The FedEx logo story is a legend in the industry, with the simple design of a “hidden” arrow in the whitespace hailed as revolutionary at the time. Lindon Leader, then at Landor Associates, developed the award-winning logo in 1994 as part of his exploration into simplicity and clarity in design. There’s no need for complexity of concept in order for a design to have impact and, in fact, Leader proved the opposite. It’s this trend to make things simpler and clearer that resulted in logos like those of Apple and Google.
However, the original Federal Express logo was nothing to write home about. If anything, it’s quintessential 1970s to us:
Founder Fred Smith originally named the company in order to attract the Federal Reserve Bank as a customer (they weren’t interested) and because he thought the use of “federal” would imply a sense of patriotism and an interest in the national economy. Federal Express officially began operating in April of 1973, but didn’t show a profit for two years. By the 1980s, the company set the standard for the industry and in 1983 it reported $1 billion USD in revenues.
Within a year, Federal Express began making deliveries overseas. It became the largest full-service, all-cargo airline after its acquisition of the Flying Tigers network in 1989, which brought with it routes to more than 20 countries and a fleet of large Boeing airplanes. With growth and acquisition often comes the need for rebranding, and Fred Smith decided to do just that in 1994. He commissioned Landor Associates, and the rest is history.
Though there’s some discrepancy as to whether Leader’s logo was the impetus or the result, Federal Express officially became FedEx in 1994. A few design teams worked on the logo, and came up with around 200 design concepts. Not everyone saw Leader’s “hidden” arrow—which he says represents speed, precision and the act of moving forward—but Smith did and that’s likely why it got chosen. As he explains in an interview with Fast Company Design, Leader viewed the arrow as a punch line; an “a-ha moment.” If you mess with that—try to make it more complicated—you ruin its pure, simple impact.
Leader kept the original purple and orange of Federal Express, but made the colors “more” purple and orange so that people no longer confused them with blue and red. FedEx has gone on to adapt the logo to its different shipping portfolio options: The “ex” is orange for Express, green for Ground, red for Freight. It’s a smart and simple extension of the brand that in no way complicates the original vision.