There is an arrow hidden in the FedEx logo. (If you’ve never noticed, go take a look, and prepare to be blown away.)
It was, in fact, an accident. “Farthest from our minds was the idea of an arrow,” Lindon Leader, who designed the logo in 1994, said in an email interview. “But in an internal critique midway in the logo exploration, I was intrigued by a design that had very tightly spaced letters.”
“After a few days, it dawned on me that if a genuine arrow could be introduced into the letterforms, it could subtly suggest getting from point A to point B reliably, with speed and precision,” said Leader.
Still can’t see the arrow? Slide to the right to reveal it.
Credits: FedEx. FedEx
The power of the arrow, Leader thinks, is simply that it is a hidden bonus, and not seeing doesn’t reduce the impact of the logo itself. But how many people actually see it without being told where it is?
“The prevailing notion is — I’ve heard — that perhaps less than one in five people find the hidden arrow unaided. But I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much fun they have asking others if they can spot something in the logo,” Leader said.
More than an arrow
The same firm that designed the FedEx logo created another one that makes brilliant use of negative space, the NorthWest Airlines logo used from 1989 until 2003 (Northwest merged with Delta in 2008). The circle and the arrow create a compass pointing, aptly, to the northwest. But the arrow, together with the “N,” also creates a “W” that has part of its left leg removed.
Sometimes the hidden element blends so well into a logo design that they can only be seen if pointed out, such as the bear hidden in the Toblerone logo.
See the bear inside the mountain? Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for NYCWFF
But is this an effective strategy for logo design? “On one hand, yes, because these logos seek to identify a branded product or service in very economical and immediate ways using humor to invoke a positive response,” McNeil said. But today, he said, there is a trend towards plainer and more direct design, as evident from the logos of many major corporations such as Facebook and Google.
McNeil’s favorite logo is Gianni Bortolotti’s design for a defunct Italian company called ED — Elettro Domestici (“electric appliances” in Italian). By simply using the letters “ED” and negative space, it elegantly forms the shape of an electrical plug.
“It is a model of constraint without any superfluous elements,” McNeil said.
Browse the gallery above to see more examples of hidden designs in popular logos.