In 1997, AOL decided to open its Instant Messenger service to everyone, not just paying customers, a move that altered the course of online communications and birthed two things every child from the '90s will never escape: the yellow running man logo and your first screen name.
While AIM became the communication platform of the future (and you forever became known as LimpBizKid13), the little yellow man emerged as the symbol for this brand new digital world. Recently, The Atlantic spoke to JoRoan Lazaro, creative director at The Martin Agency in New York, who designed the infamous logo while working at AOL in the mid-'90s.
"The [running man] design came about because I was spending a lot of time looking at 1940s and '50s postwar American logos and trademarks. If you go back to '40s and '50s logos and trademarks, you'll see that there's actually quite a few men that were used—a silhouette that either had curved legs or angular legs and a round head, in addition to the ones that looked quite a bit more stylized or looked really, really human. The running man was really inspired by those," said Lazaro.
With his faceless head and unembellished body, the AOL running man became a symbol of America. Everyone with a computer could access anyone else in the world instantly, and, better yet, it was free. This anti-elitism is what drove the atmosphere of branding during the '90s. "Back then, the brands were using a lot of anthropomorphic if not outright people figures," Lazaro told The Atlantic. "The brands were trying to communicate essentially that they were reliable, authentic, they had quality and personality. So they would have simple farmers or electricians or plumbers holding things."
Looking back, the AOL running man might be one of the most important logos in history—despite its glaring colors and clunky shape—but even when Lazaro worked for the company, AOL was already uncool. "If you can imagine a young designer going to a company like an AOL: My designer friends were like, 'What are you doing?' It's almost like going to work at Walmart."
[via The Atlantic]