Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Logo Changes

Over its 41 years, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) went through a number of logo changes, some obvious, some subtle.  The original from 1957 was a vertically oriented black rectangle against a white background with the letters “dec” also vertical – within the black book white, but the ascender of the letter “d” extending above the top of the containing rectangle being black. The second version consisted of the letters “d i g i t a l” all lower case, the dots over the letters “i” being squares. Each letter was in its own vertically oriented dark rectangle. There were no white spaces between the rectangles.

Digital Equipment Corporation's first logos, including the
briefly considered all capitals "DIGITAL" in 1965
In 1965 there was an attempt to create a new logo with all capital letters, either DIGITAL dark against a light background or light against a dark background. This did away with the individually boxed letters. It did not ‘take.’ DEC reverted to the individually boxed letters, lower case, letters in various colored rectangles separated by spaces. The letters and spaces were not designed as white. Rather, they were intended to appear as cut-outs in the rectangles, so the color of the letter matched the color of the paper or piece of equipment the logo was on. The dots over the letters “i” were squares. For a while, the different PDP models each had their own color, but the transition to the VAX minicomputers settled to “Digital Blue.”

There was a brief period, circa 1985, when “digital” appeared as white letters within grey rectangles, separated by white lines. In 1987, the background color was changed to burgundy. The “i” dots remained square. A reason for abandoning blue not yet discovered, but one possibility was an intent to differentiate from “Big Blue”, the nickname for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which became popular in media in the early 1980s. That name has an unclear origin, but is generally assumed to refer to the blue tint of the computer cases. Not counting company name and logo changes between founding in 1888 and becoming IBM in 1924, its logo has been through changes: a couple of font changes, 13 stripes, and then the reduction to 8 stripes in 1972.

Blue logo, pre-1987. In 1987 the
rectangle color changed to burgundy.
Finally, in 1993, during the layoffs era, the DEC logo underwent one more set of relatively subtle changes: keep the burgundy, black between the letter rectangles instead of white, from squares to circles over the letters “i” and the ends of the letters “g, t and a” slanted rather than horizontal. This did not save the company from its downward spiral toward the 1998 sale to Compaq.

In 1993 the Digital logo dots over the
"i" letters became circles. 
And then there is being kicked while you are down and REALLY being kicked while you are down. The announcement that Digital Equipment Corporation was being purchased by Compaq Computer Corporation was made January 26, 1998. Two weeks later, Hewlett-Packard, a major competitor, ran an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Business Week, targeting DEC clients who might in theory be worried about future support of their DEC hardware and software by Compaq. The WSJ ad was a double-page spread, a tableau of white space, centered six-inch high lettering: “worried?” Each letter was in its own black rectangle. The two magazine versions matched DEC’s burgundy color for the rectangles. Smaller print at the bottom of the ads read: "You've committed to UNIX by spending millions," the ad said. "But if you chose a Digital system you're probably thinking, 'now what?' " The ad went on to proclaim that H-P's "dedication to Unix ... has never wavered ... and we're not going anywhere."

The advertisement, created by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, was deliberately designed to mimic DEC’s logo. This triggered a cease-and-desist letter from Digital's lawyers, protested trademark infringement, so it ran only the once, and it is impossible to find an image of it on the Internet. In addition to quashing the H-P advertisement, DEC and Compaq ran jointly branded counter-ads that while not specifically naming H-P, promised “Continued success. Continued support." It is totally ironic that only four years after the DEC/Compaq deal, H-P merged with Compaq.

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