Then and now: The evolution of 3 iconic logos

Very occasionally, a branding genius nails an iconic, timeless mark first time – and it just needs the occasional polish. Other times, a once shiny, on-trend brand fades and dulls with time, and is left to wither before more progressive rivals. 

If your brand falls into the former category, you're lucky – make it count. If it's the latter, you're lazy – sort it out. More often than not, iconic brands and the world's best logos evolve over time. They aren't born fully formed, but must go through stages of refinement.

In the case of many household-name brands, that process took decades. The changes in between rebrands can be subtle, or they can be so dramatic that the earliest iterations are almost unrecognisable to modern-day consumers.

Read on to discover three stories of well-known logos that have been on a long journey to reach the form we know today...

01. IBM

First three iterations of the IBM logo

These monogram logos for IBM's predecessor companies are unrecognisable from the brand's modern-day wordmark

Okay, so it may be a bit of a cheat to include a company that's changed its name, as the logo will inevitably be unrecognisable. But the journey from International Time Recording Company to International Business Machines, better known as IBM, is a fascinating one nonetheless.

Back in 1888, ITRCo was encapsulated in a rather clumsy and confusing five-character monogram. By comparison, the 1891 monogram logo for the Computing Scale Company was beautifully decorative, albeit fairly illegible.

In 1911, the even more catchily named Computing-Tabulating-Recording-Company – a fusion of the two – found a middle ground between its predecessors' logos, locking four letters together in another monogram, complete with ornate serifs.

IBM logo

Wrapping the new company name around a globe, this 1924 iteration is a radical departure from earlier monograms

It wasn't until 1924 that the name IBM finally came along. For the first and only time in the brand's history, the logo design spelled out the name – wrapped boldly and futuristically around a globe shape – rather than settling for an acronym. 

Those famous three letters made their appearance in 1947, set in a chunky, outlined slab serif typeface. Eight years later, in 1956, the legendary Paul Rand refined the letterforms – adding distinctive details such as exaggerated, even more chunky slab serifs, square counters within the 'B', and a razor-sharp spike on the 'M'.

Paul Rand redesigns the IBM logo

Paul Rand redesigned IBM's slab-serif wordmark in 1956 (top right), 1967, and finally 1972 (bottom)

Rand improved on his own work in 1967, defining the shape of the logo using 13 equally sized, equally spaced blue horizontal bars. He refined this further in 1972, to just eight bars. In the early days of computers when a logo had to be crudely rendered on a low-resolution screen, it was a stroke of genius to turn such a restriction into a strength.

02. Pepsi

First four iterations of the Pepsi script logo

Between 1898 (top left) and 1940 (bottom right), Pepsi sported a script-style logo not unlike its arch-rival's

Until the 1960s, Pepsi had a script-style logo not unlike that of its arch-rival, Coca-Cola. Its original, spindly 1898 mark – which joined the 'P' of Pepsi with the 'C' of 'Cola' with a swoosh-like flourish – was further developed in 1905 to smooth out the letterforms, scale up the capitals for emphasis, and add a fluttering banner to the 'C'.

Arguably it was all flourish and no substance, as the brand name was barely discernible – the smaller letters dwarfed by the flamboyant 'P' and 'C'. Evidently Pepsi thought so, as just one year later, in 1906, the logo was reworked again – fattening up the letterforms, refining the overall shape and making the whole mark tighter, as well as setting the word 'drink' inside the banner.

This iteration had a respectable lifespan until 1940, when a neater, pared-back version was introduced. It kept a few flairs and flourishes – including the distinctive loop on the 'C' – but ultimately felt much bolder and more confident.

Pepsi's 1962 logo

In 1962, Pepsi dropped the script in favour of bold, modern sans-serif type, combined with a stylised bottle cap

Perhaps to detach itself from its rival's distinctive Spencerian script, swooshes and fondness for red, Pepsi ditched its script logo (and the 'Cola' part of its name) in 1962 in favour of modern, all-caps sans serif type. It was set over a stylised red, white and blue bottle cap, a device first introduced in 1950 alongside its script logo.

Pepsi's 1973 and 1991 logo iterations

In 1973 (top), Pepsi modernised its logo further with a flat-colour design, which evolved again in 1991 (bottom)

Wavy red, white and blue stripes within a circle have helped define Pepsi ever since, despite many other changes to its logo. The simplified, flat-colour mark introduced in 1973 stayed put for almost 20 years until 1991, when for the first time, the brand name was pulled out, leaving the circle as a standalone symbol.

Pepsi's modern-day logo

Redesigned again in 2008, Pepsi now sports a lowercase wordmark that's unrecognisable from its original logo

After two more cosmetic overhauls, with an increasing number of graphic effects added, Pepsi pared things back once again with its widely criticised 2008 rebrand. Both the circle and the thin, lowercase type have a certain distorted wobble about them, but that's the only similarity to the logo's spindly 19th century origins.

03. AT&T

Three early iterations of the Bell Telephone Company / AT&T logo

These early iterations of the Bell System / AT&T logo from 1889, 1900 and 1921 feature the same distinctive bell

Back in 1889, the company we now know as AT&T – Bell Telephone Company – was represented simply with a bell in a box, a nod to the company's founder Alexander Graham Bell as well as the device he created in 1876. 

A little over a decade after Bell's game-changing invention, the bold claim 'long distance telephone' inside the black bell would no-doubt have been enough to get the general public excited – no company name required.

'American Telephone and Telegraph Co and Associated Companies' was added in all its glory in 1900. There was an additional claim, too – now, the bell announced both local and long-distance telephones, with Bell System beneath for good measure. To say the 1900 iteration of AT&T's logo was wordy is an understatement.

By 1921, the novelty value of offering both local and long-distance calls had probably worn off, and Bell System instead took pride of place on the distinctive bell, which had remained largely unchanged as a symbol for over 30 years.

Bell System / AT&T logo by Saul Bass

Saul Bass gave the Bell System bell a masterfully stylised twist in this 1969 iteration of the logo

In 1969 – thanks to the magic touch of another legendary brand designer, Saul Bass, the bell was given a stylised, modern look, and the now-distinctive cyan blue was first introduced to the brand. But a bell it remained.

In 1983, however, the bell – a symbol of AT&T in one form or another for almost a century at that point – was replaced by a striped globe. 

Three recent iterations of the AT&T globe logo

AT&T acquired its globe / Death Star icon (top left) in 1983. It has been reworked twice – most recently in 2016 (bottom)

The USA, as the birthplace of AT&T, is subtly indicated in the fluctuating pattern of the lines on the globe,  although the resulting mark was also nicknamed the Death Star by employees. Several more iterations later, we have the modern-day logo – reworked by Interbrand in 2016. Without bells on.

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.