Shell logo design evolution

Shell logo design

Since first appearing in the early 1900s, the Shell logo has moved from a realistic pecten or scallop shell to today’s simplified shape with distinctive colours.

Both the word “Shell” and the pecten symbol may have been suggested to Marcus Samuel and Company (original founders) by another interested party. A certain Mr Graham (of apparent Scottish origins) imported Samuel’s kerosene into India and sold it as ‘Graham’s Oil’. He became a director of The Shell Transport and Trading Company, and there is some evidence that the Shell emblem was taken from his family coat of arms.

Shape and form between 1900 and 1930

Shell logo evolution

It was around 1915 when the rendering allowed for easier reproduction, shown in the 1930s symbol above.

Colour brought in around 1915

Shell logo colour

Colour first appeared with the construction of Shell’s first service stations in California. Not only did red and yellow help Shell stand out, but they’re also the colours of Spain, where many early Californian settlers were born. Perhaps by displaying Spanish colours it was hoped an emotional bond would be created.

An alternative idea about the Shell colours was that Mr Graham, the Scottish director, suggested using red and yellow, as they form the basis for the Royal Standard of Scotland.

1948 to 1971

Shell logo evolution

In the days before fax machines and the internet, many logos included subtle details that would become blurred at small sizes. From the 1950s onwards, the icon became more and more simplified, improving recognition and memorability.

The 1971 logo, which is still used today, was designed by the French-born Raymond Loewy, who also created logos for BP and Exxon.

1995 onwards

Shell logo evolution

The logo has become so recognizable that it often appears without the brand name. This focus on the symbol in isolation can be made when combined with a huge marketing budget — think Nike’s swoosh, McDonalds’ golden arches, Starbucks’ mermaid, Target’s roundel.

Further resources on the evolution of the Shell logo:

Coming soon…

Many more logo design evolutions, including 3M and Bayer.

Logo Design Love, the book

10 thoughts on “Shell logo design evolution

  1. David, when I worked for Amoco, I’d drool over Shell’s logo.

    Can you imagine what it was like to put Amoco’s logo on promotional materials, geological slides, etc? A nightmare.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoco

    It had ‘DOES NOT REDUCE WELL’ written all over it.

    Then BP bought them out. Lucky them, they went from red, white and blue to green and more green. I’m fond of green.

  2. What I see is that the logo became much more “iconic”. This company has spent billions of dollars to get us to recognize their logo. It has truly become an American Icon.
    Mark Lewkowicz

  3. David,

    Your comment on the Shell logo, “The logo has become so recognizable that it often appears without the company’s name to identify it.” is a great point. I think the ultimate is to have a design recognized as “This company” without the need for a name. Top of the mind awareness can be a tough mountain to climb.

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