Logo Designs – the IBM story

This article is contributed by Ben Johnson of Logoinn, custom logo design service provider based in the UK.

Have you ever wondered when and why people felt the need to create logos to stand out from others? The history of logo designing dates back more than 2,000 years when the Ancient Greeks used to have ciphers on their coins. They carved in different designs on different coins just to give them an identity and recognition. This practice proved to be very effective in distinguishing between coins from different regions. The importance of logo designing became even stronger in the pre-industrial era, when many people began to get involved in barter trade. At that time, everything that was sold or bought carried a signature stamp that differentiated one trader from another.

The next evolution was that people expanded their trading activities and set up companies for their trading. Just as traders felt the need to identify themselves, companies also wished to have instant recognition.

Logos have stood the test of time and if anything, there is now an even stronger need for logo designing. IBM is a great case study to see how one company has adopted this idea of creating an identity and instant recognition for itself and how much this logo has been modified over time.

The IBM Story

ibm logo 1888

IBM is perhaps the most recognized name in the field of IT products and services. But, people may not realize that it was not IBM when it started its operations in 1888. Its name then was the International Time Recording Company (ITR), whose major products were mechanical time recorders, invented and patented by William L. Bundy. This is ITR’s initial logo with its initial letters, ITR, inscribed on it.

ibm logo 1891
ibm logo 1911

In 1891, ITR decided to make changes in its logo again and came up with this. The changes they made were quite complex and the logo was not easy to understand at a glance. Nevertheless this logo lasted for 20 years till they made a merger with another company.

Later in 1911, ITR was merged with the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company and as a result the company had to modify the logo. Clearly companies must alter their logos to reflect the changes they are undergoing and the evolving IBM is a really good example. When one company merges with another company, they need to create a new identity to signal the change to the rest of the world.

ibm logo 1924

However, in 1924, the company wished to signal an expanded business role. The ornate, rococo letters that formed the ‘CTR’ logo were replaced by the words ‘International Business Machines’ which were written in more contemporary sans-serif type font. The design of it was arranged to have the look of a globe, which confirmed the company’s intention to be ‘International’.

ibm logo 1947

Over 20 years later in 1947, International Business Machines (IBM) decided to eliminate the globe from its logo. Besides this, they also had a major change in their business; they expanded from the punched-card tabulating business to the new world of computers. The typeface of this logo was called Beton Bold. The logo was cut short to IBM alone.

ibm logo 1956

After 9 years, in 1956, Thomas J. Watson appointed Tom Watson Jr. as the CEO. As soon as he took over, he decided to change the logo of the company. He hired Paul Rand,  who was a famous logo designer. He asked Paul to make subtle changes to the current logo and make it more solid, grounded and balanced. He wanted a logo, which would be an evolution of their logo and not a design which would look entirely different.

ibm logo 1972

So, IBM retained the basic design of their logo and made a subtle change of filling black color in place of white in the letters to give it a solid look. Later Paul Rand decided to design another logo with horizontal stripes on it which depicted ‘Speed and Dynamism’. He also changed the color as well.

ibm logo today

After that the logo has remained basically the same, with just a color change. It was blue previously, and this is now changed to black. However, there have been no design alterations in the logo.

There are several lessons that can be drawn from the evolution of the IBM logo design. There are countless other companies who have also gone through major alterations in their logos. Any business owner must realize that your logo needs to be refreshed from time to time in line with changing business goals and objectives. Only in that way can the world have the best image of your company and what it offers.

The way logos evolve is a fascinating study. If you are struck by other examples of how particular company logos have evolved with time, why not add your thoughts in a comment.

31 thoughts on “Logo Designs – the IBM story”

  1. I didn’t know that IBM has a current logo. And I don’t think I like it much. I’m more familiar with the blue logo. McDonald’s logo has evolved continuously, too. The latest seems right.

  2. From this logo story, I came to know the history of IBM and I am wondering that how old they are in the business. I’ll love to read more such stories to learn about other companies. Thanks for sharing the story and this is nice guest post.

  3. Logos are actualy pretty nice way to get people more familiar with the brand. You’re using 2 senses instead of one. The extreme example of this are some shop chains where in every shop you have the same: name, front/entrance to the shop, music, even smell.

  4. Wow, so IBM lasted that long, and still very much functioning at this present time? Amazing. I wonder what the next logo will look like, probably something more of futuristic combined with modernism.

  5. I would have to agree with the first comment, I prefer some of the older logos to their modern one. I thought it was a nice idea to add some color to attract the eyes, but I think that the older bolder black and white logos are the best. Nice post, I enjoyed reading about the importance and evolution of logos.

    -John

  6. wow how interesting is this? I did not know that IBM had a crazy 1st logo…I am always a firm believer that simple is better and it shows through this story!

  7. Great stuff, I didn’t know about the ITR and CTR companies at all, btw, I dugg the story, I hope it’s okay 🙂

    BTW, I don’t think logos emerged from coins and traders, they were also responsible for that, in India traders used an IOU concept called Hundi and their seal was recognized, but logos were first used by kingdoms. They used sun, lion and other such elements that looked huge or strong for their logos on everything including flags and arrows, coins were made from different materials so they were easy to identify.

  8. Thank you for the great informative history.
    It is important to change logo with time. But I seen many firms their new logo come out worse than the former. It takes a lot of money to change the logo. Need lot of advertising, to change stationary, boards the list is long.

    Roy Kuruvila

  9. Good post. Always interesting to read about the backstory of huge corporations and where they started out from.

  10. Those are really weird logos before the current font. Didn’t know that IBM comes from international business machines.

  11. The logo in 1924 does seem to be very well thought out. 1891 logo is probably the worst of the lot, too artistic but isn’t even recognizable. I guess that’s where companies like Nokia got their inspiration from.

  12. Good article, I agree with the first comment in that the early logos, particularity the globe one, were more dynamic. I wonder if IBM have got the fear of changing as each successive iteration is quite subtle compared to the early changes. Their early logos also show an awareness of the times and look of their time, the current logo is going out of fashion, fast.

  13. Great story of the evolutions of the logo and good findings, I had only seen the last two or three logo styles of IBM and liked the blue one most.Thank you for giving some new knowledge today.
    -Ben.

  14. Steve Krug shows an evolution of the Amazon homepage in his book: Don’t Make Me Think. Similar concept and shows how smart companies evolve anything that works.

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