Logo Design Love

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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: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, second edition

18 appreciated comments

  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. Did you ever end up reading the logo design comparison essay about the Shell and Apple logo design evolution? I could have done with this article :)

    http://justcreativedesign.com/2008/04/18/a-comparative-study-of-logo-design-between-the-70s-and-90s/

  3. Great article, David. It’s nice to see how logo design has evolved over the years.

  4. Interesting that as the year went on, it became more simplified instead of more complex which so many designers tend to do…

  5. Cat, going for the environmentally friendly fossil fuel link. Never knew you used to work for Amoco.

    Jacob, I did read your article. You mention Magnetik’s six main factors. I wonder if you’ve seen the six universal attributes of a great mark, from Identityworks.

    Jermayn, only those who don’t know any better.

  6. I’ve recently written a article about the new look and feel of shell tankstations http://www.segd.nl/landschap-architectuur/design-case-bewegwijzering-shell.htm what do you think of this change and usage of shell logo?

    I believe the pms pantone colors are yellow 116 and red 485.

  7. nicetype

    I’ve posted a scan of the grid the Shell logo seems to be based on: http://nicetype.blogspot.com/2008/04/shell.html
    Don’t know if it’s real, or just a mock-up for an ad though.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. Iqbal

    My professor made this evolution of Shell’s logo to be my homework in biology.


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