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
It was around 1915 when the rendering allowed for easier reproduction, shown in the 1930s symbol above.
Colour brought in around 1915
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
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 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:
- The history of the Shell logo (Shell – image source)
- Evolution of the Pecten Shell Logo (Perpenduum)
- Raymond Loewy (1893–1986) (designboom)
Many more logo design evolutions, including 3M and Bayer.