The Zigzagging World of Homemade Trucker Logos

Red zigzags

Red zigzags

It’s open season once again for long-haul holiday drives. Trundling between Chicago and Canton, Ohio, this Thanksgiving, my dude and I invented a novel car-trip game: Capture the Homemade Trucker Logo. We weren’t looking for large-scale trucking brands, the UPSes and FedExes of the world whose logos were styled by professional designers. Instead, our hunt focused on homegrown, charmingly imperfect graphic ideas of speed, efficiency, safety, cleanliness, and the various thrills of the open road. Here’s a sampling of what we uncovered on I-80, heading east.

First rule of the homemade trucker identity: use the entire truck as your canvas. Strong, zippy stripes united the front cab to the long sides and the rear of the trailer in the more handsome truck designs, like the one pictured above.

Arrows are another beloved go-to of trucker design, urging the trucks ever onward, or—in the picture below—depicting how a hard-drive destruction service gets its demolition job done. (Perhaps not coincidentally, arrows are also simple to draw or trace.)

By gruntzooki on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/6900908642/

By gruntzooki on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/6900908642/

Conway Truckload

Conway Truckload

Werner Enterprises

Werner Enterprises

The preferred trucker color palette is a strong, masculine array of midcentury hues: solid, grime-resistant, industrial. It reminded me of a quote I like from the American minimalist artist Robert Mangold: “I am attracted to generic or ‘industrial’ colors: paper-bag brown, file cabinet gray, industrial green, that kind of thing.” Witness the sober elegance that is Werner Enterprises, pictured above and below. Their trucks are Goethe-esque down to the sky-blue background. (Goethe’s title character in The Sorrows of Young Werther inspired millions of moody young men of the European Enlightenment to don Werther’s blue trousers for their brooding.)

Werner

Werner

The highways are crammed with glorious, not always successful experiments in typography, too. Letterforms grow blocky or sinuous, filling their pre-ordained boxes across the shipping container. Frequently, italics emphasize their motion.

Saia

Saia

Dana

Dana

J&R Schugel

J&R Schugel

SWIFT

SWIFT

LME

LME

In the best examples, letterforms morph so insistently as to form a strong picture in and of themselves. I wish we’d zipped past Al’s Trucking, but, alas, the find pictured below was culled from the Internet. I love its long-distance legibility, its sleek undulations of stripes, and how the curve mimics the spaghetti junctions of highways that truck navigate to deliver the goods.

Al's by PinkMoose on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/2617137773/

Al’s by PinkMoose on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/2617137773/

Another Internet find is below: Westlake Moving & Storage Company. The blocky W embodies—and literally contains—everything the brand promises to do with a sense of excellence in doing it. It’s also an invigoratingly imperfect example that fine design can happen anywhere, not just in snarky studios in metropolitan centers.

By Jordan_Lloyd on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanlloyd/5314533091/

By Jordan_Lloyd on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanlloyd/5314533091/

Photographing every noteworthy logo we saw on i-80 proved fiendishly difficult, what with varying acceleration speeds while passing, the fast-gathering dusk (bad news for our no-flash iPhone camera), and my fellow’s unsteady camera-hand (worsened by a pitiably hacking cough he’s nursing). But once again the Internet came through with a few stellar examples of another trucker-design theme: the cartoon logo character.

These characters’ personalities vary greatly —I’d characterize the three examples below as “bumblingly helpful,” “gleefully auto-mutilating,” and “revolutionary-slash-epic, ” respectively. But in general these characters animate the highway landscape with a feeling of cheerful industry and all-American friendliness, a sort of living tableaux of household commercials amid the Saturday-morning cartoons. (An aside: these examples all happen to hail from points outside the U.S., causing me to wonder what, if any, global trade conclusions we should draw from that. Perhaps that animated characters everywhere rev up one’s appetite for fast food, the salty comforts of family road trips? How this benefits the truckers is unclear, unless they too are just celebrating the paramount landscape of the French fry.)

By mcmorgan08 on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcmorgan/2695375043/

By mcmorgan08 on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcmorgan/2695375043/

By Photocapy on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcmorgan/2695375043/

By Photocapy on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcmorgan/2695375043/

Ice Cream to the People by Gruenemann on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gruenemann/2386161418/

Ice Cream to the People by Gruenemann on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gruenemann/2386161418/

By Tuchodi on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuchodi/3822532176/

By Tuchodi on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuchodi/3822532176/

One of the nicer inevitabilities of researching a sprawling topic are the interesting byways you discover. If you happen to search Flickr for “truck art,” for instance, you will stumble upon an incredibly dense array of Pakistani trucks (below), not to mention our Western urban equivalent, the flamboyantly graffitied delivery truck. (Print once profiled the marvelous visual folk art of Pakistani trucks and their brethren, customized Third World taxi-cabs.) Keep your eyes glued to the flashing yellow line—more on the horizon about that soon!

By Carol Mitchell on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/webethere/2127120436/

By Carol Mitchell on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/webethere/2127120436/

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For more on logo design, check out Leslie Cabarga’s Logo, Font & Lettering Bible and Jim Krause’s The Logo Brainstorm Book.

5 thoughts on “The Zigzagging World of Homemade Trucker Logos

  1. Jude Stewart Post author

    I’m sorry you found the tone condescending, Philip; that was certainly not my intention. Truth be told, most of the logos I found charming were not, as it turns out, in any way imperfect. (There’s a lot of under-inspired logo-work rolling out there on the highways, but that’s not the charming stuff I tried to represent here.) Also, it’s important to note that I did zero research into whether the logos selected here were designed by an agency or not…Armin Vit of Brand New or the amazin’ Steve Heller might know for sure, but all I can say is I was trying to capture the less obviously commercial names. (Although even some of these – Con-Way and Werner – are probably big trucker chains. You see their logos over and over as you drive, suggesting a conglomerate.) More than anything my intention was to find great design in an unlikely locale. The grimy, corrugated-metal sides of truck rolling across Indiana seemed to fit that bill perfectly.

  2. Philip Osborne

    I appreciate the intention of your article, but I feel in practice it exhibits a very condescending tone. The implication is that anyone who doesn’t work in a large agency, isn’t “professional” with their “homegrown, charmingly imperfect graphic ideas” and “invigoratingly imperfect examples” of fine design is degrading and pompous. The use of such phrases places you right alongside the very “snarky studios in metropolitan centres” with the kind of snobbery that this article was supposed to combat!

  3. Jude Stewart Post author

    Egad, Jeff! You’re absolutely right…I’ve tried to lessen young Werther’s many sorrows by correcting this above. Paper Acrobat: glad you enjoyed this. I agree: I’m also always rooting for the designers who roll up their sleeves and make awesomeness happen, particularly in industries not usually considered “creative”.

  4. Paper Acrobat

    Great stuff! It’s nice too see everyday graphics designed by normal jobbing designers. These people are often the real heroes of design, not the multi national design corporations. They work long hours for little compensation or reward.

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