General

How 4 iconic brands got their logos

Brands have been using psychology in marketing since the 1920s. Some companies have even gone as far as utilizing hypnosis in test groups. In this way, they can access consumers' deep subconscious and try to figure out what makes us tick and the best method to attract us to buy their brand.

A great deal goes on behind the scenes in our modern-day culture. However, these company logos are as recognizable as our names, and their bottom lines reflect it.

Nike

Photo of Nike swoosh logo
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The Nike swoosh is recognizable across the entire planet. It might be surprising that this current multi-billion dollar company’s logo comes from the humblest of origins. It was purchased from a graphic design student for a measly $35 in 1971. Nike co-founder Phil Knight hired Carolyn Davidson, a struggling graphic design student at Portland State University, to work for his little company Blue Ribbon Sports in the late 1960s. When it came time to design a new logo for Blue Ribbon Sports, Knight's only criteria was to design something original that looked like speed. Davidson presented five potential designs, one of which was the Nike swoosh, which we all know and love today.

Initially, Knight was not in love with the swoosh but figured it would grow on him. Davidson received just $35 for the logo, which today would be the equivalent of $220. Little did she know that her design would become one of the most recognizable symbols on the planet. When Blue Ribbon Sports renamed the company Nike, that swoosh was presented to the commercial world for the first time. In 1983, Davidson was gifted a portion of Nike stock and a gold swoosh ring for her contributions to Nike’s undeniable success.

Apple

Photo of Apple logo on a storefront
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The origin of the Apple logo is shrouded in poignant myths. Legend has it that the ubiquitous Apple logo was designed as a tribute to Alan Turing, an early leader in artificial intelligence research. He deciphered German codes during World War II and was the first man to plant the technological seeds for the contemporary computer. His work went unrecognized, and in the following decade, he bit into an apple, which he laced with cyanide, and died. Recognizing Turing’s contributions to the field of computers and technology, Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak used Turing’s bitten apple as their logo. As heart-rendering as this story sounds, it is not true.

Another theory is that Apple’s logo is a symbol of knowledge taken directly from the Bible. Alternatively, another conjecture is from the story of  Sir Isaac Newton’s apple falling on his head, which led him to figure out the concept of gravity. These stories are myths as well. The truth is a bit less poetic.

The design comes from a man named Rob Janoff, who denies all claims about the above theories. Steve Jobs could not clearly remember how the outline of the apple was finally decided upon. He did say with certainty that the apple’s bite is there for clarity, so that no matter the size of the logo, it always looks like an apple and not a cherry. It is merely a coincidence that computer “bytes” coincide with the bite in the Apple logo.

Starbucks

Photo of a Starbucks coffee cup
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Terry Heckler’s original sketch for the Starbucks logo was a collaborative effort between Heckler and Seattle journalist Gordon Bowker, one of Starbucks’ founders. Bowker wanted his artisan coffee to demonstrate a sense of adventure associated with Seattle’s maritime history. Scoping out how to market the coffee led them to Herman Melville’s classic piece of literature, "Moby Dick". Mister Starbuck is the first mate of Captain Ahab, the novel’s protagonist. The name Starbucks was used in lieu of some of the other names as a linguistic decision. Both Hecklet and Bowker were concerned with how to create a successful product name, and the “s” sound gave them something they considered most memorable.

Once they had the name, Heckler’s sketch was fashioned after old illustrations of sirens and mermaids. The 1970s logo was a mermaid, complete with some rather realistic anatomical details on her chest and a forked tail, set upon a brown background. It was not until 1992 that the logo mellowed out a bit. The brown turned to a bright green, and the mermaid’s hair covered up her more private bits. Her tail lost its fork and instead wrapped around the mermaid’s body. More recently, in 2011, Starbucks removed its name from the logo altogether, so all that remains is the green mermaid.

McDonald’s

Photo of a modern McDonald's restaurant
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McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world, and it is not just the hamburgers and fries that make it famous. The McDonald’s logo is one of the most recognized symbols across the globe. Today, everyone thinks of the McDonald’s logo as the “Golden Arches,” but those arches are actually the letter “M.” That “M” is also ingeniously round in shape to imitate a pair of breasts. Yes, a Freudian symbol that represents our attraction to primal nourishment. As unbelievable as it may sound, the psychology behind this is about figuring out people’s unconscious desires and using them as a form of manipulation. Clearly, in the case of McDonald’s, it worked.