Is the FedEx Logo any good?

Is the FedEx Logo any good?

The FedEx logo is brilliant/The FedEx logo is Rubbish
The FedEx logo is a masterpiece of modernist design. Not only is it unapologetically clean and bold but the arrow, formed in the negative space between the 'E' and the 'x', is a brilliant graphic device and a clever piece of subliminal advertising.

Designed in 1994, it replaces the old Federal Express logo, which was as 70s as any logo has ever been. It was agreed that in order to create a globally inclusive brand, the concept of delivering to the Federal Union seemed outmoded. FedEx Employees had long been referring to their company as such and, after a series of focus groups, the new name was agreed. Landor Associates were approached to do the rebrand and they produced some 200 in the process, of which 5 finalists made it to the presentation to senior management. In the reveal, FedEx CEO Fred Smith was the only one in a room of executives to notice the arrow nestling between the 'E' and the 'x'. It was generally agreed that it was an excellent mark however and the new brand was born.

Since then it's legend has spread the globe and it has won a number of awards. In its 35th Anniversary issue Rolling Stone magazine voted it at number eight in the world's best logos and it remains a talking point for designers and brand consultants the world over.

It is so successful because it is a wonderfully understated piece of design which uses the amended letterforms of Univers 67 and Futura Bold to create that perfect arrow shape. The arrow itself is a lovely visual trick, which, if they had made it obvious in any way - and according to Landor Associates FedEx executives tried to get them to delineate it more  – would be a heavy handed cliché in a world where speed and delivery is so often shown with a twee little arrow shape. Truly it is a brilliant piece of graphic branding.

The FedEx logo is Rubbish
The FedEx logo is an overrated and very plain piece of design with a visual trick that no one ever sees, thus devaluing the whole rebrand exercise.

Recently I gave a talk to 30 or so non-design professionals about logo design, and at the end of the talk I put the FedEx logo on the screen and asked them if they could see the device in the logo. An awkward half a minute ensued until I told them about the arrow and even then it took them some time to notice where the arrow even was. This is a very common response.

I myself had read in a design book that there was this visual device in the mark but cryptically the book didn't say what it was. I spent a long time puzzling over it, and continued to come back to it to try figure it out but to no avail. When out I would see the vans and get annoyed with myself for not getting it and I remember stopping and staring at a van with a friend while we tried to figure it out. We did not. 

Eventually in frustration I Googled it and all was revealed. Now of course I see the arrow every time I see it, just as I'm sure everyone in the room at my talk will also now see it.

But the question really is, is there any value in having a clever visual device if no one ever sees it? Certainly you would have to question the subliminal value of such a thing.

To have something work on a subconscious level there has to be some dim form of recognition somewhere down there and it would seem that looking at the logo would eventually yield the answer, but, it seems the arrow is hidden. What is the point of having a clever logo that doesn't reveal it's own cleverness?

It's true that the value an unseen graphic device is questionable but to stop there is to miss the point.

Even without the arrow, the FedEx logo is a great rebrand. FedEx CEO Fred Smith's brief was very simple: he wanted to be able to see the logo on his vans from five blocks away. Landor Associates achieved this with their modernist design and as a bonus they planted a hidden Easter egg for those in the know. As Senior Art Director at Landor Associates Lindon Leader rightly points out, the logo works on it's own without the arrow.

This is the other reason why the FedEx logo is a great piece of design. It remains a talking point several years after it was designed and people speak of it the world over. I have just dedicated over 800 words to the discussion of it. It is a phenomenal piece of PR that continues to serve the company enormously well. So, while we can be fairly sure that the logo is a fortuitous accident that came about through a very large number of iterations, it's choice as the new FedEx logo was a marketing masterstroke that will continue to be a taking point for FedEx for a long time to come.


See also:

Designing the Den Kit for BBC1 Jo Malone Show, High Street Dreams

Why the London 2012 Olympics Logo is a Good Thing

About Mike

I got into design through high end erotica

Having left university with the least vocational degree I could find – Philosophy and Literature – I got work at a place that I thought would amuse me until I found an actual real job. I had been looking through a website called Crazy Jobs – now sadly defunct; I also got work with them as a waiter dressed as a sailor, but that’s a whole other story – and saw an advert for a position as an office monkey at an erotic publishing company.

I got it and so began my slow, purposeful and self-willed march towards being a designer.

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