Best brand evolutions and what we can learn from them

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Last year was one of change for many players in the creative industries. From brands to agencies and creative services providers, the entire creative sector was forced to adapt or die, embracing new technologies and adopting solutions to ensure productivity remained at decent levels.

Change is embedded into the industry and there are many stories to tell of brands who evolved over time, changing their visuals or attitude to consumers in one way or another. Though this piece will focus mostly on visual branding evolutions, there will be a chance to dive into the story of some top brands, looking at how they changed and grew over time.

The secrets behind the top brand and logo evolutions

From Starbucks to Levi’s, from Pepsi to Microsoft and Apple, the top brands of today can all boast incredibly fascinating stories. Paired with those stories come long strings of logo, visual and messaging evolutions, which gradually shaped the story and attitude of these brands.

Let’s take a look at the best brand evolutions and the lessons they can still teach to us all today.

Starbucks - The ‘Beautiful’ Mermaid


Image credit: Logos World

Few will remember seeing the original Starbucks logo with their own eyes in 1971, but the brand still makes it to most design classes somehow as an example of one of the most efficient logo evolutions of all time.

If you look at the original Starbucks mermaid above, you can see that… well, it wasn’t too polished. Clearly a master designer was able to turn that monstrosity into a simple and incredibly beautiful logo in 1987, with a style that the Starbucks brand still carries over today.

But perhaps the most important aspect of this visual evolution, if the minimalistic and simple new style of the brand weren’t enough of a lesson by themselves, is the fact that this rebrand was in line with what the Starbucks brand would become later on. The company has a history of owning its own mistakes and even sacrificing profits to educate its own employees following a case of racism in one of the stores. It’s the living proof that owning your past can only lead to a better future for your brand.

Pepsi - The Asymmetrical Wave


Image credit: Logaster

Others prefer to scrap the past and start anew altogether. Though Pepsi is still retaining some visual elements from the most recent iterations of the brand, the Pepsi Cola logo has changed drastically since its first release in 1898. Initially just a letter mark, the Pepsi logo has evolved to welcome the three colourful waves we all know and love today.

The brand went through a number of changes in its visuals and attitude, embracing vintage identities and Hollywood-style glimmer, but most importantly becoming a bold pioneer of change in the industry. Pepsi was one of the first brands experimenting with the tactics of niche marketing, being one of the first brands to targeted African Americans as an effective demographics.

In general, Pepsi has a history of embracing bold changes and redesigns, being one of the brands with the most variety in its history of logos and designs. Proving on the side why bold redesigns can sometimes pay off.

Shell - From Realism to Minimalism


Image credit: Shell

The Shell brand evolution is one of the most famous and discussed in the creative industry, and for good reason. The brand went from a realistic style to minimalism, nurturing its own brand awareness over time to ensure that more and more could be stripped off of the complicated identity it had at the beginning – though not as complex as Levi’s, which we will discuss in a bit.

Starting with a realistic-looking shell, the logo then evolved to incorporate colours and strip down details, until it turned into the stylised red-and-yellow shell we all know today. The choice of colours was an interesting one too, as warm colours are usually associated with food brands (McDonald’s, KFC, etc). However, the red-and-yellow pairing makes Shell appear vibrant, dynamic and full of energy, certainly a tribute to the interesting origins of the company.

Over time Shell has developed a passion for storytelling and an interest in audio branding, preserving its own brand heritage to ensure it remains relevant at all times. As an oil company, sustainability is quite tricky to achieve at Shell – and yet, the company claims to be taking some active steps to address it. Only time will tell, I suppose.

McDonald’s - Reality Made Branding


Image credit: Turbologo

Brands tend to choose all sorts of elements to make their logos, but there is one that has remained a constant since the birth of the world-wide famous fast food chain. The Golden Arches have been by the side of the brand for decades, with the first iteration of the McDonald’s arches created in 1960.

Only few however will know that the Golden Arches were an actual architectural element that could be found in the very first restaurants from the fast food chain. They soon became somewhat of an icon for McDonald’s and have been in the overarching brand ever since, replacing the diner vibes from the very first logos in favour of a tribute to the origins of the brand.

With time, McDonald’s Golden Arches became so famous and recognisable that the brand was able to strip its name off of the logo and bet on brand awareness instead. I doubt we’ll ever see the brand moving away from those Golden Arches, though they may become more stylised over time – a true commitment to the story and identity of the original McDonald’s restaurants.

Nike - Tick of Approval


Image credit: LogoMyWay

What’s to say about Nike? A simple swoosh, a tick of approval that’s been with the brand since 1971.

Something so simple that it’s become incredibly iconic, enough to have Nike be instantly recognisable from their swoosh whenever you go. Slogans and taglines will make the brand stronger and get the messaging across, but for anyone out there, the swoosh is undeniably Nike and has been for years.

What’s most interesting about Nike, however, is perhaps their story as a brand. Though it all started from fitness and physical wellbeing, Nike has now moved to empowering athletes all around the world to achieve their best and has developed a thriving community of loyal consumers on a global scale. Not to mention Nike’s boldness (the campaign with Kaepernick made quite a lot of noise) and commitment to sustainability. In short, an excellent brand, and one that everyone out there should learn something from.

Levi’s - Loyalty to the Origins


Image credit: Logos World

Levi’s first logo was… an interesting exercise. Two horses pulling a pair of jeans which failed to rip apart is definitely a strong image, conveyed with a beautiful vintage style that shouts Old West Trading Company from everywhere. Levi’s first logo debuted in 1892, making it the oldest branding on this list.

In over a century, Levi’s changed things quite a bit, going from that incredibly creative logo to a simpler approach: a word mark on a red background, eye-catching, dynamic and extremely simple to transfer both on cloth and screens. Clearly the first logo wasn’t a bad idea at all – but in today’s era of noise and digital, it is hard to convey a message, voice and identity as easily as Levi’s modern logo does.

Still, the brand shows its own commitment to quality and loyalty to its origins in a rather simple way: the logo with the two horses is still part of the brand, transferred onto jeans and back patches as a tribute to Levi’s quite incredible history.

Apple - From Isaac Newton to Computers


Image credit: Logaster

Apple is clearly in love with its logo, so much that the brand hasn’t seen many iterations of the notable apple over time. Few will know that the inspiration for Apple’s logo came from Isaac Newton, who was indeed featured in the very first logo of 1976. From a complicated illustration Apple then chose to simply opt for a stylisation of the fruit, first in rainbow colours, then either white or black.

Logo and branding have been incredibly consistent since the first introduction of the beloved apple. The brand is a synonym for elegance, innovation, sleekness and aesthetics – sometimes even to the expense of their hardware. Yet, Apple’s brand evolution goes far beyond the logo itself.

With time, Apple has become an advocate for privacy and has been introducing new ways to protect its users year after year, making iPhones more secure with each iteration. Just recently there was a short confrontation between Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook on the topic of privacy, as Apple is planning to remove unique device identifiers from its phones – potentially hurting a number of advertisers on social media. This strategy is not only bringing customers closer to Apple’s products, but to the brand as well.

Microsoft - The Window Pane


Image credit: Logo Realm

The Windows logo has always been an easy way to associate Microsoft with its software. The very first logos from Microsoft, starting in 1987, were however lacking any visual or design element whatsoever, being little more than a cyberpunk-like word mark.

Things have changed a lot in the past few years. As Microsoft expanded its reach across different sectors, a need to incorporate all of its products and philosophy in one logo arose. The four-colours window-pane from Windows was brought onto the Microsoft logo itself, with each colour standing for a different division or philosophy from the brand (Windows for light blue, Office for red, Xbox for green and yellow to symbolise stability and trust).

It is a deeply meaningful logo embracing much of Microsoft’s multi-faceted identity, and including all its main offerings in one spot. It works brilliantly as both a tribute to the past of the company (being a nudge to the early days of Windows) and a promise for the future, with Microsoft committed to supporting innovation and customer experience across all of its divisions.

Google - From Serif to Sans-Serif


Image credit: TechStory

You can’t talk about big tech brands without mentioning Google. The company that was born as a simple small project exploded as the most popular search engine and online ad buyer of the past two decades, but the very first Google logo was actually quite ugly to see.

In an era when graphic design software was clearly not as advanced as today, the first Google logo looks like a bad attempt at doing Word Art (which is pretty bad in and of itself). The first colourful logo debuted in 1998 and the Google brand has undergone several changes since then, the most significant of which was by the hand of Ruth Kedar, which created the first colourful logo to stay with Google from 1999 to 2010.

Again, Google’s story as a brand goes way past the company’s logo. With time, Google ambitions grew as a big tech and the company became an advocate for innovation, progress and futuristic projects such as Google Stadia or Google Glass. Not many of those projects actually ended up too well, but you can’t blame Google for trying. In truth, Google’s most recent identity takes an approach much similar to the one of Microsoft, with a sans-serif word mark to help digital screens and a colourful G to encompass all of Google’s identities into one overarching icon.

Header image: Superunion


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