Twenty years ago today, on June 23, 1994, the American express parcel service Federal Express unveiled its new shortened name and smart logo to much pomp and circumstance. Ahead of the unveiling, the new logo had been painted on an MD-11 jet and flown to the Memphis International Airport to be the centrepiece of the unveiling ceremony. This could be watched by thousands of its employees and spawned lots of news articles. One estimate said the event reached 88 million people.
Federal Express started operations in 1973 after a Yale student realised you could compete with the post office by transporting express packages on jetliners. It grew quickly and eventually "fed-exing" became synonymous with "sending packages fast", allowing Federal Express to join the short list of company names that had become verbs. But as competition grew it needed to differentiate itself to maintain its lead. The namechange was preceded by two years of extensive research both internally and with Landor Associates.
But the end result was remarkably simple. The name was shortened to the already established shorthand. The logo was a rendition of the name in simple letters with the now famous hidden arrow. For plane liveries they opted for white fuselages instead of the purple that had dominated up until then. Landor also came up with the tagline "The World On Time" which reinforced a worldwide reach and focus on punctuality.
The new logo was developed by Lindon Leader, who was then senior design director at Landor. His team developed around 200 designs. Many designs resembled the old logo and they usually retained the old purple and orange colours. The team realised that you could create an arrow by juxtaposing an uppercase E and a lowercase x. An arrow is a natural icon for a delivery company, symbolising speed and efficiency. To achieve a proper arrow effect, the terminals of the E and F had to be moved up a bit.
Today, the original Federal Express business is part of the global FedEx Corporation with many other activities in express mail and cargo. They all use the FedEx logo in different colour-coded variations. Landor has continually aided FedEx during much of this brand development.
The old Federal Express logo, a historical footnote by comparison, is usually attributed to Los Angeles-based designer Richard Runyan who designed it when the company was still a startup.
The FedEx logo quickly became a design classic and there has been a lot written about it. Here's a selection:
- Corporate Design Foundation - a great article detailing the process
- Advertising Age - a contemporary news article
- The Sneeze - a 2004 interview with Lindon Leader
- Landor - official case study
- Leader Creative - Lindon Leader's current company