Time’s Josh Sanburn takes a look at the evolution of corporate logos and examines what’s behind the trend toward kinder, gentler branding. The gallery, on TIME.com, explores the logo changes for AT&T, CBS, Gap, KFC, Nike, Pepsi, Starbucks and Walmart.
One of the biggest logo trends is a design that appears to be three-dimensional. After decades of the iconic bell, culminating in the simplified 1969 design, AT&T has moved its globe symbol alongside the lowercase (text-message-friendly) name.
The eye has remained virtually untouched since its debut 60 years ago. Its simple design, inspired by hex symbols on barns, was strikingly modern when it first appeared.
In October, Gap unveiled a new logo. People hated it. “This is the worst idea Gap has ever had,” one customer wrote on Facebook. “It felt like the brand was evaporating,” says marketing professor Patti Williams. Gap reverted to its old logo after a week.
Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC in the 1990s to avoid the unhealthy connotations of the word fried. Its iconic founder, Colonel Sanders, has become increasingly prominent. He’s kept the string tie but has added an apron, so customers won’t feel he has lost his talent for home-style cooking.
Its name used to be an integral part of the sportswear company’s logo, but the swoosh became so intertwined with the brand that Nike barely uses its name in ads anymore.
Pepsi’s logo started out similar to Coca-Cola’s, but the company has adopted a philosophy of gradual change. “The best logo redesigns are by evolution, not revolution,” says design expert David Carter. That may be why in the current logo, you can still see the bottle cap.
After 40 years, the 16th century Norse siren in the coffee chain’s logo has become queen. She now appears solo, making the logo “acultural,” according to design scholar Mittal, and potentially more appealing abroad. The logo has also reached a tipping point where it’s recognizable without text, something to which most big companies aspire.
The multinational department-store chain, hugely popular but often criticized for driving out mom-and-pop shops, adopted a softer, friendlier logo after decades of a stronger approach. The blue is lighter, the yellow sunburst suggests optimism, and the lowercase letters are less imposing than their all-caps forebears.