Standard Lesson

Analyzing the Rhetoric of Corporate Logos across Time

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Students examine a contemporary corporate logo to develop an understanding of how design elements work together to communicate messages to a consumer audience. They then analyze a particular company's logo that has changed over time and think critically about the story told through what has been changed and what has remained the same.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies argues that interpreting and critiquing “multimodal information should become an increasingly important component of the English/Language Arts classroom” (np). It goes on to point out the “increased cognitive demands on the audience to interpret the intertextuality of communication events that include combinations,” implying the need for instruction and support in those areas (np). This lesson develops students’ vocabulary of and theory for understanding multimodal corporate logos and channels that understanding toward critical interpretation of a logo’s changing messages and design over time.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Internet-connected computers and projector



Use this website to examine other logos’ changes over time and to offer students additional choices, including the Wal-Mart logo suggested for use in this lesson.


This site offers additional logo evolutions for reference and analysis.


This site is a digital compilation of KFC logos across time.


This image shares four iterations of the Starbucks logo across time.


Here students can view six NBC logos through the years.


  • Select a logo or two to share in the Session One, making sure it projects well and will prompt discussion about the relationship between message and design. The McDonald’s logo is used in this lesson, but you may choose any logo that students are familiar with and that is doing clear work to influence consumer’s perception of the company or product.
  • Become familiar with basic graphic design principles by reading the first half of Learning the Basic Elements and Principles of Graphic Design or Visual Design Basics. Consider assigning parts of these readings into the lesson, though it may also be sufficient to share some of the key ideas through the modeling and discussion phases.
  • Make copies of necessary handouts.
  • Preview the Print Version of Logos for Student Analysis to become familiar with the concepts they will likely stress in their analyses.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • explain how principles of visual design such as color, shape, space, and text work together to communicate a message.
  • analyze the relationships between design choices and practical, promissory, and ideological messages
  • interpret individual logos for design and message.
  • analyze how multiple logos across time suggest both stable and shifting messages.

Session One

  1. Begin the lesson by projecting a few familiar contemporary logos (such as McDonald’s) and asking students what they notice about them. Ask them to consider the messages the logos are conveying as well as how different elements of the logo such as color, text/font, images, space, and so forth contribute to those messages.
  2. Help students notice that logos convey practical information (about the product or service itself, sometimes how it is not the competitor), promises (about what the product will do for consumers), and ideology (about what is good, valuable, or right and how the product or company fits into that ideology). They should also call attention to how logos develop those messages through color, font/text, images, space, and so forth.
  3. Share and discuss the Logo Analysis Terms and Concepts handout. Help students connect the observations they just made in the informal discussion to the more technical language on the handout. For example, if you choose to project the current McDonald’s logo, students will notice the yellow arches against the red background, clearly messaging the symbol of the company and suggesting bright, fun simplicity. Added to this, though, are the words “i’m lovin’ it,” expressing in informal font and language the feeling of pleasure a customer should expect to get from the McDonald’s experience.
  4. Also ask students to consider what the logo does not communicate. The McDonald’s logo, for example, focuses on brand identity and customer response. Completely absent is any information about the product itself. Ask students to consider why this might be, using the concepts of corporate identity and corporate image as part of the discussion.
  5. Distribute copies of the Single Logo Analysis Handout and explain how the prompts at the top of the handout, “In the logo,” “Behind the logo,” and “Around the logo,” are alternative ways of thinking about the same concepts as in the discussion.
    • In the logo, for example, would focus on the descriptions of the colors, images, and words listed above.
    • Behind the logo would focus on the informal, friendly, fun feelings the colors, images, and words intend to convey.
    • Around the logo would focus on feelings and associations instead of food because of the criticism fast food has gotten and would likely involve discussion of the tension between corporate identity and corporate image
    Ask students to put their observations about their logo into the handout to formalize and extend their thinking.
  6. From these observations, ask students to write an analytical claim about the logo. The claim should explain something the logo communicates combined with a connection to the design elements of the logo that create that meaning.
  7. Clarify that the expectation is not to write a merely descriptive claim about the logo. For the McDonald’s logo, the claim The McDonald’s logo uses a bright red background, the familiar yellow arches, and a catchy slogan needs to be reframed more analytically. A stronger version might argue that Through the bright, welcoming colors and informal font convincing consumers that they’re “lovin’ it,” the McDonald’s logo makes viewers feel good about the brand without thinking about the product itself.
  8. Use this opportunity to point out how logos sometimes try to work against pre-conceived notions of the company or service (corporate image) and encourage students to think especially critically about such contradictions.
  9. Collect their claims and provide formative feedback on them before the next session. Feedback should help students move beyond mere description, so while they may focus on a variety of different features of the ad, the most important goal is connecting design with message.

Session Two

  1. Begin this session by returning students’ claims and feedback sharing a few of the strong claims to help students see the connection between design and message.
  2. Then project this collection of McDonald’s logos (or another company) across time and facilitate a discussion around the changes they see in design and messaging. Help students focus on what remains the same across time and what changes, both in terms of the message the logo communicates and the visual/language resources its uses to do so.
  3. Consider using the Three-Circle Venn Diagram interactive to focus on an early, middle, and later logo and analyzing the features and messages of each.
  4. As a class, develop some analytical claims that explain the major shifts in the logo over time. Consider sharing sentence frames such as these to help students connect visual elements with meaning:
    • While [Company’s] current logo communicates ____ through ____, earlier versions communicated ___ through ____, suggesting an attempt to ___.
      (Sample) While McDonald’s current logo communicates a friendly and informal feeling through its familiar golden arches and slogan “i’m lovin’ it,” earlier versions communicated more directly about the food itself, suggesting an attempt to focus on the experience and feelings of McDonald’s and downplaying the actual product.
    • Over time, [Company’s] messages conveyed through their logo changed from ___ to __ as evidenced by ___, ___ and ___.
      (Sample) Over time, McDonald’s messages conveyed through their logos changed from a focus on the food served to the experience offered as evidenced by references to the food in earlier logos and the replacement of food with feelings and emotions.
    Point out that the goal of this claim is not to state a preference among the logos or to merely describe what has changed, but rather to try to explain how the changes in design reveal changes in the company’s attempts to communicate with the purchasing audience
  5. Explain that students will now do some analytical work on their own, focusing on one of the following logo sets:
  6. Distribute the Logo Analysis Tool: Changes Across Time and point out how it guides students to think about message and design just as the other tool did, but this tool helps them analyze multiple versions of the same logo. Explain to students that they will choose one of the logo sets from above, either online or on the Print Version of Logos for Student Analysis and will analyze the logos on their own and in a group before writing an essay making a claim about the evolution of the logo.


  7. Give students time to begin analyzing the logo of their choice, with the goal being to come to the next session with the Logo Analysis Tool: Changes Across Time completed, including a tentative analytical claim about the changes across time. Make note of which logo each student chose to facilitation formation of idea sharing groups in the next session.

Session Three

  1. Form students into groups based on the logos they chose to analyze. You may need multiple groups for some logos and may have just a pair of students working on another.
  2. Ask students to begin their small group discussion by sharing what they noticed across the logos before presenting their claims for feedback. Stress that they should not feel committed to their claims, and that if they hear or learn something new from the conversation, they should feel free to change their claim accordingly.
  3. Bring students back together and distribute the Logo Analysis Essay Prompt and Logo Analysis Essay Rubric. Based on their progress in developing analysis and a claim in this session, select a date for drafts and revisions of their individual essay to be completed.
  4. Use or adapt resources from the Peer Review Strategy Guide to support students' work in the process of drafting and revising. Consider having students get one round of feedback from other students who examined the same logo as they did and another round of feedback from students who examined others.
  5. When students have finished their essays, ask them to respond to these Reflection Questions.



  • As part of the essay writing process, encourage students to explore the history of the company from its website and connect that information to the design choices they see in the logos across time.

  • Invite students to select a current logo and design an update for it, explaining their choices. Alternately, suggest that students select a current logo and propose a complete redesign based on a real or imagined change to the company or its public relations.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Provide formative feedback on claims after Sessions One and Two.
  • Offer feedback on essays using the Logo Analysis Rubric.
  • Ask students use these Reflection Questions to think about what they learned about logo design, particularly their role as an informed consumer.