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.)
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.)
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.
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 S curve mimics the spaghetti junctions of highways that truck navigate to deliver the goods.
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.
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.)
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!