37 of the world’s most famous logos and what you can learn from them

Estimated reading time: 25 minutes

The most recognisable and famous logos in the world are those of some of the most well-known organisations and brands. These may not appear the most complex in design, but they often boast hidden meaning, memorability and impact.

Whether they’ve existed since the brand originated, have been slowly but consistently tweaked again and again, or if they’re completely different from what came before, we’re looking at the most famous logos in the world to gain a deeper understanding of successful logo design. Check out our video on the world’s most famous company logos or dive into the article below. Either way, these logos will inspire your next logo design.

1. Nike

Nike’s swoosh, designed by Carolyn Davidson, is one of the most iconic logos in the world, literally.

nike swoosh logo

via Wikimedia Commons

The swoosh mimics the wings of Nike, the goddess of victory in Greek mythology and the company’s namesake. It also looks like a checkmark and signifies getting things done, also captured in the slogan “Just do it.” With a fluid silhouette evoking motion and speed, you can see how much space there is to instill brand values into an abstract, minimal design.

2. Chanel

Chanel is a fashion label synonymous with luxury, elegance and the founder’s Parisian identity, hence her initials interlocking into the logo we recognise today.

The colour scheme is black and white. The brand name (the wordmark logo) often sits directly under it with plenty of negative space. There are no effects or enhancements beyond the interlocking. It’s all very neat and perfectly symmetrical, perfect for the fashion house credited for the original  “little, black dress.” Its simplicity is what makes this logo potent, it can carry the brand’s core values, even on an off-brand piece.

3. McDonald’s

The McDonald’s logo, also known as the “Golden Arches,” was inspired by the real golden arches that were part of the fast food chain’s original restaurant design. The logo design brings together the two arches that adorned the restaurant chains and turns it into a lettermark logo, an “M.”

mcdonalds golden arches logo

Simply one of the most recognisable logos in the world, via McDonald’s

Over its signature red background, the iconic golden arches logo drives the “‘50s drive-in” aesthetic of the chain. It’s an image that’s synonymous with the Mcdonald’s brand because they’ve used it just about everywhere and anywhere. It’s on their packaging, uniforms, physical buildings, adverts—any type of communication that involves McDonald’s, involves this logo. The lesson? Be consistent.

4. Tesla

official tesla company logo

This now-iconic logo is more than a modern T, via Wikimedia Commons

The company that made an undeniable impact on one the largest industries in the world is unsurprisingly futuristic looking and at first glance, just a cool-looking “T.” The company’s founder described the logo as “a cross-section of an electric motor.” Similar to other famous brand logos, Tesla also incorporates the company’s first letter and then infuses it with its branding. The “T” is also designed to evoke an upwards motion powered by electricity and moving towards the future. Small details can add a great deal of meaning to an otherwise static monogram logo.

5. Apple

From the biblical story of Adam and Eve to the apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s head, apples have always been around, carrying quite a bit of symbolism. Why Apple chose an apple as its pictorial mark and why there is a bite in it has inspired lots of legends—some say it’s a visual pun on a “byte” and others believe it represents the cyanide-laced apple that Alan Turing bit into.

Colourful version of the iconic Apple logo

Logo variation via Apple

The designer Rob Janoff has said that the bite was a way to distinguish the very simple apple from another fruit. But the fact that the logo is so famous that it’s inspired not one but several myths is telling in itself. The symbol of the apple is a very sleek and literal visual cue for the word “apple”. The logo bridges age-old wisdom and what is contemporary, ever-changing and transient. It reads like a promise.

6. Shell

Shell showcases the power of word-object association once again. The company’s logo symbol has changed over the years but one thing that has always been there is the image of a single seashell.

shell station logo

The red and yellow shell is universally known, via Shell

The logo is also known as “the pecten” because it is modeled after the Pecten Maximus, a mollusk with a distinctive large shell. The current design’s contrast between curves and points, and primary colours red and yellow, suggest an art deco influence. Just because you’re in one industry, doesn’t mean you have to find your visual inspiration from it only. Shell didn’t look to garages or oil to find the basis for their logo—think imaginatively.

7. Starbucks

The inspiration for the “Starbucks Siren” emblem logo design comes from epics and mythology; the founders chose the name Starbucks based on Moby Dick’s most sensible character, Starbucks.

starbucks logo

via Starbucks

From then on, they are said to have gone through old marine books to find a mythical creature that they felt represented their company—a siren. These nautical references are also linked to the company’s birthplace and the major port city, Seattle.

Incorporating niche characters into a logo gives personality and warmth to the design. It creates a deeper, richer brand persona to help your audiences connect with you and remember you. It could be a good idea to think about books you’ve read over the years—would any of the characters relate to or symbolise your brand in some way? It might just be one aspect of their personality that your brand values align with, and it’s all you’re looking for. As we’ve seen in the Starbucks logo, cultural references in designs make some of the most memorable logos.

8. Toblerone

Toblerone’s logo is unforgettable and an example of great branding for several reasons. For starters, it’s a logo inspired by a location. It is made up of a wordmark and a mountain (the Matterhorn), and this very mountain also happens to be the inspiration behind the chocolate’s unique shape: delicious little triangles, tied together as if they were a mountain range.

Toblerone chocolate bar and packaging showcaing its logo

Via Wikimedia Commons

The logo also has an optical illusion that’s easy to miss but hard to unsee. The negative space on the mountain actually caused a storm on Reddit as users discovered that hidden in the Toblerone mountains there actually lied a bear. Clever tactics like this can really draw attention to the brand and strengthen marketing.

9. Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola has had one component of its logo that has always stayed pretty much the same—a flowing, cursive and italicised wordmark with a wave or ribbon-like tail underlining the first “C.”

Coca Cola logo

via Coca-Cola Company

The key here is that the famous logo’s font feels retro, but not dated. They’ve also recently brought back the “red disc” logo design to unite the various alternate Coca-Cola products—and logos.

10. NASA

Nasa’s current, spherical logo, imaginatively coined “the meatball,” was actually their first logo. Fairly literally representing a planet-like silhouette, the wholesome logo depicts stars and orbits in the colours of the American flag.

The meatball was replaced by another logo, entitled “the worm”, between 1975-1992. This wordmark logo featured continuous, curvy letters that echo the bodily movements of a worm. Looking at it now, it feels a little retro and Star Wars-esque. Yet, back when it was released, it was considered to be contemporary, minimal and futuristic.

Nasa turned to nostalgia branding when they changed back to the meatball, saving the worm design primarily for their rockets. They understand the strong associations that audiences have made with their world-famous logos. The meatball reigned during their most famous period, with Neil Armstrong wearing the symbol across his chest as he landed on the moon. The brand has capitalised on these positive memories and associations still held by audiences today while also finding space for their stylised worm design.

11. The London Underground

london underground logo

via Transport for London

London Underground’s logo, also known as the “roundel”, has been around for over a century. It was created after simplifying the original image of a wheel and creating the Johnston Typeface, choosing sans-serif letterforms for optimal legibility.

The logo has alternate colour schemes for different stations and modes of transportation, but the red and blue version is the main one. Overall, the minimal symbol is accessible, easy to understand and reliable—everything you would want out of public transportation.

12. IBM

IBM logo

Via IBM

IBM’s 8-bar logo has not changed since it was first created by Paul Rand (who has also created the logos for UPS, Enron, Westinghouse, among others). The stripes convey speed and dynamism, while the capital and bold serif letters convey confidence, authority and a strong sense of modern minimalism. At the time, using negative space with a font in this way was considered super innovative. Now, it leans more on the audiences’ sense of nostalgia for that period of time.

13. Prada

Luxury fashion powerhouse, Prada, treasures their original wordmark logo so much that they’ve never changed it. This is typical of brands donning emblem logos, which signify tradition and legacy.

Its “R” has an end stroke that is blocky and angular. It contrasts the curves of the other parts of the letter and the thin strokes of the A next to it. This varying of the font weights (the thickness and thinness of the letters) creates a flow and movement within an otherwise static wordmark.

Emblem logos tend to signify tradition and legacy. Prada’s emblem includes a very angular and simple outer shape to contain its wordmark, a coat of arms and a ribbon. It is simultaneously modern and traditional. It’s also smart to have a unique logo silhouette to adorn products with.

14. PlayStation

When PlayStation decided to focus on 3D polygon graphics, it needed a logo to express this shift. Designer Manabu Sakamoto created a logo that included an optical illusion perfect for a gaming brand, an upright “P” and an “S” that lay flat at its feet.

playstation logo

A unique twist on a wordmark logo, via Playstation

The colours that make up the logo are the primary colours red, blue, and yellow, with the green serving as a soft transition in between. With a simple trick of depth that was new and adventurous, the logo helped PlayStation convey the message that this was a brand committed to new technology and a few steps ahead of its rivals. To have a logo that distinguishes a company from competitors, consistent research is key.

15. The Olympics

Across the globe, the five rings linked together signify the same thing to a global audience: the world’s best in sports. The five rings represent the five continents, each with a different colour, coming together in movement. And to convey this sense of togetherness, the designer has linked and interweaved the rings.

olympic rings logo

The “Olympic rings” represent the Olympic Games globally. Via International Olympic Committee

All in all, the Olympics logo is a brilliant example of cross-cultural design, meaning that the designers chose a symbolic logo that would be enjoyed pretty equally across cultures. How do you achieve this? Research your market and ensure the colours, shapes, icons, and figures you use do not represent significant or negative concepts in different cultures.

16. Marvel

marvel comics logo

via Marvel Comics

Marvel introduced its daring red and white logo in the early 2000s, the new face of legendary comics for a new millennium. “Marvel” is in bold white letters over a bright red background with letters close together and sometimes even overlapping or connecting. This intentional and hurried effect creates a sense of force and urgency, much like a superhero who’s been called to action.

Older version of the Marvel Comics logo

via Marvel Comics

You can still see the older, retro logo shown above that has the words “Marvel Comics” on some of the merchandise, especially the comic books. This is nostalgia marketing, a strategy using the positive associations of familiarity to reinforce consumer trust.

17. Amazon

Amazon’s famous wordmark logo is straightforward with just the right amount of extra detail to express the brand identity.

amazon logo

via Amazon 

The clean black and white, all lowercase logo is easily legible. The arrow connects “a” to “z” with one swift move, to mimic customers’ experience on the platform. This arrow is also sometimes called “the smile”, adding a friendly touch to the logo. It also adds a sense of motion to the design.

18. Barbie

The Barbie logo design was dreamed up by its founders. Back in 1959, the eye-catching bright pink and the fun sans-serif typeface written in cursive was something the toy doll industry hadn’t seen.

barbie logo

via Wikimedia Commons

It was meant to appeal directly to children and communicate fun, whimsy and play. Over the years, the logo was redesigned many times but the company eventually returned to the original logo with the retro look. The logo became a big part of the iconic Barbie aesthetic, toys that are adventurous and modern trendsetters. The memorable logo was timeless enough to carry the Barbie doll through the changing times, from beachgoers to astronauts. It shows that a logo that is distinctly style-driven is necessary for a company with frequent product releases.

19. Google

Google shared the newest version of their logo in 2015. The goal of the new update was to create a logo that worked with responsive design and could go onto any screen without compromising its integrity. Since the beginning, the logo has been simplified more and more with each update. It has always been the same logo, just increasingly easier on the eyes.

Animated Google logo from 2015

via Google 

It’s also a logo that lends itself to significant alterations while retaining its basic structure. Having a logo that is basic and simple enough leaves a company with a lot of freedom to play around with, depending on current events. This dynamism gives the logo (and the company) a relevance that carries through the years.

20. Pepsi

pepsi logo

via PepsiCo

Pepsi’s iconic logo, the Pepsi Globe, was at first based on its bottle cap and had red, white and blue colours to channel American patriotism during World War II.

The history of Pepsi’s logo has a lot to do with its rivalry with Coca-Cola. This is an example of a logo that is successful because it does a great job of distinguishing the brand from its competitors. It initially also included a cursive style wordmark, which was later changed to a contemporary sans-serif to distinguish them from Coca-Cola. To maintain vital customer trust, they kept their spherical symbol to show consumers that they were still the same brand as before, just new and improved.

21. Tate

The logo version that helped the organisation become the well-known brand that it is today is a wordmark with the signature blur effect, added by the lead designer Marina Willer. The idea behind the blur effect was to invite onlookers to focus their eyes and really take the logo in. Pretty smart, right?

Animated Tate logo

The team then created 75 slightly different versions of the same TATE, each varying a little by looking slightly more in or out of focus. This idea, while super cool and unlike anything else, did cause some organisational confusion eventually. In 2016, the logo was “simplified” for the sake of consistency and is the version we see above.

22. National Geographic

The National Geographic logo looks simple, but a great deal of market research went into creating it. Having a recognisable, versatile identity was the top priority for the design agency Chermayeff & Geismar. And thoughtful attention to detail is what helped them come up with the idea of including the magazine’s iconic gold border within the logo, next to the all-caps serif.

national geographic logo

via National Geographic

The fact that the frame is so simple means it can easily be placed on any background and is ideal for the magazine’s legendary photographs and covers. It’s also important to note that as the magazine grew to include subsidiaries, the logo could easily include an additional word to differentiate between them. A logo that isn’t too niche and structurally rigid will hold strong as a brand grows and branches out.

23. Mercedes-Benz

mercedes benz logo

via Mercedes Benz

The Mercedes owners chose the three-point star as their logo symbol because it meant something to them as a family. It was a symbol their late father had used to represent their family home and it had come to mean land, sea and air.

Even though the symbol of a star isn’t something that’s groundbreaking, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t simply a star. The Mercedes-Benz star design has very distinct shadings, which give it dimension and are reminiscent of its 3D metallic equivalent placed on Mercedes cars. The star is also neatly enclosed in a circle, giving off the impression that this circle contains everything one needs. 

24. Instagram

The Instagram logo is also its app icon. This doesn’t sound that special since Instagram is and always has been an app, but the fact that this little symbol of a camera has represented the company through its massive growth is quite significant.

instagram icon

via Meta

The camera symbol was initially modeled after a Polaroid camera because the app allowed you to take and share photographs instantly. The logo doesn’t look like it initially did, but it still has the shape of a Polaroid camera—it’s just a bit more symbolic and a bit less literal. The lesson here, once again, is that a great logo can represent the company’s goal and purpose in one small symbol.

25. FedEx

The FedEx logo is famous in design circles. The much-lauded logo looks extremely simple at first glance, but it exemplifies a very nifty design trick: It uses negative space to form an arrow between the “E” and the “x.” This arrow conveys speed, a firm sense of direction and a delivery service so smooth and fuss-free that you barely notice it’s happened.

fedex logo

via FedEx

This famous logo is a stellar example of “less is more”: Using negative space can help you pack a lot into your logo without overcrowding it with elements.

26. Mastercard

A credit card is a symbolic object in itself. The shape of the credit card has to remain consistent across brands because they are all used with similar readers, we all have similar wallets and so on. So it’s the design that does the job of distinguishing one card from another. 

Mastercard knew that it needed an unmistakable symbol for its brand identification and with the two interlocking circles, it got just that. If you look at how the logo changed over the years, you can observe the same pattern we’ve already seen with other brands. The company ultimately settled on the two circles as its logo. The clever use of colour layering adds depth to the minimal logo. Small design touches can go a long way towards creating a memorable design.

27. Walt Disney Pictures

The core of the “Walt Disney” wordmark logo is shared across many of the company’s various brands. It’s made up of the founder’s signature embellished with a few calligraphic touches. For example, the “D” of Disney (that looks more like a G to some) or the “i” that is dotted with what looks like a pretzel. These little details capture imagination and evoke a sense of magic—perfect for an audience made up of children and nostalgic adults.

walt disney pictures logo

via Walt Disney Pictures

A thoughtfully executed calligraphic wordmark design can have a great deal of personality and humanity. This is useful for companies that want to emphasise their human side, rather than the corporate.

28. Formula 1

The original red, black and white Formula One logo, now retired, was designed when the race began to achieve international recognition and notoriety. It was eye-catching and successful for several reasons. This famous punchy logo is italicsed, with the red element made up of tiny arrows. The arrows add a sense of direction and movement and imply the energy of a fast-moving car. Ideal for the story the brand wants to tell—speed. And if you look closely you will see that the “1” is created by negative space.

The update is a simplified version, meant to keep up with contemporary style trends of minimalist monogram logos. It’s subtle yet effective; smaller updates tend to be more palatable for loyal audiences.

29. WWF

wwf panda logo

via WWF

The conservation organisation WWF’s logo is truly famous worldwide.

The model for the design was a panda named Chi Chi. The logo design featured her, mainly because she was a recognisable member of an endangered species. They needed a symbol that conveyed their conservation efforts across borders and languages. 

This pictorial mark shows that using a mascot is smart for a brand wanting to connect with audiences on a deeper level: It’s an emotive and effective storytelling tool.

30. MTV

MTV doesn’t have the stature it once did, but throughout the 80s and all the way to the end of the early 2000s, the channel and its legendary logo were household names across the globe.

mtv yellow logo

via MTV

Something like MTV had never existed on television before and so its logo had to be startling. The giant, block-letter M positioned behind the scribbled “TV” represents the coming together of two different entertainment styles—music and TV. Its style and tone are unforgettable, and the colourful static logo is easily animated using different colourways, patterns and motion graphics.

31. Playboy

playboy wordmark logo

via Wikimedia Commons

At the time it came out, Playboy was the first of its kind in the publishing world. The identity the magazine wanted for itself was sexy, refined and witty. How did a rabbit wearing a bow tie come to represent that?

The image of a rabbit has been used as a sex symbol by humans for more than a millennia, there are even references to it in Classical Antiquity. Take a simplified version of that symbol and give it a bow tie, and you have a very classy bunny. The choice of keeping it black and white further gave it a sense of elegance. 

While the magazine and its aesthetic saw many changes throughout the decades, this sense of core brand identity remained the same largely thanks to the logo.

32. LEGO

lego wordmark logo

via Lego

The current LEGO has been around since 1998. Its most notable features are its bright red background and the bubbly “LEGO font,” designed for the logo.

The background and the shape are an ode to the building blocks that are the company’s main product. The rounded letters with the black and yellow borders are all very toy-like and fun.

For a somewhat serious and thoughtful toy, the logo is bright, bubbly and zippy.

33. BBC

The famous BBC logo is made up of three “blocks”, one for each letter. The emblem is monochrome, generally black and white and sometimes a tad transparent. This basic structure has largely remained the same as the logo experienced minor updates. 

bbc logo

via BBC

The most significant change was in 2021 when BBC officially introduced its corporate typeface into the logo. It was part of a larger rebranding effort to unite BBC’s various subsidiaries under one font and one aesthetic. Any established institution has to keep consistency in mind when updating its logo. Also, by using their own typeface, the company no longer has to pay an annual licensing fee to use a font.

34. Uniqlo

The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo decided to update its branding to reflect its goal to become a global brand. A global brand that is Japanese, and has a brand identity that is very much rooted in Japanese culture. The bright red and white were selected with the Japanese flag in mind. It includes both English and and Japanese lettering and the shape is meant to resemble a Japanese ink seal. 

35. Star Wars

star wars logo

via Star Wars

The Star Wars movies have had many logo variations over the years, but the iconic wordmark that fully embodies the movie’s vibe is the one we see above. It created a fiercely strong aesthetic that’s carried on through the decades, using nostalgia marketing and brand consistency to cement its cult status.

36. Warner Bros

Anyone who grew up watching Looney Tunes or Harry Potter is familiar with the Warner Bros. logo on the right. Its three-dimensional, skeuomorphic design oozes Hollywood glamour and takes a commanding presence whenever it appears on the screen. If we compare it to its predecessor on the left, we can see how Warner Bros. chose the shield design to be an integral feature of its brand identity.

37. Vaio

vaio wordmark logo

via Vaio

vaio logo on a deep blue laptop

via Vaio

Vaio was initially an acronym for “Video Audio Integrated Operation.” If you take a closer look at the logo, you’ll notice that the “VA” is designed to look like a sine wave, a.k.a. an oscillating or wiggling geometric waveform, and the “IO” represents the binary digits 1 and 0. Together, these elements merge analogue and digital symbols, which reflects the digital-orientated transition into computing that Sony was making.

What do you see in these symbols?

So looking back, can you see patterns? Certain things that all these famous company logos did to get it right?

There are several common threads. Almost all of these famous logos have their own unique typeface. They are smart with the use of colour and negative space. They favour simplicity over something that is convoluted, which is often evident when you look at a logo’s evolution.

But the most important thing is to figure out who you are. Once you know that, you can boil it down to an uncomplicated and replicable symbol.

This article was originally written by Chris Paish and published in 2018. It has been updated with new examples and information.

Author: Zeynep Lokmanoglu