Some of the most famous and most-talked-about logos in the world are famous for their design. Obviously, some companies are just large and their brands are going to be well-known, but being well-known doesn’t mean well-liked.
The best logos work on multiple levels, either containing a self-referential icon, or expressing some kind of emotion.
1. The Amazon logo is happy
The Amazon logo is a prime (pardon the pun) example of this. The yellow arrow underneath the company name serves two purposes.
First, it demonstrates the idea of getting things from a to z; second, it looks like a smile. The end of the arrow is drawn to look like the corner of a smiling mouth. Looking at it, your brain can’t fail to conjour up the notion of happiness.
Amazon has said that the smile was the original intention – to suggest that “we’re happy to deliver anything, anywhere”. It later changed the logo to focus on the a to z idea.
2. The Oscars logo – an icon in negative space
The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences cleverly turns the negative space in the capital A into the shape of the famous Oscar icon. The Oscars logo also repeats this. The new brand work was created by LA-based and Amsterdam-based brand agency 180LA.
3. The WWF panda logo
Many people still believe WWF is the World Wildlife Fund, but the organisation changed its name years ago to The Worldwide Fund For Nature. The panda logo is an iconic representation of endangered species.
The choice of the panda is smart because it can be drawn using only solid black shapes and negative space and it is instantly recognisable as a panda. The logo has changed over the years, having been originally designed by WWF founder Sir Peter Scott.
4. Mom’s the word at Wendy’s
The Wendy’s logo contains a hidden reference to ‘mom’, which you can see in the neck of the girl. This was unintentional, according to Wendy’s. Either way, the discovery has won Wendy’s coverage far and wide. I can’t think of a strong reason for wanting to put the word ‘mom’ in a logo, other that some appeal to homely memories.
5. The Tour de France logo
The Tour de France logo, which was introduced in 2003 for the 100th competition, features several self-referential elements. First, there is the yellow, which is the colour of jersey worn by the leader in the race. The yellow is a circle, to match the shape of the big O, and the dot in the centre creates the illusion of a wheel.
Overlain on that is the impression of a cyclist huddled over the yellow wheel. The logo was created by designer Joel Guenoun.
6. Toblerone’s logo has much to talk about
The Toblerone logo has been talked about in major publications around the world because of the image of the bear hidden in the negative space of the Matterhorn mountain. Toblerone comes from Bern, the capital of Switzerland, and the Matterhorn mountain is part of the Bern landscape with the bear being a key feature of the city’s coat of arms. If you look at the left centre of the mountain, you will see a clear drawing of a bear.
Also, some logo analysts have pointed out that the word Toblerone contains the letters for BERN. This is likely to be just coincidence, because one of the founders of the chocolate (in 1900) was Jean Tobler.
7. Archwood Construction logo – simple; meaningful
Archwood Construction has an icon in its logo that clever uses the negative space in the capital A (for Archwood, naturally) to show a hammer hitting a nail. That’s not all, because the logo designer, Steelie Design, made the capital A look like an architectural pointed arch.
8. The hidden device in the FedEx logo
By now you may have discovered this one because lots of blogs and publications have covered it. I’m talking about the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo. Look between the E and the x in the orange portion. The negative space between the letters naturally forms an arrow pointing to the right.
This device emerged during a design commission led by Lindon Leader of Landor Associates in 1994. The brief was to make the logo stand out on all the company’s delivery vehicles, because they were moving billboards. Playing with two fonts, Univers and Futura, and closing up the kerning, Lindon discovered the white arrow. He had to use parts of both fonts to get the end results he was looking for – a naturally-formed white arrow. The logo has won many awards.
9. Nature meets nature at Pittsburgh Zoo
The logo for Pittsburgh Zoo is, like several other zoos, a good example of use of negative space. Focus on the top of the logo in the black areas and you first see a tree. Look at the trunk in the middle, where you can focus more on the white space either side and you see a gorilla looking at a lion.
10. Northwest Airlines logo was multi-faceted
Northwest Airlines was merged into Delta, but it still gets talked about because of the smart logo that was created in 1989 by Landor Associates – the same company behind the FedEx logo above. There was a later version released in 2003, before the company merged with Delta in 2010.
The cleverness of this is the use of shapes to create two references. First, the small triangle and the angled N form the shape of a W. Second, the circle represents a compass, with N being north and the small triangle forming an arrow that points north-west.
11. Baskin Robbins logo design
With its new logo in 2006, Baskin Robbins re-jigged existing elements into a new shape, cleverly combining the 31 (from its 31 flavours) to form part of the letters BR. You could argue that the redesign wasn’t necessary because the previous logo was a credible spelling of the name Baskin Robbins with the pink 31 between the two words. Why change it?
Well, there are some logical benefits to the change. Turning the blue-pink BR/31 combination into a sub-brand on its own means Baskin Robbins has a more portable version of a logo that was previously very wide. In today’s world of app icons and social media profile pics being square, it makes sense for any brand to make sure its brand can be easily recognised in a square format.
12. Kölner Zoo logo
Like the Pittsburgh Zoo logo, the logo for Kölner Zoo uses negative space to create multiple images. There’s the elephant, in green, and then in the space between the elephant’s legs and trunk we see other animals.
13. Hershey’s Kisses
Hershey’s is famous for its chocolate Kisses. If you turn your head to the left to look at the Kisses logo, in the space between the K and the I, you can see the shape of a chocolate Kiss.
14. Hartford Whalers
The Carolina Hurricanes ice hockey team used to be called the Hartford Whalers, before the team relocated from Hartford, Connecticut. The logo, designed by Peter Good, originally comprised a green W below a blue whale tale, with the white space in between forming an H. The version above is a later variance.
15. The Guild of Food Writers logo
This logo is one of the best examples of juxtaposition between drawn space and negative space. Look at the whole thing and you see the nib of a fountain pen. Go in close and you see, in the white space, the shape of a spoon.
16. Formula 1 logo
On the face of it, the old F1 logo isn’t anything special. Just the letter ‘f’ and the number ‘1’ next to some go-faster stripes. Look a little closer and you see it’s actually clever. The ‘1’ looks like it is formed out of the negative space between the black ‘f’ and the red lines. Focus on the ‘1’ and it looks like that is solid on top of black negative space.
The red lines are also clever because, as well as representing speed, they also form what looks like a flag. This logo represented the brand since 1994 but was replaced in 2017 by a new one designed by Wieden and Kennedy.
17. Museum of London logo
Coley Porter Bell designed this logo in 2008 ready for a 2010 relaunch of the Museum of London branding. The overlapping blobs of colour serve a purpose – they represent the growing city over time, which is a core aspect of the museum, where you can learn about London over the centuries.
18. Goodwill logo
The logo for Goodwill Industries was designed in 1968 by famous brand designer Joseph Selame. The logo resembles a smiling face cut in half so that it also represents the letter ‘g’.
19. Girl Scouts of America
The logo for Girl Scouts of America is an adaptation of the green trefoil symbol, using negative space to show the shapes of girls’ faces. Quite a simple amalgamation of two elements, but effective.
20. Elefont logo
There are hundreds of examples of negative space logos on the internet – many of them not real brands, because logo designers like to experiment with ideas. Elefont is a real company that specialises in design. The icon in the logo is effective in its simple use of negative space in the letter ‘e’ to represent an elephant’s trunk.