Raymond Loewy's 1971 logo for British oil giant Shell
The origin of the Shell logo dates back to the corporation’s founding, when Marcus Samuel Junior formed The Shell Transport and Trading Company. The name ‘Shell' was selected for the sentimental reason that Marcus Samuel Senior, who had started the family's Far East trade years earlier, imported sea shells to decorate boxes.
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The first Shell logo was a mussel. This was drawn in a ‘charming rather than a distinctive way’. However, after four years, the ‘graphic possibilities of the scallop’ led to the introduction of a new logo that, with just slight incremental changes, was able to sustain a sense of contemporary relevance over a period of 60 years.
In 1964, four designers were asked to submit proposals to evolve Shell’s corporate image, having felt that the design, created in 1961 appeared dated as corporate identity design was to be modernised across many industries.
The designers invited to contribute ideas were Yusaku Kamekura (Japan), the designer of the previous logo Raymond Loewy, c.e.i. (France), FHK Henrion, HDA International (Great Britain) and Karl Gerstner, GGK (Switzerland).
The intention was to create a consistent, formalised and practical image for the corporation. As outlined in the corporate manual, the “shell must be the same everywhere, a requirement all the more necessary in these days of frequent travel and instant communication”.
As the expectations of a corporate visual style was to extend across borders and operate within different contexts this had to be extremely versatile and easily reproducible. The task of the logo was to identify and brand many of Shell’s subsidiaries, hundreds of service stations, fleets of road and sea tankers and thousands of widely different products and corporate communications.
These sizeable considerations led the designers to explore various iterations of the shell, refining and formalising its properties, introducing geometry and removing the logotype from within the shell to improve flexibility.
Each designer saw the benefit of introducing custom wordmark and Gerstner and Kamekura went further, experimenting with the creation of a bespoke typeface. This was in keeping with the developments in corporate identity at the time which sought to employ economies of scale to reduce the cost of producing vast quantities of print communications and corporate stationery. The designers worked independently and, as later recounted by Yusaku Kamekeura, were unaware of the others working on the same project.
Raymond Loewy’s solution introduced a ‘simpler’ and ‘stronger’ pectin design with a heavy outline that created contrast with a saturated inner yellow. The other major component was the word 'Shell' which, like Kamekura and Gerstner, was removed from the Shell and employed original custom drawn letterforms, as well as defining and formalising the spatial and size relationship with the 'Shell' logo.
Rather than the condensed letterforms put forward by Gerstner and Kamekura, Loewy’s was extended, making the most of wide long-bodied tanker trucks and forecourt canopies.
The two components–logo and logotype–together formed a basic unit, but both could appear on their own. Various configurations and proportions were defined, and grids were added to aid fabrication of signage. Alongside full colour versions, the addition of single colour versions, as well as those knocked out of colour, were introduced to improve usability where none had existed before. Further graphics elements were later introduced including a red band and the flooding of surfaces with the saturated yellow.
Adrian Frutiger’s Univers 65 Bold and Univers 45 Light, typefaces that were readily available internationally, provided Shell with a corporate typeface that could be consistently and economically deployed across the many countries it operated within.
Despite the viability of the solutions put forward by each designer, and offering similar answers to problems of flexibility and consistency, it would by Loewy’s solution that would be developed between 1964 and 1970 and rolled out in 1971. Aside from a small update in 1995, which amended the colours to make these warmer, the logo remains the same today as it did back in 1971.
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