reversed out on black to be quite clever in one sense (though the mark is manipulated some). I can see how they made sure the "highlight" always appeared in the same upper left area whether reversed out or not. Thanks.

  3. jerrykuyper@mac.comFebruary 19, 2011 at 1:34 PM


    Good eyes!

    I was the designer at Saul Bass in 1983 that saw the first direct reverse of the positive logo. I then went about the process of creating a reverse logo that did keep the high light in the same position.

    We initially had 8, 10 and 12 lines versions with the goal of insuring that it looked the "same" at different levels of reproduction.

    I saw numerous examples where the small use symbol was used large and the large use symbol was used small. This led me to the conclusion that having the absolute minimum of variations was the best way to avoid misuse.

    This was before digital versions existed and that drove some of the obsession with multiple logos.

  4. Jerry, thanks, I appreciate it :) That was a good link from "Anonymous" above. It was the first time I had ever seen the history of the at&t logo in some of those different versions. The crafting and execution of working to keep the highlight in the same place when reversed on black was quite interesting and clever graphically. It's intriguing to hear of your involvement and decisions with it.

    I was not around in the era of pre-digital logo files/versions, so it is interesting for your to share your first hand experience in how the at&t logo was developed at that time with all it's variations for different applications. Unfortunately though, I am familiar with clients or vendors mishandling or confusing logo files in some fashion like you said. Reduction to it's simplest and most versatile form is a good idea.

    Funny, I have been familiar with your great body of work, and when I looked it up again to get reacquainted, I saw the interview you gave on about that logo where you were with Saul (steadying the van :) while it was applied to the vehicle.