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When thinking about the type of logo design you want for your business, it can be helpful to look back at the work of some iconic graphic designers. From Lester Beall in the early 1900s to IBM logo designer Paul Rand, each of the following pioneers contributed to the rise of corporate identity design (an entire visual language for a company with detailed guidelines on how to use it) and can offer important lessons and inspiration for your small business.






Lester Beall: 1903 – 1969
Through his designs of packaging, posters, magazines and identities, Lester Beall became the first American graphic designer to successfully integrate the European avant-garde into corporate America. For example, the posters he created to support the Rural Electrification Administration’s efforts to bring power to rural residents were simple with flat illustrations that appealed to an audience with little education. He also created strong graphic identities and extensive usage guidelines for companies like Caterpillar Tractors and Connecticut General Life Insurance, and his work for International Paper brought guidelines on usage for everything including building signage, correspondence, delivery vehicles and packaging.


Erik Nitsche: 1908 – 1988
In 1955, defense industry contractor General Dynamics tasked Erik Nitsche with creating a logo design that would change public perception of them. By combining vivid colours and geometric forms with scientific imagery, he developed designs that were bright and optimistic and used abstract symbols to express the concept of using military technology for peaceful ends. It was a new way to present scientific information.


Walter Landor: 1913 – 1995
By testing package designs on grocery-store shelves and asking shoppers for their opinions directly, Walter Landor pioneered logo design based on consumer research. He was aware that the packaging itself should send the brand message to the customer and by opting for warm, accessible designs over the cooler Swiss modernism that was popular at the time, he aimed to seek emotional connections between brands and consumers.


Paul Rand: 1914 – 1996
One of Paul Rand’s most famous logo designs was for IBM – a project that unfolded over more than 20 years. He knew that the conservative company needed to be guided through a design progression; it wasn’t until 1972 that he incorporated the horizontal stripes which unify the three letters. Rand recognized the value of design and convinced companies like ABC and United Parcel Service that it should evolve as they grow and develop.


Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar: 1931/2 – Date
In 1960 no major American corporation had an abstract logo and Chermayeff and Geismar’s radical idea for Chase Manhattan Bank was met with resistance. But their simple logo design worked because it stood out from the competition and became an identifying symbol that was associated with Chase. Other corporations soon followed suit with abstract logos of their own. Since then, they’ve designed more than 100 corporate identities for clients such as Mobil Oil, PBS and Barneys New York.


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(Illustration by Matt Varker, Gorilla)