The First 50 Years
The first 3M logo appeared in 1906. Its design was complex: The company’s full name and its headquarters (Duluth, Minn.) surrounded a diamond containing the term "3M Co."
The second phase of mark-making began in 1950 with the debut of a simplified logo. But with no standards manual to provide guidelines, variations of this logo flourished. In some cases, the oval was completely abandoned and the "3M" stood alone. A version of this logo with a laurel leaf was used to celebrate 3M's 50th anniversary.
Getting Serious About the Logo
By 1960, 3M was a major international corporation producing more than 27,000 products with sales of $550 million, and a third logo phase began. 3M hired Gerald Stahl and Associates, a New York design firm, to create a definitive logo that would unite the corporation and all of its business units under a single sign. The result was a "3M" with a decidedly industrial look.
When the new logo was announced in 1961, Joseph C. Duke, 3M executive vice president, explained its rationale in a story in Advertising Age magazine: "When one product, division or subsidiary makes a favorable impression anywhere, every other 3M division, subsidiary or product should benefit. In turn, the achievements and prestige of the 3M company should benefit each product and activity of the company."
Lots of Variations
The new logo design came with an identification system manual showing proper use of the symbol and overall graphics system. The system began with no fewer than four approved variations of the logo, and that number multiplied rapidly as divisions found the need for exceptions to the rules. This diminished the objective set forth by Duke.
Packaging was specifically excluded from the 1961 system and, thus, by 1965, 3M had many inconsistent brand and package designs. Brooks Stevens Associates, a Milwaukee, Wis., design firm, was hired to restore order. The firm’s concept called for each 3M package to have three color blocks: the first identifying the product, the second identifying the division and the third carrying the 3M logo. The system retained the logo and special typeface developed earlier by Stahl in New York.
According to the guidelines, each division was allowed to have its own distinctive symbol, but this undermined the visual continuity 3M was seeking. As the number of 3M divisions and products multiplied, so did the number of logo and packaging variations. While the goal was to create a specialized family appearance for all of the divisions’ products, the corporation didn’t have a unified look.
Recommendation for Revision
By the 1970s, a change was needed. 3M was no longer a company focused on industrial abrasives and tapes, but now had many innovative products for the commercial and consumer markets.
In 1977, 3M embarked on phase four in the evolution of the logo. Siegel & Gale (S&G), a New York design firm, was hired to audit the existing system. At the core of S&G’s recommendations was a new logo design — a very simple symbol in a modified Sans Serif typeface with the "3" and "M" touching one another. Allen Siegel, president of S&G, also pushed for a new corporate color — red. The new, vibrant logo caught on like wildfire.
The new 3M Corporate Identity and Design department guided the changeover on a case-by-case basis. The department also did something very important that had not been done when the 1961 design was introduced: It trained communications personnel around the world on how to use the new logo correctly.