In 1970, Gary Dean Anderson was a 23-year-old college student at the University of Southern California, when a Chicago container company held a design contest to raise awareness about the environment. It is the most readily recognizable logo in the world. It has been called one of America’s “most important design icons.”
He used his $2,500 in prize money to study for a year at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. It was only in the 90s that people became aware that he created the iconic logo from the pages of Print magazine.
Considered a piece of design, Anderson’s logo was, and remains, a success. Devoid of any language, it boils a hugely complex and important concept into its absolute essence, giving everyone around the world an accessible and understandable bit of visual vocabulary.
It didn’t take me long to come up with my design: a day or two. I almost hate to admit that now. But I’d already done a presentation on recycling wastewater and I’d come up with a graphic that described the flow of water: from reservoirs through to consumption, so I already had arrows and arcs and angles in my mind.
The problem with my earlier design was that it seemed flat and two-dimensional. When I sat down to enter the competition, I thought back to a field trip in elementary school to a newspaper office where we’d seen how paper was fed over rollers as it was printed. I drew on that image – the three arrows in my final sketch look like strips of folded-over paper. I drew them in pencil and then traced over everything in black ink. These days, with computer graphics packages, it’s rare that designs are quite as stark.