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Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

Rich Baird on Design History
BP&O Voices

Written by Richard Baird Posted 1 June 2023

A guest article from Logo Histories, a weekly Substack newsletter from the team behind BP&O. Each week, Logo Histories uncovers and unravels the stories behind some of the most interesting logos and corporate identity design programmes of the past. Read about FHK Henrion’s work for London Electricity Board, Karl Gerstner’s proposal for Shell and Armin Vogt’s modular design system for Fiat. Sign-up here.

Minolta was founded in Osaka, Japan, in 1928 as Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shōten (the ‘Japanese-German camera shop’) and changed its name in 1931 to Minolta, an acronym for Mechanism, Instruments, Optics and Lenses by Tashima. The company made the first integrated autofocus camera system and, for the early part of the 20th century, was mainly concerned with mechanical technologies for image capture.

As the company moved from mechanical technology to advanced optics and electronics in the late 1970s, it engaged American consultancy Saul Bass, Herb Yager & Associates (ALCOA, United AirlinesAT&T) to develop a new logo and corporate identity to would help the company outwardly reflect its new focus.

Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

The general criteria laid out for the development of the logo was that it should be unique, memorable, flexible, strong and enduring. More specifically, the design should reflect aspects of ‘high technology’ with customer perception being that Minolta products were the very latest and most advanced on the market. Finally, the new design should give the impression that all Minolta products were well-made, long-lasting and reliable.

A secondary criteria was also created and broken down into the following key considerations:

Vision: the new logo and identification system signals the quality of light, which is the basis of all vision. Strength: that the company has strong management. Beauty: the new identification system should be perceived as beautiful and express the grace and precision of all Minolta products. Global: the new identification should be effective in any country, and transcend language.

Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

Through the use of linear elements, focusing at the centre as if passing through a lens, the logo conveyed the high-tech optical and electronic basis of Minolta, and graphically represented a company that dealt with light. The use of fine lines also intended to suggest that Minolta products were precision instruments.

Three different logo variations were produced with differing amounts of counter space. The larger the logo the finer the counters would be. From large building signage to small embossed product markings the logo always maintained a sense of precision.

Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

In order to maximise the flexibility of the logo, two configurations were created; a logo placed above the logotype, and a logotype with the logo standing in for the ‘O’. This maximised the use-cases of the logo in both vertical or horizontal contexts such as long shop signage, or large format building signs.

Minolta by Saul Bass, 1980

The logo was deployed across large format building signage, cast into camera bodies and printed throughout Minolta’s marketing materials. To emphasise the notion of managing and manipulating light, a broadcast advert depicted the sun’s light being focused and turned it into the Minolta logo.

In 2003, Minolta merged with Konica to form Konica Minolta. Even though Konica Minolta would announce their exit from the camera market, selling portions of its business to Sony and Dai Nippon Printing, it still retains the logo with the addition of a gradient to give the logo a three dimensional impression.

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