Atari Logo Evolution

by Shiuming Lai


I originally started writing this article eight months ago, but never quite got my thoughts together, between producing the magazine each month. In some ways it's also good, because recent events about the subject have completed a chapter that looks stabilized for the foreseeable future. As the headline says, I am referring to the famous Atari three-pronged "Fuji" symbol, of course.

Where corporate emblems are concerned, the Fuji symbol is rare in that it could claim synonymity with a multi-million dollar industry. To this day, where the company of that era no longer exists, it has made its mark in history and is fondly remembered for the fun it brought.

Note that I'm still only talking of the Fuji symbol. The complete Atari logotype consists of the symbol, and company name in what has now become known as simply the "Atari font" to many people. What is also interesting is that the logo's two elements can be combined in two different ways to suit the graphical balance of the required application. There is the "rectangular" form with the Fuji on the left and "Atari" on the right, mostly used on product labels and badges (or banners, as shown below), and the "square" form with a large Fuji on top of the Atari name, commonly seen on Atari arcade machine cabinets, also perfect for T-shirts.

[Photo: Atari banner]

[Photo: Atari T-shirt]

Another company with literally identical flexibility in forms of its logo is TDK Electronics, most famed among consumers in the 1970s and 1980s for its magnetic recording media. You can see the two forms of its logo in the scan of the inlay card from the popular AD formulation Type 1 cassette, below.

[Photo: TDK AD-C60 audio cassette from 1979]

So why this article? It really came about after many years of noticing something quite elementary: the Fuji symbol is extremely difficult to reproduce in the correct proportions. Ever tried to draw one by hand? Its very simplicity is both deceptive and the essence of its effectiveness. In short, if not produced correctly, it looks like a cheap imitation. Conversely, it's not so bad if deliberately stylized, but the closer to the real thing it is without actually being correct, the worse the amateurish looking effect.

Thanks to the internet, never has been seen before such a proliferation of suspect Fuji symbols. I was glad to see I wasn't the only one, when I saw that offered once and for all a correctly proportioned Fuji symbol for download in various graphic file formats.

    There are hundreds of Atari Fuji logos all over the web. Some have been raytraced, some have been hand drawn. Others assembled from screen grabs of Atari systems. But generally they all share one thing in common - they just don't look right! Either the curves of the logo are wrong, the height and width is out of proportion or its been expanded from a smaller image and suffers badly from "jaggies".

From personal experience, the most difficult part to get right is the curvature of the two side prongs. Not knowing how to construct those curves means the only way is to trace high resolution examples (preferably from official sources) and attempt to reverse-engineer. Visual inspection would suggest that the inner facing edge of the curves could be sections of a circle, but perhaps not so the outer facing edges. Using a pencil, pair of compasses and ruler on an A4 print, a trace for the points about which the hypothetical sections of circle are described confirm this. The outer edge of the curve, tested on the left side, is clearly not part of a circle. That's where it becomes complicated. The geometric construction of TDK's "crystal" symbol, on the other hand, I figured out one bored afternoon at the age of 11.

[Image: Tracing the curves of the Fuji]

Many examples are also wrong by the thickness of the prongs. Usually, the incorrect assumption is that the tops are all the same width, when in fact the two either side are narrower than the central one.

Beside the two classical forms we all know so well, the XL line of 8-bit computer systems didn't show the Fuji symbol on the actual products, and boxes and covers of the manuals. The latter two had underlining of the Atari name. Only on the sides of the boxes and product information labels underneath the hardware showed the Fuji, in the square form. Prior to the XL line, the 400 and 800 series had the Fuji symbol as an individual idendity on its own badge, whereas the Atari name and model number would be formed together on another badge or label.

[Image: 1050 disk drive manual]

[Photo: Atari 800XL box]

Colour embellishment of the logo was used in the 8-bit days, a sign of the outstanding colour palettes of Atari's machines right from the 2600. More precisely, the strip of rainbow gradient shown on the 800XL box above was used on packaging and even some machines themselves, becoming something of an Atari trademark. In a lot of software, a Fuji logo with a rainbow coloured vertical gradients inside ("rasters" today in demo-speak) was both easy to program and highly effective in demonstrating the systems' colour capability. Years later, a tribute to this appeared in the Desktop Info... dialog of the so-called Rainbow TOS version of the Atari ST operating system.

It was really with the ST line that the rectangular form of Fuji symbol and Atari name together as one became popular. Derivatives of the ST design, namely the XE 8-bit computer systems that replaced the XL, followed suit with visible Fuji symbols once again, none more prominent than the avant-garde XE Game System of 1987 with its large moulded Atari logo.

[Photo: XE Game System]

Atari Computer GmbH
In Europe, Atari's computers were more successful than on the company's home turf, America. Particularly during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the German market was a huge driving force behind the ST computers. Rainbow colours were out, and the new identity was mostly blue and white, with dashes of grey, reflecting the more business-like nature of these more powerful, newer generation systems. Incidentally, Apple Computer also used rainbow colours in its fruit logo from way back in the early 1980s, then went to solid single colour some time around the advent of its translucent G3 systems in the late 1990s, before settling on its present "Aqua" style.

Germany's significance in the scheme of the Atari logo is shown below. In nearly all of the German-produced advertising and graphics, the whole design, most notably the font, is thickened, to the point where the apex of the "A" is rounder and the "R" is "closed" (indicated by the arrow). It always made me think of delicious Deutsche Würste. Now any time you see photos of Atari events where the banners show a thick, chunky Atari logo, it's a safe bet to say it was in Germany.

The thick logo was never used, to my knowledge, on the products or packaging, as these didn't originate in Germany. I chose my Mega STE's box as a great example of this contrast, as it has a promotional flyer from Atari GmbH stuck on it.

[Photo: Atari Computer GmbH version of Atari logo]

Atari Corp. UK adopted the thickened Atari logo in some of its later, business-oriented advertising material, for example the double-sided Mega STE and TT030 leaflet from 1992. However, it is possible that these were simply adapted from German literature, produced by the same design house but simply in different languages. If anyone can confirm this then please get in touch.

[Image: Mega STE - High Tech at a Glance leaflet]

The Hasbro years
When the toy company used the Atari brand for its "Interactive" division, it made the most radical change to the logo. While casual observers insisted they couldn't see anything different, or didn't mind the change, to established fans it was nothing less than sacrilege. To set the record straight, the correct Fuji symbol is actually a little wider than it is tall, on the Hasbro version it has been forced into a perfect square, and the bottom ends of the side prongs have been thickened. Both of these are responsible for the awkward and uncomfortable, bottom-heavy appearance. Finally, the (some would say stupid) box around it is the most disliked element, certainly from all the people I've talked to. Overall rating: rather square.

[Image: Hasbro Atari logo from Missile Command]

Meanwhile at the arcade division
Let's not forget, at the point of the Tramiel take-over, Atari was divided into two separate companies, one, Atari Corporation, making the consumer products, and Atari Games, Inc. continued the arcade games. Atari Games kept the traditional square form of the Atari logo well into the 1990s, so it came as a surprise when some time after 2000, I found it had been changed.

First of all, the Fuji symbol has been rendered in 3D and textured. Next, the Atari name itself is in a futuristic, more aggressive font. The general form has been retained, but the rendering doesn't add anything instrumental to the design. I always maintain that the best logos are those that work effectively in flat colour or mono, because if they communicate well in that state, without fancy effects, they must be fundamentally strong.

[Image: Atari Games logo]

Infogrames and beyond
A big sigh of relief was to be heard from all quarters when Infogrames took over and discarded the boxed-up Fuji logo, returning to the classical form, and correctly-proportioned Fuji symbol.

[Screen-shot: Atari official web site from 2002]

Everything seemed well again, Infogrames was treating the historic design with the respect it deserved. Does that mean it wasn't changed from the original at all?

[Image: MyAtari November 2002 cover]Cast your mind back to November 2002. One of my personal favourite issues of MyAtari, featured Infogrames' latest game release under the Atari brand, Unreal Tournament 2003.

The cover design was a simple montage of elements from the game graphics, most importantly, including the Atari logo (rendered in metallic effect). The Fuji symbol looks authentic enough, but three aspects of the Atari name underneath are unorthodox, even to the naked eye. We have a much larger version below so you can see.

  1. Its sides are no longer aligned with those of the Fuji symbol, they stick out.
  2. The top corners of the "T" are rounded off.
  3. Partially as a result of point 1, it looks vertically squashed, bearing an aspect ratio of 3.77:1 compared to 3.06:1 for the original (taking the Atari GmbH flyer in this article as a reference).

[Image: Infogrames Atari logo]

We resisted the temptation to replace the Infogrames Atari logo with the classic one, as this would not be representative of the current state that we were aiming to portray.

Furthermore, Infogrames tried to create a third form of the logo. Here's a scan from the packaging of V-Rally 3. Conceptually it's clever, but the Fuji symbol is 30% wider than the letter "A" that it replaces in the middle, leading to a graphical imbalance (and record aspect ratio of 4:1), and another failed idea.

[Image: Alternative Atari logo from V-Rally 3 box]

Finally lost the plot?
By now just about every Atari fan knows that Infogrames made the bold move of officially changing its name to Atari, so once again we have a company not just a brand. If the name change didn't stir emotions then surely the decimation of the logo sent shockwaves through the scene.

Witness the screen-shot of the Atari global web site as of May 2003. Most immediately striking about the logo is the flared bottom of the central prong. One can't help but ask what in the world is that all about. Closer inspection reveals that the Atari name has been aligned with the sides of the Fuji again, but it still has the wrong aspect ratio. It wouldn't be as conspicuous were it not for the fact that on the very same page, in particular the welcome headline, there is text written in the traditional, narrower Atari font!

[Screen-shot: Atari official web site from 2003]

Whatever the reasons for these changes, whether it came from management to distinguish the new Atari from old, or some trendy designer's eagerness to impress, fact is, try as you may, you can't improve on perfection.

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #6, June 2003

Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine