Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Story Behind The Famous FedEx Logo, And Why It Works

My ten-year-old daughter points out the logo on a FedEx truck every time she sees one. She’s done that without fail ever since she learned to sound out letters. But she doesn’t do that with any other logo. What’s special about the FedEx logo isn’t the vibrant colors or the bold lettering. It’s the white arrow between the E and the x.

“There’s the white arrow that no one on my gymnastics team knows about,” she’ll say.

The FedEx logo is legendary among designers. It has won over 40 design awards and was ranked as one of the eight best logos in the last 35 years in the 35th Anniversary American Icon issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Nearly every design school professor and graphic designer with a blog has at some point focused on the FedEx logo to discuss the use of negative space. I wanted to hear the full history of how it all went down, not to mention impressing my daughter, so I called on Lindon Leader, the designer who created the mark in 1994 while working as senior design director in the San Francisco office of Landor Associates, a global brand consultancy known for executing strategy through design. Lindon now runs his own shop in Park City, Utah, where he continues to work the white space in creating marks and logos for a wide array of organizations.

We spoke at length about visual impact, his creative process, and his story of the FedEx logo development. I began by telling him how my daughter points out FedEx trucks when she sees them.

“It’s those kinds of stories that are the most gratifying for me, most rewarding,” he says. “I’m always asked what it’s like to see your work everywhere, and does it ever get old. It never does.” (...)

It was that kind of artistry that Lindon was after in developing the FedEx logo. “Back then, the company was still officially Federal Express,” he recalls. “The logo was a purple and orange wordmark that simply spelled out the name. By the way, people in focus groups thought it was blue and red, but it wasn’t. It had this incredible customer-created brand. Everyone said ‘FedEx’ and used it as a verb.” Although there was enormous cachet around the term, a global research study revealed that customers were unaware of Federal Express’s global scope and full-service logistics capabilities.

“People thought they shipped only overnight and only within the U.S.,” Lindon explains. “So the goal was to communicate the breadth of its services and to leverage one of its most valuable assets--the FedEx brand.” Lindon remembers that FedEx’s CEO, Fred Smith, placed high value on design and had an intuitive marketing sense: “Any designer worth a lick will tell you great clients make for great design. He said okay to a brand name change and authorized a new graphic treatment. He said do whatever we wanted, under two conditions. One was that whatever we did, we had to justify it: ‘You can make them pink and green for all I care; just give me a good reason why,’ he said. The second one was about visibility. ‘My trucks are moving billboards,’ he said. ‘I better be able to see a FedEx truck loud and clear from five blocks away.’ That was it! So off we went.”

by Matthew May, Fast Company Co.Design |  Read more:
Image via: Takedesigns