In 3M’s 111-year history, they have had 32 logo designs. Any graphic designer would be intrigued by this. Ultimately, their logo changes weigh-in at a hefty average of every 3.7 years! The most recent iteration in 1978, 35 years ago, is the time-tested winner as being the longest used and is still in existence today.
It is interesting that when I review how company logos evolve, redesigns are typically uniquely different. It is difficult to imagine a company today having 4 official versions of their logo established in any one single year, but not over 50 years ago. These were the wild frontier days of branding – remininscent of branding cattle.
Let’s take a closer look at 3M over the years
Correlations to the company culture
It is interesting that both in 1952 and 1954 the logo had four iterations. This possibly reflects changes and tumultuous times at 3M.
The initial 31 years (1906-1937) started with four distinctly different logos. In 1938, for some reason, they decided to revert to the original logo used 32 years prior. Possibly a “let’s go back to our roots” philosophy. As in any evolution, it keeps moving … four years later (1942) they redesigned.
From 1937-1948 they vacillated on whether or not to use a hyphenated “3M”. As illustrated here, ultimately, it was decided to drop the hyphen, never to be seen again.
From 1950-1957 they explored placing the “3M” inside a black or white oval.
In those years they also explored the use of adding the word “company” or “brand” after the “3M” until a deviation in 1953. One cowboy (or conspiratorially many of them) decided to encompass the word “Line” instead, displayed in a rope-like rodeo style font. Yeehaw! For a Minnesota company this seems a bit odd but I am sure at the time they derived meaning (or irony) from their decision. Maybe it had something to do with branding cattle?
For a short time, from 1954’s final iteration through 1955’s first iteration, a laurel leaf encircling the oval was added but was eventually abandoned in 1961.
Are we a “product brand” or a “company brand”… a “brand” or a “company”?
A change in thinking is obvious in 1955 B. They had to be struggling with, are we a “product brand” or a “company brand”? Changing from “brand” to “company” seems to be the reoccurring theme that began in 1950 and continued through 1961, 11 years! Was this indicative of the times? In 1955 they even explored “Product of 3M Research” instead. Ultimately, 17 years later the designs show the discovery that whether they were a “company” or a “brand”, it was not as relevant as the fact that they were simply 3M.
It seems in 1961 they decided they were done with all prior logos and would begin fresh with something bold and different. The vacillating from “brand” to “company” is still apparent but, what is that? (1961 B) No “brand”, no “company” … just symbols _ + _ + _ ? Someone must have insisted they needed something there visually if they were removing the word “company”.
Serif Font vs. Sans Serif Font
With the exception of 1956, they seemed consistently aligned with the serif font style. Of the 32 iterations shown here, only five use a sans serif font, one of which is their existing 17-year old solution!
3M’s logo went from their 1906 version, articulating everything in words, to their current 1978-developed simplistic version. Clean, simple, strong, and indicative of the vast number of product brands that comprise this $30 billion innovative global company today.