DESIGN: BEHIND THE LOGO - What does your logo say about you? Campaign charts the history of five agency logos while Wolff-Olins' Jon Edge and Robbie Laughton judge their design and refresh their context

Reviewing a set of identities on face value is a rather thankless task. Even if you compare them, without knowing what they are supposed to stand for or what context they are used in, only a rather light-hearted and subjective view or acute aesthetic academics can apply. Being a brand consultancy, we appreciate that a logo doth not the brand make. Even if you have a corporate identity system, it's only the tip of the iceberg.

We took an immediate and humorous view and asked ourselves: "When reacting to the marques emotionally - where might they live?

We then created examples of how the logos might be used. As our own identity is a simply configured logotype (people often think we work for Rolf Collins or Wilf Olsen), we pick up any stones in this glasshouse with our tongues firmly in our cheeks.

JWT - created 1864

Probably the most traditional of all agency logos, J. Walter Thompson was founded in New York in 1864 as the Carlton & Smith agency and was bought out by one James Walter Thompson in 1877. Thompson renamed the agency after himself and transformed it into a business with billings of $3 million, before selling it in 1916. JWT was bought in 1986 by Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP. Copies of Thompson's original signature prove that the logo is a standard copy. In shortened version, the initials JWT have been used in the past, together with a ring around them - sometimes more circular, sometimes a little more oval. Thompson himself used an elaborate icon of a wise owl holding the lamp of knowledge, but the owl and its author both went to roost long ago.

Edge and Laughton say ...

J. Walter Thompson's signature logo, although cleaned up and artworked, heralds similar qualities to the Coca-Cola marque: American, original, big with a reassuring promise of heritage. You can imagine Mr Thompson himself signing off the latest Kit Kat campaign - or lunch bill at The Ivy - using this headed paper.

BBH - created 1982

Bartle Bogle Hegarty's first logo was simply the signatures of its founders with red dots underneath. BBH changed this design at the turn of the millennium.

The new in-house design brought the dots (not blobs, please) into greater prominence and gave the BBH icon - the black sheep - equal status with the founders.

The sheep arrived on the scene a bit earlier, in 1982, as a star in one of the first of BBH's famous ads for Levi-Strauss. BBH identified with being the black sheep of the advertising industry and it was just a matter of time before the symbolic animal found its way on to a new logo. But the old is not completely forgotten: if you hold a BBH compliments slip to the light, the signatures of the founders can still be seen.

Edge and Laughton say ...

BBH recently revamped itself with this natty little number. Contrary to JWT's logo, its new identity feels like it got sick of the signatures.

However, such a creative and renowned agency could have taken this a bit further. The black sheep has the potential to be iconic and more abstractly associated with the name.

MOTHER - created 1996

It could have been Calcraft Saville Waites. Instead, the start-up was branded Mother and launched in 1996, complete with a logo in a lesser-known font called Eclat. The design was intended to set the agency apart and look as comfortable on a fridge door or a sandwich bag as on a letterhead. The in-house design was by Mark Waites and Libby Brockhoff, who originally presented it on a background of light blue. But the agency isn't concerned about the blue background changing to brown or gold or pink to fit the environment.

The logo is used everywhere - from the Mother reward card and the Mother Bible to Mother T-shirts and Mother emergency underpants, as well as headed paper.

Edge and Laughton say ...

Mother came up trumps as the logo with the most attitude. Possibly the one most likely to have come out of our stable, it wouldn't look out of place on a record label, club night or skateboard shop. With its unequivocally bold application of the typeface Eclat, the modern script gives an austere nod to the type of letterforms prevalent in iconic identities such as the J. Walter Thompson signature.

HERESY - created 2001

The agency is just 15 months old, but there's nothing intentionally contemporary about the logo. The agency itself intends to challenge convention, but the logo - designed by HHCL group's company The White Room - is straightforward.

The box on box represents the philosophy of putting the customer back at the heart of business. It's strictly nothing to do with out-of-the-box thinking or being out of your box. Why purple? It's a browny purple, meant to be more natural-looking than a more imperial shade of blue. And the letters are lower case because it looked less threatening that way. The name Heresy is dangerous enough.

Edge and Laughton say ...

The name promises controversy, devilishness and excitement. So why has it been treated with this rather non logo and designer cool lowercase? The typeface used is Bliss - approachable and friendly. You'll find it used on British Midland and the corporate font of the British Library. But will it offend the Pope? Is it irony, counterpoint or simply bad design? You decide.

CDD - created 2001

Probably the newest logo in adland. The design was dreamt up by Dave Dye who called on some technical help from the typographer Dave Wakefield in-house. It's an original typeface with a touch of art deco about it: the lines are intended to be timelessly elegant and simple. But the smiley face - derived from the initials CDD - is less 1940s, more new-media heiroglyph or just plain doodle. The idea was to make "a symbol that wouldn't date and that reflected sobriety with a spoonful of cheekiness", Dye says.

Edge and Laughton say ...

Campbell Doyle Dye has gone for pseudo-establishment deja vu using a reworked version of an art deco-style font. With its face created from the three initials there could be a vague smile in the mind, but it would also feel at home on the napkin of a Chelsea cocktail bar ... which is probably not a million miles away from its first rough.

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