• 2018

Art Imitating Cars

What the Logo Means to the Auto

While developing the logo art for the new Dodge Challenger SRT® Demon included a lot of soul searching — a supernatural summoning of ideas from the depths of muscle car history — the process that got the design team to the final demonic icon was, as it always is, a true testament to the understanding of branding, the strength of nostalgia and the power of purposeful design.

In fact, all the FCA US LLC brands have internal designers dedicated to the development of the iconic emblems that grace our sheet metal — designers in the business of developing the visual identifiers that make our cars, trucks (and their parts) unique.
Logos, as we’ve come to know them in marketing, advertising and product design, are usually a combination of words and visuals. Both of which served up in a way that makes them memorable. A well-thought-out and well-fashioned logo has become as important to the branding of the vehicle as the front fascia or the snappy interior design.

“Many times, when they settled on a name or a logo, styling had a department called the ornamental studio,” said legendary Chrysler Corporation Styling Manager and member of the original Ramchargers Racing Group, Bill Robinson. “We were given a name and we would have to go through a series of script designs that would be appropriate to each car. Every project we had of that nature had to go through the ornamental studio. The original 1971 Dodge Demon was probably conceptualized in the studio. There may have been marketing or advertising people who contributed to that.”

According to Cartype.com, the decal for the original Dodge Demon was only for a 1971 model. In 1972, they left the decal off the car because “people had a problem with the logo.”

Heretically speaking, one could argue that the original 1971 Dodge Demon logo is far friendlier and less “demonic” than the one that currently adorns the new SRT Demon.

“When we started working on the SRT Demon, we knew the name and looked at the old 1971 Dodge Demon — which was kind of like Casper the Friendly Ghost with a pitchfork,” said Mark Trostle, Head of Design for Dodge and SRT. “As iconic as it is, it was too friendly and happy. We looked at doing a modern version of that logo with that pitchfork shape. We looked at skulls and everything. ”

While the design team loved the idea of tapping into the nostalgia of the old logo, they wanted something that “had its own identity,” according to Trostle. “We looked all over the place — things with horns, etc. Then, the light bulb kind of came on. And we said, what if we take the SRT Hellcat® logo, which is already aggressive looking — what if it evolves and changes? The SRT Demon was built off the SRT Hellcat, so there’s definitely a family resemblance of the two.”

Every detail of the automobile is considered when the designers take on the logo, and every aspect of the logo is scrutinized to make sure it fits the feeling designers want it to convey. One of the most historic examples was the Plymouth Road Runner.

“In 1955, Chrysler had the C300 and it was very popular,” said Robinson. Later, they came up with the idea to make it a low-priced muscle car. So, they took a Plymouth Belvedere, put a big engine in it and then they gave it some personality by putting the (Plymouth) Road Runner character on it. They had to pay Warner Brothers $50,000 to be able to use that logo.”

The days of “borrowing” [sic: paying] for a logo with built-in equity like a Warner Brothers cartoon may be over. It doesn’t mean designers don’t look far and wide for inspiration while they’re brainstorming logo ideas. Today designers have access to tools like Adobe Creative Suite and many other computer art programs that make it much easier to create the art, choose a font and show management and marketing teams how the logo will jive with the car. In the golden days of automotive logo design, the artist in the ornamental studio had a more unique way of visualizing how the logo looked once placed on the car.

“The logos would be illustrated on a piece of stiff illustration board, we’d cut it out and actually put it on the car to see how they looked,” said Robinson. “We called them cartoons. You had to get up close to see that they weren’t real, but just stiff illustration board on the actual car.

The design of the vehicle itself can have great influence on the logo; however, inspiration can come from anywhere.

“One of the things I think is definitely an influence is modern trends,” said Trostle. “How is design affecting font design? The font has to mimic and feel comfortable on the vehicle. It may not have to be super retro or overly modern. It just needs to fit. Just like a piece of jewelry compliments what someone is wearing, a badge needs to compliment what they drive.