TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo: Laurence King Publishing
Photo: Laurence King Publishing

If you’re as fascinated by history, design, and pop culture as I am, you’ll adore TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos by Mark Sinclair. It’s filled with vivid histories of 29 famous logos, from Coca-Cola to the London Underground to NASA to UPS to the Bell System. Since the book was published in England, some of the included logos may not be familiar to American audiences (such as the English National Opera (ENO)), but the majority of them will be of interest to most English speakers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

TM is a coffee-table-quality book. You can both page through it, looking at the beautiful photos and jogging your memory, or you can delve deeper into the text, learning the history behind many familiar images, often reminiscent of our childhood. Logos often evolve over the years, and we might get nostalgic for the old styles (such as my feelings on the UPS and Bell Telephone logos), but this book helps us understand the reasons behind change over time.

Image: Laurence King Publishers
Image: Laurence King Publishing

TM includes both pictorial logos and typographic logos. It gives a history of each logo and also a partial history of the company attached to it. As the book states, “the aim of a logo, after all, is to connect with the viewer and create a visual shortcut between it and the service or company, institution or organization that it represents.” Most of the logos in this book originated during the early to mid 1900s, and have been ingrained in our minds in relation to these companies for many years. When logos change over time, our connection with them changes, for better or worse. Sometimes companies change them to get a more modern look, others may be trying to change the public’s image of their company.

One of my favorite logos is the one for the Bell System (AKA Ma Bell), which was designed by well-known designer Saul Bass in 1969. It had evolved out of earlier logos from the American Telephone & Telegraph Co.(AT&T), which was more or less the head of the various smaller companies that made up the network. They were eventually broken up by the U.S. government in 1984, but in the late 1960s, Saul Bass was asked to redesign Bell’s look. The rest was history.

"Saul Bass" by http://www.logodesignlove.com/all-about-saul-bass; photo by Harrie Verstappen. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Saul Bass via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Saul_Bass.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Saul_Bass.jpg
“Saul Bass” by http://www.logodesignlove.com/all-about-saul-bass; photo by Harrie Verstappen. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Saul Bass via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Saul_Bass.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Saul_Bass.jpg

I remember the Bell logo being on the ubiquitous phone book in every home, on trucks that drove by on the street, on everything relating to the phone system. Because of my age (I was born in 1973), Bass’s logo was “always” there. It was synonymous with the phone company. And when the Bell telephone companies broke up into the “baby Bells” in the 1980s, it was a huge change for me. But it was only yet another in the line of design changes for the companies. Bell was once again tapped to create the new AT&T logo that many of us are familiar with.

TM goes into much more depth with plenty of text and visuals that help tell this logo’s story, and it does the same for 28 others. If classic company logo design interests you at all, this book is a fantastic read. Even logos with which you aren’t familiar tell fascinating stories that will interest the closeted (or proud) designer in all of us.

TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos comes out next month and retails for $40.00, but can be found for less. It is a beautifully designed book about interesting and functional logo designs. I recommend it to those interested in history, design, art, business, and all things functional.

Note: I received the book for review purposes.

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