A logo can’t make a bad brand good, but it can certainly help make a good brand great. What would Fendi be without its iconic Double F? Where would Chanel be without its interlocking “c”s? In the right hands, a logo can be a stamp of quality, a way of communicating with a target audience and getting them to hand over their money without a second thought. In the wrong hands, it can cheapen a brand, alienate its market, and spell Trouble with a capital T.
Some brands like to keep the same logo they’ve always had. And why wouldn’t they? If it works, great – no point fixing something that isn’t broke. Others like to have fun with their emblems, changing them almost as regularly as the rest of us change our socks. Still others like to play on both sides of the field, keeping the same basic elements intact while still having fun with the occasional make over. New Balance fall into the last category. Their first logo was created in 1972; almost 50 years later, it’s still very much recognizable as that original creation, but eagle-eyed viewers will notice a few subtle changes. But what exactly is the story of the original? And why did New Balance decide to change it, even if only slightly?
The History of New Balance
If you want to understand a logo, it helps to understand the brand behind it. The New Balance story began in 1906 when an Irish immigrant named William J. Riley founded New Balance Arch Support Company in Boston, Massachusetts. As heddels.com writes, urban legend has it that Riley was inspired to make his first ever creation after watching his chickens strut around the backyard. Intrigued by how they managed to maintain such perfect balance on their three-toed feet, he set about creating a flexible arch support with three support points. By 1927, Riley was ready to take his ideas to the masses. At that point, New Balance Arch Support Company didn’t have a single shoe to its name; its business was wholly focused on selling arch supports to laborers in desperate need of some added comfort in the shoe department. After taking on a salesman, Arthur Hall (a man who’d eventually become a partner in the business), Riley started expanding his customer base at an exponential rate.
By the 1960s, New Balance arch supports where a favorite with athletes. Some of them were so impressed with the supports, they started calling on New Balance to make a sneaker. New Balance duly obliged. In 1961, it released its first sneaker – the Trackster. Not only was the Trackster the first ever shoe to come from New Balance, it was the world’s first running shoe with a rippled sole for traction. Comfortable, functional, and available in enough width sizes to suit athletes of every shape and size, the Trackster was a hit. New Balance, on the other hand, was still a small family business whose staff of six did everything from make the shoes to pack them up and pop them in the mail. If it wanted to follow the sucess of the Trackster with something even better, something needed to change.
Fortunately, that change came sooner rather than later in the form of the brand’s current chairman, Jim Davis. After acquiring the company under a business entity called New Balance, Inc. in 1972, Davis set about overhauling the business model. While he remained committed to upholding the company’s traditional attentiveness to individual preferences, customer service and quality, he also recognized the business would need more than 6 employees and a turnover of 30 sneakers a day if it wanted to succeed. Fortunately, it was positioned in just the right place and at just the right time to do just that. By the 1970s, Boston was at the epicenter of the running trend that had taken the US by storm. People needed running sneakers, and they needed them now. Thanks to Davis’ expansionist plans, New Balance were well equipped to provide them.
With Davis at the wheel, New Balance continued to prosper throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By the nineties, it had carved out a permanent place for itself in the sportswear mainstream. When Steve Jobs was spotted wearing its 991 sneakers at all his public appearances, its place in popular culture was equally cemented. Today, New Balance is one of the biggest footwear companies in the world. Loved for its ability to marry comfortable functionality with street sensibilities, it’s one of the few mainstream brands to have managed to tap into almost every demographic conceivable, Old, young, fat, thin, couch potato, athlete, wide footed or flat footed… New Balance speaks to them all. And fortunately enough for the company’s profit sheet, most of them respond with their checkbooks.
The Original Logo
So, we know how New Balance started. But what about its logo? Prior to Jim Davis’ acquisition of the business in 1972, there wasn’t one. But Davis had the good business sense to know that if New Balance wanted to grow, it needed a unifying emblem to stand behind. To that end, he tasked Terry Heckler, a prolific commercial designer and artist who, as 1000logos.net notes, has since been influential in the creation of iconic graphics for the likes of Starbucks, Encarta, Cinnabon, Teragren, and Palisad, to create one. The result was a dynamic, monochrome design that featured the company’s initials, ‘N’ and ‘B’, in a stylized blend that immediately drew your attention. Slashed across the letter ‘N’ were twelve speed marks (or ‘wing’s’, as some people prefer to think of them), a feature that not only added an eye- catching touch, but that alluded to the brand’s sporty heritage. Underneath the emblem, Hecker added the company name in a bold, simple font.
The Logo Today
Since Heckler’s days, the New Balance logo has experienced several minor modifications. As logos-world.net notes, the most noticeable change came in 2006, when it was decided to reduce the number of speed marks to seven and replace the original black and white color scheme with a vibrant red. Although the changes were subtle, they injected a new lease of life into the logo, imbuing it with an energy and brightness that felt much more ‘millennial’ than the previous incarnation. Despite the modifications, the New Balance logo today is still very much Heckler’s creation. And considering just how good that creation was, why would it ever need to change?