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BusinessJuly 8, 2022

The 50 greatest New Zealand logos, ranked

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Toby Morris searches high and low, far and wide for our greatest logos of all time.

On our shelves, on our clothes, on our feet: logos are all around us. They’re on signs and on the front of buildings and all over everything we read online. Some of them are terrible, most are decidedly average, and a select few are great. In the grand tradition of ranking lollies, biscuits and voids, it’s time to rank the best logos in Aotearoa.

Obviously we can’t rank every logo, there are hundreds of thousands of them: Every product, every company, every school, sports club, council and dog breeding society has one. So instead I’ve picked out 50 I think are absolute gems. I’m sure I will have missed some classics, and of course it’s impossible to objectively rank creative work. Feel free to let us know if I’ve left out your favourite.

Quickly, some criteria: We’re looking at New Zealand based or founded entities, from any time period. The definition of logo is slightly blurry – sometimes it’ll be just the logomark (like, the symbol), sometimes the wordmark (distinctive text), often the combo of the two. Generally I’ve gone for what would most commonly be perceived as being “the logo”.

Conceptually, a good logo is one that’s distinctive, memorable, says something and fits the tone and style of whatever it’s representing. Extra points for originality and creativity. Technically, a test of a good logo is often if it’d work anywhere, at any scale – printed tiny, or huge, and work static or whizzing past you as you drive past it – but there are exceptions to this, depending on the brief.

Anyway, enough setup – here are 50 banging logos.

50: Bar’s Bugs

Who doesn’t remember rummaging around their parents’ garage and wondering how the mangy old bottle of windscreen cleaner had such a cool design on it. Windscreen glasses? Genius.

49: Great Lake Taupō

This one is repping for all the city logos. I don’t like the colours or the bevel effect, but the concept is good – the O is the lake, and the macron is the city along it’s northern shore. It’s also proudly putting the elephant in the room on full display in the front window: look, we have a macron now, times are changing, welcome to the modern Taupō.

48: Georgie Pie

It’s cosy, it’s welcoming, it’s a bit hokey – perfect. The soft rounded edges, warm colours and the cute lower case e’s all combine into a perfect nostalgic bomb. It’s the logo version of a perfect mass-produced $1 mince and cheese pie.

47: New Zealand Air Force

I love the simplicity. It’s a visual pun on the classic British RAF roundel that shows their history but also their point of difference, and it works – simple, clear, and you can tell what it is a mile away.

46: Elizabeth Taylor Graphics

Humour is an underutilised tool in identity design. Everyone wants to seem traditional, reliable and professional. But what if you just want to tell the neighbourhood you make posters, signs and shit? I used to drive past their original premises in Paraparaumu in the early 2000s and get a kick out of seeing this logo every single time. Later on they moved into the city and the logo ruffled some feathers. Good shit.

45: Hot Chick

Another regional delight: Every Napier resident will know Hot Chick and their neighbouring ice cream parlour Cool Cat. They still use this chunky 70s bottom-heavy type, but I like the original logo, where the flaming, sunglasses wearing chicken has it’s mouth open and looks like it’s just had a fright. Yow!

44: National Party, 1970s

The ligatures on the NA combos are a bit of an awkward tangle, but the arrow N on this Muldoon-era National party logo is a tidy piece of design. Sure, it might suggest the party is going to have ups and downs, but it has a lot more personality than the generic blandness of all the major party logos these days. (Also cool and better than the current logo: Labour’s 70s-90s flying L.) (Trivia: in the original Terry Teo books, the grawlixes (the symbols used to represent swearing) for the villainous skinhead characters include this National N.)

43: Work and Income, 1990s

Some people see someone running away with stolen loot under their arm, some people see a case worker with someone in a headlock. Either way, it’s memorable: for better or worse (definitely worse) this logo and name burned itself into our collective consciousness in the late 90s (I see the headlock).

42: Wellington Rugby Football Union

I’m putting this one in here as an example of a certain kind of New Zealand logo that is at once terrible and incredible. These type of spindly weird interlocking monographs are found on old sports clubs and schools around the country. They’re a throwback to a long outdated design style, and I love how indecipherable they are these days – they’re basically black metal band logos for old dudes. What they’re communicating, of course, is “we’ve been here for ages”, something New Zealand organisations strive to be able to claim.

41: Te Herenga Waka University Press

From the old to the new: this one is a recent design for the newly renamed Victoria University Press. I love how it’s referencing designs like the Wellington Rugby one above, (and by association suggesting tradition and quality), but still manages to come across as clear, modern and clever. It’s very satisfying how neatly the initials fit together, and the little notches on the ends are cool.

40: Clutha District Council

To the rest of New Zealand it looks like a failed b-grade sportswear brand from the 90s, but to locals it’s clear – there’s the Balclutha Road Bridge and the Clutha river flowing underneath it. This one is in here for all the hyper-local designs out there: most of the time design is about trying to communicate so every single person on earth can understand, but sometimes it’s OK if only a certain group understand it.

39: Deka

One word: Jaunty. Gone too soon.

38: bFM

Ramshackle, DIY, spontaneous, informal – if you’re a bank or a law firm or an insurance company that’s probably not the impression you want to give. But for bFM it’s perfect. There’s a casual, not-trying-too-hard energy that has given this logo an enduring charm. Sneakily smart.

37: Halswell School

I’m putting this one in there for all the thousands of school logos out there. Most of them, particularly for high schools, are snoozefest traditional crests or latin lamps that blur into cold wallpaper and can probably never be changed. Our primary schools, on the other hand, seem to be in the process of at least attempting to keep up with the times. Craig Burton seems to be on a single-handed mission to design new logos for every school in the country, and I liked this one as an example – bright, welcoming, and smart. I’d send my kids there if I was picking by logo.

36: ANZ

Design, like fashion, is a pendulum swinging back and forth across multiple axes over time – hems go up, hems go down, everything looks 3D, everything looks flat. For logos, around 2000 there was this sudden moment where everything went italic with a few rounded corners (dynamic, modern) and then, 5-10 years later, they all snapped back upright (steady, solid). It’s the logo version of an emo fringe in the early 2000s that you don’t like to talk about: we all saw you do it. But italic dalliances aside, I’ve always liked this logo. The cutouts remind me of ESPN, early computers and Robocop – all positive associations.

35 and 34: Whittaker’s and Vogel’s

I’m putting these two classics together to compare and contrast. Two beloved, trusted family brands; two classic custom wordmarks. Both tell you “traditional family business”, but compare the styles: the strong neat lines of Vogel’s says “traditional, reliable, hearty” while Whittaker’s elegant flow says “traditional, luxurious, delicious”. Both are perfectly crafted and both perfectly fit their product. Excellent work.

33: What Now, late 80s

I can hear the 80s theme song as I look at this, and it feels like Saturday morning.

32: 100% Pure New Zealand

I hope whoever came up with the little map as the slash in the percentage did a well deserved little fist pump at their desk when they figured that out. It’s a detail that makes an otherwise solid but fairly straight wordmark into something memorable and clever.

31: Te Papa, 1998

This identity by ad firm Saatchi and Saatchi was a controversial one at the time – widely bagged as being way too expensive and irrelevant when it was first announced. But as a conceptual logo it was ahead of it’s time. These days I think we have a better understanding that a museum isn’t just about collecting old stuff, it’s about figuring out who we are. A logo doesn’t have to be literal. A milestone of NZ design, imho.

30: NZ Film Commission

Sober and sensible. This feels high-end and highbrow, evoking quality, consideration and an appropriately formal stamp of authority for a cultural institution. Solid and smart.

29: Ripples, late 80s/early 90s

There are many good ones that come and go (what’s up Fruju), but most chip brands, biscuits, lollies, ice blocks and so on change their look too often. I guess they’re always trying to stay fresh and feel new, but the trade-off is they never build up that long term trust from holding on to a strong identity. This is a proper chip logo. Bring it back.

28: Double Brown (and classic NZ beer logos in general)

We could do another whole article ranking New Zealand beer design, but for today I’m taking a huge shortcut and lumping these into one group. There’s a set style to these classic ones, and they all say something similar but slightly different. Lion Red and Speights equals tradition, Tui is bold and blunt, and I love the masculine minimalism of the old DB Draught one – you can taste that logo, and it tastes like old beer. My favourite, though, is Double Brown – punchy colours with a slightly off-balance, almost hand-drawn quality that gives you a slight air of mischief.

27: Warren and Mahoney Architects, 1962

Designer Kris Lane suggested this one to me, and it’s a great call. Warren and Mahoney are mostly known as large scale architects: they make town halls, stadiums, airports and embassies, the kind of buildings that define the country. This beautiful logo captures this utilitarian quality – it’s strong and slightly monolithic yet refined, balanced and distinctive. It was designed in 1962 by a young Mark Cleverly, who later became a New Zealand design legend as a designer of stamps, the creative director of Crown Lynn and an influential design teacher.

26: Ministry of Works, 1970

Similar to Warren and Mahoney above, there’s something about the combination of public infrastructure and the era of modernist design that resulted in some classic logos. This one from the now defunct Ministry of Works exudes strength and capability. The symmetry is neat, the forms are sturdy and the hexagon brings to mind the efficient industry of bees. There’s no frills or fancy business – if you saw this logo on construction sites around the country, you’d know work was getting done. (Make a logo this satisfying for Kiwibuild and then we’ll see some action!)

25: Absolutely Positively Wellington, 1991

The words of this Wellington tourism slogan are still used today, but it’s the original logo incarnation that sticks in the mind. It might be partly due to the unconscious visual association with the “Parental Advisory – Explicit Content” stickers that appeared on album covers of the same era, but there’s something saucy and sophisticated about this one. You picture houndstooth power suits with padded shoulders and high heels. The TV ad that launched it had a guy rollerblading down a city street talking on a giant brick cellphone. Hell yeah.

Unranked: This fern

When you look at a lot of New Zealand logos together, you quickly see some popular motifs – kiwi, ferns, koru, Southern Crosses – drawn a lot of different ways, most of them terrible. I want to mention this particular fern design though, because I find it bizarre: it’s called the FernMark™, created by MBIE as a stamp of “yeah we’re officially from New Zealand” approval. It’s a fine design, but surely the point of a logo is to signal what makes your organisation or product unique. (Bonus points to NZ Hair Transplantation Institute for riffing on it though, I’m into that.)

24: We Compost

Just love this one by Auckland studio Seachange. It totally defies expectation, and turns a negative into a positive – so charming you completely forget it’s for a company dealing in rotting waste. Would wear it on a t-shirt. Amazing work.

23: Department of Conservation

Another classic public service icon. The type isn’t very exciting, but the mark – a kind of shield that evokes land and sky and the link between them – is beautiful in its balance and simplicity. Koru and mangōpare are very common motifs in New Zealand design, but rarely do you see them used in such an elegant, understated and integrated way. It’s a logo we’ve probably all seen so many times we don’t notice it anymore but I think it’s one we all “get” on an emotional level. An underrated beauty.

22: V

A polar opposite to some of the more traditional minimal logos here – this is deliberately designed to look modern and alive. With six colours, a very digital 90s look and a strong sense of movement, it makes the product look electric and uncontainable. The one-letter name is genius too.

21: Swanndri

Since 1913, Swanndri bush shirts have sported many different versions of a logo with a swan in a circle. This one to me is the iconic one – the stylised but still hand-drawn feeling, with the blue background. The lines are clean and economical, the name is clear and the bird isn’t taking any nonsense. Not the most creative, but impeccably executed.

20: Silo Theatre, 2012

Another win for humour and personality in identity design! Designed by Alt Group in 2012, this references Greek comedy and tragedy theatre masks, but whether you notice that or not, it’s just funny. Silo are the type of theatre company aiming to make modern, non-traditional, boundary-pushing work, so this feels like a great fit – it’s creative, smart and feels like something you haven’t seen before.

19: Wattie’s, 2010-2020

In recent years the lettering has been smoothed out a little, so the current logo is starting to get a little generic, but the previous version on the red tab with the janky oversized serifs sticking out the sides of the W tastes like cheese and spaghetti toasties on the couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

18: L&P, 2016

L&P is another example, like Ripples above, of a brand that’s actually been through a surprising amount of different logos, but in their case the distinctive yellow and brown palette has remained constant, resulting in a stronger brand identity today. This might be a controversial call, but I think the strongest logo of all is the current one, created in 2016 by Marx Design. It’s casual, a little bit funny and balances feeling old and new at once.

17: New Zealand Post, 2000s-2021

This New Zealand Post envelope mark started off as an Earl Hingston design in 1975 with a crown on top, but I like the later, less regal incarnations. In this version we see another example of the early-2000s “italics and a few of the corners rounded off” trend with the typography, but the star is the envelope: It’s an N, it’s a Z, it’s a letter, it’s a very fun thing to doodle. Recently they’ve ditched it, and I get that personal letters aren’t the main thing they’re transporting these days, but it still seems a shame to lose all that built up trust.

16: Frosty Boy

Look at that guy! What joy. He’s going to love that ice cream! (I debated why this guy makes it in but the Four Square man doesn’t. With Four Square, he’s the mascot, but their logo is a 4. This guy is the logo.)

15: Jimmy’s Pies

Love this weird little piece of lower South Island design magic. There’s a handmade, DIY signwriting quality to this that fits with the old-school feel of the paper-bagged pies, and I like that it’s slightly odd. Why the curves on “homemade” and “pies”? Why the giant quote marks around “Jimmy’s”? Is Jimmy’s not its “real” name? What are these so called “Jimmy’s” pies actually called? I don’t know. It’s a great “logo”.

14: NZ Railways, 1970

Another minimal modernist infrastructure classic. The excellent book Marks of Identity: New Zealand Logos 1960-1980 explains how huge New Zealand Railways were as organisation at the time – encompassing ferries, buses, commuter rail, train stations, large scale logistics operations, train maintenance and so on. Designed in 1970 by Barry Ellis, this emblem was created to unite the different departments, and is a great example of what these days we’d call a graphic system – the top right section would be red for rail services, orange for ferries, green for road services and so on.

Its simplicity is its strength. It feels like an N, a Z, and a shifting line on a railway track, but it’s bold and recognisable and would work just as well printed tiny on the side on a pen or embroidered on a yard worker’s pullover as it would zooming past you printed large on the side of rolling cargo trains. Staunch as.

13: TV2, 1989-1995

TV2, as the fun sibling to TVNZ’s more traditional One, has had a lot of different looks over the years, and which one springs to mind probably depends on your age. I think of this one: the circle swirling one way, the 2 moving in the other direction in glorious 90s orange and purple. Sleek and modern.

Their coolest logo though might be one they never used: a while ago Tana Mitchell from Studio Akin showed me these beautiful old proposed designs by the great Samoan/NZ typographer Joseph Churchward. Imagine a world where TV2 had this much flair.

12: Tip Top

So nice. The elegant flow of the lettering and the crisp clean primary colours against white feels sunny and sweet. The vibe is certainly retro, but manages to feel timeless rather than dated. A very feelgood identity.

11: 10th Commonwealth Games, Christchurch, 1974

Louise Kellerman from Design Assembly suggested this one, a clever trickster with multiple layers packed into a seemingly simple geometric pattern. It was designed by Colin Simon in 1973, who started playing with a stylised 7 and 4, and landed here. It’s NZ, it’s 74, it suggests Union Jack for the Commonwealth, and it’s an X for the 10th games. At the time everyone loved it and they sold a lot of merch.

10: Peach Teats

I’ve written about this beauty before – a genius piece of branding that redefined a whole product. Illustrated by Murray Lock, this cheeky calf has been bringing a smile to dairy farmers and anyone driving State Highway 1 between Hunterville and Mangaweka for more than 25 years.

 

9: Mainfreight

Design teachers will tell you logos are supposed to work when they’re tiny and when they’re huge, but this one stands out for looking huge wherever it lives. Mainfreight is a logo that fits perfectly on the side of a truck or a shipping container, and I love that its strength and power comes from negative space: the only thing we actually see is the hefty block shadow. Somehow the logo looks mammoth and propulsive, and the letters aren’t even there. (And I don’t know what the red line means, but I like it.)

8: Tū Mai
In recent years, as in many New Zealand industries, there’s been a concerted effort to acknowledge and encorporate Māori perspectives, traditions and knowledge into design practices. Tāmaki Makarau studio Ira, formerly known as Fly, has been one of the leaders here, making a name for themselves creating identities and design systems for organisations wanting an authentic brand with Māoritanga values and world views that goes deeper than just translating the name into te reo and popping a koru on the logo. I love this one for Tū Mai, an Auckland sustainable cultural tourism initiative, that shows how Ira weaves Māori values, symbols and practices into their designs. Beautiful, clever work.

7: TV3, 1989

It’s hard to explain how massive getting a whole new channel felt back in 1989. This one genuinely blew people away when it was launched (or it did for me, aged 8, at the very least). The logo felt like it was from another world – 3D animated, cool colours, so stylish, bold and smooth with no other text around it. It was futuristic (you can read it as video game controller buttons, or buttons on a TV remote that has – gasp – more than two channels), but then it sort of looked like a pounamu a little bit too. A true trailblazer.

6: NZ Warriors, 2000 to present

In general most New Zealand sporting logos are pretty average. Look at Super Rugby – the Chiefs one is OK, but the Hurricanes and Highlanders are sloppy and dated, and the Blues and new Crusaders ones are dull and forgettable. I bring them up in comparison to the Warriors logo, which is dripping with mana and personality. I bet you can picture clearly without even looking at an image of it. The 1995 original had a curved tongue, which was changed to the stronger straight-tongued version when Tainui took over ownership in 2000. Aside from that (and the phase where the club colours went black and silver for a few years) it’s stood strong for more than 25 years, and still looks fresh today.

5: Zap, 1980s

What an electric piece of hand-drawn typography. It says Zap, and it zaps. It’s stylish and bold, and gets extra points for making milk cool. Custom illustrated typography is a huge swing, but if you pull it off you can make magic.

 

4: Lotto, 1987

It’s been through several evolutions over the years, going 3D and back again, changing colours and experiencing a few awkward gradient phases. But the best iteration of the Lotto logo was its original form: simple, and distinct, bouncing balls of colour and possibility, burned into all of our brains.

 

3: Air New Zealand

Designed by Roundhill Studios in 1972, the Air New Zealand koru was born from a desire reflect a distinctly New Zealand heritage out to the world. Some have raised questions of cultural appropriation in more recent years, but it’s clear the mark has become a symbol of New Zealand all around the world. And it works – it can read as koru, representing new growth, or as a mangōpare, a symbol of strength and determination. Either way, as a mark it’s elegant, dynamic and instantly recognisable. The typography has ridden a few different trend waves over the years, but the mark itself has endured through all those different phases to become an institution. (Though coming from a comics background, where forward movement is usually depicted by pointing action from left to right like western reading direction, I’ve often wondered why it points the way it does. Maybe pointing right to left feels more like coming home?)

2: Canterbury of New Zealand, 1982

The Canterbury clothing logo is New Zealand’s favourite negative space trick, and a deeply classic NZ symbol. The kiwi represent the three founders, and the CCC stands for Canterbury Clothing Company. Everyone remembers finding out about the three hidden kiwi, or if not and that’s you right now, welcome, come on in.

1: All Blacks

It had to be, didn’t it? Our most internationally recognised symbol is a slightly predictable number one, but the closer you look, the more it feels deserved and hard to argue with.

New Zealand rugby teams had used various silver ferns as their symbol since 1888, but the All Blacks never had a distinct design they could own and trademark (and use to sell licensed merch if we’re being cynical) until 1986. Dave Clark, designer and former Ponsonby RFC player got the brief, and everyone who has ever tried to draw a fern leaf knows it wasn’t any easy one. If you go too patterned or geometric they look lifeless, too freehand or curvy and they quickly turn into lumpy blobs. The genius of Clark’s design is in the mirroring and inverting of the shapes between the top and bottom layer of fronds: the balance of light and dark and the way it tapers, ending up with something that feels structured and organic at once.

Here’s Dave from an interview in 2019, talking about how he got the final idea after trying hundreds of iterations. “I woke up at 3am with the idea fully formed in my mind. The simplicity was probably why I had missed it in my exploration process. The silver fern leaf is an elongated triangle and my new idea was to make the internal leaves very simple elongated triangles, so that the overall shape echoed the internal small leaves – just like in the real plant. It was all finished in a couple of hours.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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