Logos can be cute, cool, sharp, soft, edgy, and friendly all at the same time. In other words, they pack a lot into a small space.
But contrary to what you may think, the best logos don’t always come from painstaking research, late-night development sessions, and countless drafts. They’re sometimes the result of frenzied moments of inspiration-induced napkin scribbling.
With that in mind, here are five famous logos that were created just like that.
1. Canadian National Rail logo (1960)
The inspiration for the Canadian National Rail logo (CN) came to Allan Fleming during a flight to New York after he had been contemplating different ideas. Armed with a cocktail napkin, an ignited imagination, and the goal to create an image with a timeless quality, he got to scribbling, and the rest is history.
Before his death in 1977, Fleming said, “I think this symbol will last for 50 years at least. I don’t think it will need any revision, simply because it is designed with the future in mind. Its very simplicity guarantees its durability.” It’s been 57 years and counting!
2. Chupa Chups logo (1969)
It’s a little-known fact that the daisy-shaped Chupa Chups logo was created by the famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali. According to the company website, Chupa Chups was called Gol, the idea being that the lollipop was a ball, your mouth was the net, and that by sucking it you’d score. Thankfully, founder Enric Bernat changed the name and hired Dali to help with the rebranding process in 1969.
Legend has it that Dali scribbled furiously for over an hour before coming up with the logo that’s still in use some 50 years later with a few revisions (the logo in use today was created in 1988 by Landor Associates). Sources say Dali demanded that the logo be placed on top of the lollipop instead of the side so it would always be seen properly, and many attribute the brand’s enduring appeal to this decision.
3. Citibank logo (1998)
Paula Scher created the Citibank logo (often called the 1.5 million-dollar napkin) in 1998 when Citicorp merged with Traveler’s Group to form Citigroup. At this point, Scher’s New York-based design agency Pentagram was brought in to do the logo for Citigroup’s new consumer division, Citibank.
Before they began the process, Scher took her team to meet the Citibank officials to talk about what they wanted from the new logo. She started sketching while they spoke, and five minutes later, she said “This is your logo,” and showed them the very sketch you see below. It was, quite literally, a 1.5 million-dollar napkin.
4. Virgin logo (1979)
Virgin’s original surreal and dark logo was designed by the English artist Roger Dean and featured two naked girls sitting with a dragon intertwined around a tree. In 1977, the company decided the logo didn’t reflect their future goals; they needed to go in another direction.
Richard Branson invited a (still unnamed!) young designer to his houseboat to talk about logo design options. At some point during the discussion, the designer scribbled “Virgin” on a napkin and Branson immediately fell in love with its attitude, energy, and simplicity. With minor revisions over the years, the logo is still intact today.
5. I Love NY logo (1975)
New York was in a bad state in the ’70s. Crime had skyrocketed, tourism was almost non-existent, and the city was going bankrupt. In desperation, the Department of Economic Development hired the ad agency Wells Rich Greene to create a campaign that would shine the city in a positive light.
They first created the slogan “I Love New York,” along with a Broadway-themed TV ad. But they still needed a logo, and this was when designer Milton Glaser was recruited to help. He sat down for a meeting with Wells Rich Green during which he scribbled the logo that would go on to become a global cultural icon (note: he scribbled it on an envelope, not a napkin).
Want more? See well-known logos categorized by industry on our logo inspiration pages.