Designing a new logo is harder than it looks. Even when designers come up with something they have never seen before it does not necessarily mean their design is entirely original.
Tech industry veteran Spencer Chen was flipping through the pages of Trademarks & Symbols of the World: The Alphabet in Design, published in 1989, when he found a series of remarkable lookalikes. In aggregate, old logos from the book can look somewhat dated, but design goes in cycles and some approaches and styles have come back into fashion.
As designers like Michael Bierut of Pentagram know from experience, there are only so many truly unique variations that can be assembled from existing typefaces and simple geometric manipulations.
It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Medium’s ‘M’ looks a lot like the 1977 logo for Metrocraft, a US publishing company that likewise created a three-dimensional letter by folding a flat plane.
Airbnb’s current curvaceous logo, meanwhile, resembles one designed for Japan’s Azuma Drive-In from 1975, though the redesigned Airbnb one drew a lot more criticism than its lookalike ever did.
Flipboard shares Frisol Oil’s 1981 ‘F’-shape, both assembled from a grid of squares, though the predecessor is somewhat simpler (no gradients) and features lines separating each square.
Meanwhile, the Beats ‘b’ looks a bit like a record or headphones but it also closely resembles the icon of Stadt Bruehl, developed for this German city back in 1971 (both are basically a Bauhaus letter in a circle). Nor are they the only two to follow the same general format:
All of these similarities are presumably accidental, but they do illustrate the remarkable difficulty of creating something that looks entirely new and different in the limited space of logo design. Perhaps the real surprise in these cases is not the similarity itself but the fact that a huge company could spend so much time and money developing a logo without tasking someone to check for close antecedents.