75 Years in Design - Down the lane of The Desi Branding

75 Years in Design - Down the lane of The Desi Branding

From the "centaur" logo design of Air India by J.R.D Tata in 1946 that recounts it to be one of the primary examples of what we know today as professional branding to the influx of creative studios across the nation erupting the conventional settlements of aesthetics, the evolution of brand designs in India is reflective of its economical, cultural and societal development. And, nonetheless, we are very much proud of it.

The Origin Tale

You can't really spell 'Design' without 'desi', can you?

The story of Indian brands is an arch of crooked neck watching over the bird's eye view and this tale goes back in time as far as the dawn of independence.

In the Era of Freedom - 1950s:

If we retrace our steps into the world of design, we find that the overlapping claws of creativity were, primarily, used to recognize the New India - the Independent India in the form of Ashoka Chakra. During the preliminary stages of newly won independence, design in India was attributed to national symbols, icons, etc.

Yet, slightly around this time, as the nation was enthralled by the newly accomplished spirit of freedom, Indian branding accounted for its first professionally curated brand design in the name of Air India. Established in 1946, the national flying carrier, Air India, introduced its remarkably iconic centaur logo commissioned by none other than J.R.D Tata.

Artwork by Michael Parkin during his India trip
Artwork by Michael Parkin during his India trip| www.parkinparkin.com

The era of independence came along with a vivacious gust of developmental work taken up by the government, especially in the public sectors including transport, power, and steel. These nation-building processes provided India's design core an opportunity to create unique visual identities and find its element of attraction toward consumer marketing.

Indian government jumped right into the playground by hiring professional designers for the growing sectors and respective companies looking to structure their identity in India. The focus was on the basic constituents of a brand - logo, packaging, and marketing dynamics.

As the Indian economy gained momentum, the country observed notable emerging players who later on, championed the branding business like nobody. These brands were Tata and Bajaj.

Rise of Domestic Industries - 1960s-1970s:

By the 1960s, domestic industries also rose to the occasion accommodating middle-class families in India. This resulted in a number of private companies with entrepreneurial caliber ruling the sectors of consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Brands like Amul, Godrej, and Bajaj did the job extraordinarily well.

This was also the era of graphic designers like Satyajit Ray and R.K. Laxman who pioneered a series of brand logos that has not lost its essence among the desi crowd even now.

This era is also remarked as the advent of modernism in India's branding industry. With the rise of entrepreneurial quintessence, the jovial desi designers of the 60s were adapting minimalist geometric shapes for brand identities.

Diving into aesthetics: 1980s - 1990s

This era marks the affluence of Indian consumers and international influence on Indian brands. Companies like Infosys, Wipro, and Reliance encapsulate the brand pitch board of India moving towards the contemporary design trends of this age.

With the reiteration of German's successful venture into the four-wheeler personal mode of transport of Volkswagen, Maruti 800 was introduced to middle-class families as their own desi version of mobility in 1983.

This was around the time when the demands were being met with the accessibility of product designs.

And, in this very age, India moved onto a rather global viewpoint of brand designs. The Western and European design trends heavily rejuvenated a new wave of branding. With the emphasis on vibrant colors, contrasting backgrounds, typographical experiments, and articulated graphics, brands like Airtel and Titan (watches) defined this new era of design.

The 2000s

By the time we reached the year 2000, India was reaching an evolved height of globalization. And with this global exposure, the cultural soul of India revived itself through brand designs as the companies started including the traditional desi delineation in design patterns like henna or paisley.

While Taj Hotels was set to win international recognition, we had Ray + Keshavan rise to the occasion with a prodigious reputation in the client list including Infosys, Dabur, and Hindustan Lever. Sujata Keshavan, the co-founder, is well-known for concocting the logo of Ashoka University.

The 2010's marked the resurgence of rebranding era - from Airtel to India Post.

With the rapid growth of brand designers, the collaborative clientele expectations are met with results that shake our dispositions and push us towards a new house of creative realness.

From here on, India has been relentlessly outgrowing its stereotypical coop and reforming the kernel of design through an abundant influx of creative brands. The current generation of design has the chic strategy to grasp the trends early in the game.

The Revisiting Avenue

As we move towards a stunning 75 years in Design, we commemorate the iconic brands of India and give you an update on what they have been onto, lately! So, gear up your snoopy engines as we take a ride into the revisiting avenue as follows:

1. Amul

Origins Log:

Founded in -1946 by Tribhuvandas Patel


In the true realm of patriotism, Amul rose to the occasion in 1946 through the endeavors of a social activist from Gujarat in order to emancipate dairy farmers from intermediaries and enhance their economic conditions.

In 1960, Amul launched its iconic mascot, Amul Girl, which changed the course of advertising campaigns across the globe. It takes a real genius to establish a brand's esteemed identity through generations, and the branding duo of Eustace Fernandes (Amul logo) and Sylvester DaCunha (Amul copy) deserves all the appreciation they receive. Sylvester DaCunha left Amul girl in tears on 20th June 2023.

Rebranding Update:

In 2019, Amul went under a makeover process. The goal was to create a modern look of this classic brand.

Progress Log:

Making an exception with the renowned Amul girl, the rest of the design had a finessing session to sketch a cleaner look.

Along with the design, the Amul tagline, "Taste of India" has now become 'Taste of India since 1946".

2. Amrutanjan

Origins Log:

Founded in -1893 by Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao Pantulu


Born out of Chennai, Amrutanjan is a household name in South India and more so, all over India. You can not possibly miss the memorable jingle, "Aah se aah tak" of this pain relieving product, as going by the history sheet of Indian advertisements. Amrutanjan is one of the first Indian brands to devise ads on idiot boxes.

The man behind Amrutanjan Healthcare, Nageswara Rao, was a journalist and freedom fighter. Prominently, he used a creative hack to advertise his product by selling Amrutanjan at music concerts, free-of-cost. This effectively made the brand famous.

Rebranding Update:

Amrutanjan has undergone multiple rebrandings over the years. From the contemporary rejuvenation to signing the legendary actor, Mithun Chakraborty, for the advertising campaign, this brand has kept its pace along the ever-changing shape of the design world.

Progress Log:

In 2011, Amrutanjan introduced a new logo and tagline. The new logo has the brand name in cursive typography with the tagline - "Pure healthy essence". This design is set to exude a youthful and modern look, ensuring a connection with a younger key demographic.

3. MTR Foods

Origins Log:

Founded in -1924 by the Maiya Brothers (Yajnanarayana Maiya and Ganappayya Maiya)


MTR is the story of the Maiya Brothers who started one of the leading food companies in India from scratch. What started as a small restaurant in Bangalore by the name of Mavalli Tiffin Room became a multimillion brand.

Mavalli Tiffin Room was known for its delicious taste and ultra-hygienic standards of cooking practices. In 1975, during a period of national emergency, restaurants were enforced to cut down the prices of their food services. But, instead of compromising the quality of food, MTR planned to begin an entrepreneurial journey. This is where the era of foods in packets came into existence.

As of 2023, MTR is commemorating its 99 years of legacy; closest to hitting a century of indomitable reputation in the branding world.

Being one of the few sellers of packaged foods in India, MTR Foods have expanded to different countries over the years including Australia, USA, Singapore, United Kingdom, Malaysia, etc. In 2002, MTR established even a franchise, MTR Super Shops.

Later, in 2018, MTR launched a series of breakfast mixes which raised its popularity prominently during the post-pandemic period. Jumping into the ready-to-eat food category is a great example of how MTR has been following the progressive credentials that lie amongst the consumer diaries - somewhere along the lines of millennials and Generation Z.

Rebranding Update:

The rebranding phase is an inevitable factor for a brand existing for almost 100 years. And, so is the brand journey of MTR. In the years 2007, 2011, 2016, and 2018, the makeover sessions are categorically divided into a full-on rebranding process and new creative advertisement campaigns, respectively.

Progress Log:

In 2016, Elephant Design worked on the MTR rebranding project. The highlight of this redesign was to achieve a minimally organized logo and packaging design.

While retaining the original visual identity with the peculiar red colour, Elephant Design used Sans-serif font for an updated version of the brand. A fresh set of nomenclature and colour-coded packaging was pulled out of the brainstorming session to produce a candid and confident outlook for the evolved consumer demographic.

Elephant Design - MTR Breakfast - Range
Elephant Design - MTR Breakfast - Range
Elephant Design - MTR Breakfast
Elephant Design - MTR Breakfast

4. Maruti Suzuki

Origins Log:

Founded in -1981 by Maruti Suzuki India Limited (a joint undertaking of Government of India and Suzuki Motor Corporation)


The name, Maruti Suzuki, is a brand combination of two separate ventures - Maruti Udyog Limited and Suzuki Motor Corporation, brought together to change the face of transportation mode in India in the 1980s.

In 1983, Maruti Suzuki launched its first car, Maruti 800 and the rest is history. Maruti 800 was an instant hit among Indians at the time. We bet most of our family's first-ever bought car was Maruti 800!

Over the course of the next 5 years, Maruti Suzuki launched different models - from Omni, Maruti Gypsy to Maruti 1000, India's first Sedan car. In 2016, Maruti Suzuki launched its first compact SUV at Auto Expo 2016, Vitara Brezza, along with the Super Carry mini truck.

Rebranding Update:

In recent years, the rebranding phase of Maruti Suzuki can be divided in three parts in the following years - 2012, 2018 and 2020.

In 2012, Maruti Suzuki introduced a brand new logo with a customized 'S' in orange colour. Later, in 2015, the company launched a new advertisement campaign with the tagline, "Way of Life" to showcase to its customers the everlasting commitment of the brand.

Logo in 2012
Logo in 2012
Logo in 2015
Logo in 2015

Progress Log:

In 2018, Maruti Suzuki introduced a new tagline to relay the spirit of innovation to its key demographics, "Experience Change".

By 2020, the company raised its branding bars by introducing a new logo and tagline. This time, the stylized font of 'S' was caricatured in blue colours.

Prominently, Maruti Suzuki has embraced the practical phenomenon of sustainability with the tagline, "Mission Green Million" which also determines the brand's goal to sell a million green cars.

5. Godrej

Origins Log:

Founded in - 1897 by the Godrej Brothers - Ardeshir Godrej and Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej


Starting out as a small lock business, it is almost unprecedented to foretell the massive success that Godrej has achieved over the decades as a brand. The foreboding setup of Godrej, during its earliest phase, was in Mumbai. Godrej brothers started out expanding their business to household goods, refrigerators, electrical appliances and typewriters during the early 20th Century.

First logo in 1897
First logo in 1897

As Godrej is defined as a conglomerate company, the era of independence (1947-1970) also marked the era of diversification for Godrej as a business brand.

Prominently, in 1950s, Godrej entered into different sectors, such as agricultural products, industrial engineering equipment, office essentials and accessories, and soap manufacturing. Not just this, they also established themselves within the real estate sector, grabbing the attention of desi consumers and becoming a household name.

The expansion saga of Godrej further flourished itself to international countries such as Argentina, United States and Indonesia. These international markets were consequences of acquisitions and partnership projects.

Apart from this, what truly makes Godrej one of the most powerful organisations in India is its innovative and sustainable elements. The Godrej group has been ahead of its time in practicing sincerely creative ideas shaping a better world as well as cultivating the spirit of indigenous entrepreneurship.

Remember, most of our homes had their first advanced refrigerators from Godrej brand. In the same realm, Godrej has introduced India to a lot of its firsts kind of technology.

From the first indigenous typewriter in 1958 to being first company introducing Polyurethane foam in India - Godrej Group has dipped its business foot into being a responsibly aware brand way back into the time when climate awareness was not that esteemed amongst the common people.

From the time period of 2000-2010, Godrej concentrated on reducing carbon emissions by creating green buildings. In the meantime, they also entered the aerospace and healthcare sectors.

Rebranding Update:

For a brand that has stayed indomitably thriving for 125 years, the records state that Godrej has undergone a major revamping phase in 2008. Likely with the massive success and recognition that they received, this conglomerate business needed to find its own space within the changing and developing consumer demographics and the contemporary attitude.

Progress Log:

In 2008, owing to the long running criticism about Godrej brand giving off "grandmother's almirah" vibes, Godrej finally landed itself on the rebranding platform.

The original logo in black or red with stylised G is transformed into a mutlicoloured sleek design with curved outlines at the bottom. This new logo, undoubtedly, appeals to the younger generation of Godrej's consumer stats. This prismatic logo design is an assent to innovation, progressive state of mind and agility of Godrej's century long branding saga.

Along with logo, 2008 also marked a new company tagline,"Brighter Living" to reflect upon the new brand direction and brand architecture. The revamping of 2008 brand architecture represents a new holistic approach manufacturing which impacts a healthy and sustainable lifestyle of its consumers. In retrospect, the freshly established chapter of Godrej has been showcased through its ad campaigns which focuses more on storytelling, communicating with audience on emotional level and connecting with their aspirations.

6. Aditya Birla Group

Origins Log:

Founded in - 1857 by Seth Shiv Narayan Birla


The story of one of the largest multi-national conglomerates in India goes back to a small town of Rajasthan, Pilani. A small cotton trading business set up by Seth Shiv Narayan Birla, the man of the hour, in late 19th century led to a gradual expansion of the Aditya Birla Group.

As the popular saying goes one small step at a time, from setting up a mill in 1919 and venturing their business to textiles industry, the infant version of ABG was slowly moving towards its evolved phased under the captaincy of Ghanshyam Das Birla, son of Shiv Narayan Birla.

With establishment of first rayon plant in India in 1954, the Birla group expanded itself into sectors such as, cement, chemicals, aluminum and telecommunication in 1960s.

The most characteristic feature of Birla group is its leadership hierarchy and the persistent development it has culminated for the brand. After the death of the founder in 1938, Aditya Vikram Birla took the guiding reins of company and proceeded to work on its expansion and ensured a global recognition.

As the third generation made its successive footprints in the form of Kumar Mangalam Birla (son of Aditya Birla), the company aquired new heights of diversification. Under the chairmanship of Kumar Mangalam Birla, Birla family introduced itself to telecommunications, finances as well as market retailings throughout 1990s.

Along with this, the international presence grew even stronger with acquisition of Novelis Incorporation.

Today, Aditya Birla Group has a brand portfolio including, Aditya Birla Capital, Birla Carbon, Hindalco, Ultra Tech Cement, Grasim and Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, having its brand presence across 26 countries.

VGC - Aditya Birla Group - Brand Architecture
VGC - Aditya Birla Group - Brand Architecture

Rebranding Update:

ABG is nearly spanning over 166 years, and have undergone three major phases of rebranding with its logo at the core in 1996, 2011 and 2016.

A 20-year long relationship with renowned branding agency, Vyas Giannetti Creatives culminates with a freshly designed look of Aditya Birla Group in 2016.

VGC - Aditya Birla Group - Logo Evolution
VGC - Aditya Birla Group - Logo Evolution

Progress Log:

One of the striking difference which makes the 2016 rendition of Birla Group brand logo stand out from the previous versions is the amalgamation of brand language and smoothening of edges of spectral lines in the original logo. Staying true to the colour palette, the 2016 refurbishment has the finesse and feel of kaleidoscopic pattern.

This solidifies the ABG's brand purpose as well as its strong interest towards connecting with contemporary market and young consumers.

Click here for a detailed case study of the rebranding of the Aditya Birla Group..

7. Hamdard

Origins Log:

Founded in - 1906 by Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed


The name, Hamdard is made up of Persian words, Ham meaning friendship or companionship and Dard meaning pain. When put together, it refers to the indomitable mission of the brand Hamdard. So, let us go back to the year 1906 in Delhi - the time and place where it all started...

Hamdard was created by Hakeem Hafiz Abdul MaJeed in 1906. Hakeem Abdul Majeed, a famous physician, was a practitioner of Unani medicine and herbs, traditionally originated and practiced in Greece and later, it flourished further to Persia and India

Since the characteristic feature of Unani medicinal system is to prioritise the use of natural ingredients for human health and well-being applications, Majeed set out to create richly upgraded Unani medicines for remedies, during its early years, which became highly popular among people. It led to define the holistic and sustainable approach towards health problems in India.

We all remember Rooh Afza - the red coloured herbal cooling drink which we used to serve everytime we had guests at our home. Rooh Afza is a product of Hamdard, introduced in 1907. And so is Safi, a blood purifying drink.

Later, throughout 1950s and 1970s, Hamdard had a constant elevation and expansion process. Although after the partition of India in 1947, the brand faced challenges to keep up, but it was soon handled by Majeed's son, Hakeem Abdul Hameed who went on to establish Hamdard Dawakhana and ensure the sustainability of the company among people.

Hamdard Dawakhana was revamped as Hamdard Laboratories in 1972 to inculcate diversification of the brand with a freshly cuarted product range. Today, Hamdard is a global brand with an excellent reputation spanning over the period of 117 years in countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Bangladesh.

Rebranding Update:

The rebranding chronicles of Hamdard is multi-layered and has occurred persistently over the years implementing different aspects of a brand architecture.

While the very first rebranding goes back to 1950s with the change in company name as Hamdard Laboratories instead of Hamdard Dawakhana, there has been consecutive follow-ups in later years around 1960s with expansion of their flagship products, awareness based brand marketing campaigns and globalisation in 2000s and advancement of manufacturing process throughout 2010s.

Progress Log:

One of the most notable rebranding of Hamdard is of 2016's tagline. Making one of the major steps towards Youth-isation of brand, Hamdard introduced the new tagline for its forerunner, Rooh Afza - "Greed is an art".

There is a significant logo evolution of Hamdard. The brand name written in red encompassed in a black rectangular frame with circular edges and overlapping ends is the most common one. Latest occurrence shows a rather minimalist version too.

In 2020, Hamdard broke out of its conventional shell and hit the social media stage to reinvent its consumer demographics. While the marketing team at Hamdard made sure to provide ease of accessibility, the company has set out to launch a research team in 2018. This, in turn, ensures the scientific backbone requires to connect with intelligent customers.

Campaign launched in 2021
Campaign launched in 2021

This, in turn, has also created an impactful portfolio for the brand and entrusted the younger generation with information required to decide before consumption.

8. Dabur

Origins Log:

Founded in - 1884 by Dr. S.K.Burman


In 1884, an Ayurveda practitioner who goes by the name of S.K. Burman sets up a small pharmacy in the city of Joy, Kolkata, which goes on to become one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in India.

The "once upon a time" tale goes as a physician strolls around the streets of Bengal on his bicycle carrying a medicine satchel to sell. The name Dabur is a confluence of words, Daktar (Doctor) and Burman, roughly translating to Doctor Burman.


With the prime focus on ayurvedic formulations, S.K. Burman initiated the launch of a series of products, mainly Chyawanprash and Hajmola in 1900s. These products were an instant hit and is still popular among the Indian consumers.

With the success and newly gained reputation of a qualitative brand, Dabur moved ahead towards expansion and diversification with products like Dabur Amla Hair oil, Dabur Honey and Dabur Toothpaste. This expansion added even bigger positive impact on the brand portfolio.

With the concept of ayurveda entering the threshold of gigantic industry sector of personal care and food items also marked the advent of ancient Indian Ayurvedic practices into the modern mainstream market as well as put it on the map of global recognition.

Though as a brand, Dabur has ensured consistent innovation and modernisation of its manufacturing process as well as marketing campaigns, it has remained true to its identity and purpose for past 139 years. With social initiatives in terms of education and sustainability, the brand has taken the Corporate Social Responsibility quite seriously.

Rebranding Update:

Outlining the brand architecture of Dabur, over the course of the century, this company has rebranded itself prominently based on its progressing demographic. Primarily, the expansion of Dabur since 1936, after being incorporated as private limited, with staple products like Anmol, Vatika, Real, Hajmola, etc. has undergone makeovers, but with a consistent logo change as well as advertising campaigns.

Progress Log:

In 2004, the old logo of Dabur in bold red font with banyan tree was replenished as a vibrant design with the brand name in green colour. The new logo is a combination of orange and green colour. It also has a creative caricature of banyan tree with leaves in green while the branches are represented by three people in illustrative form.

Along with this, Dabur team conceptualized an additional tagline which commemorates and appeals to the youth of India - Celebrate Life.

Apart from this, in 2009, Dabur introduced a new logo for its product, Dabur Honey. Featuring a red eye symbolic of "eye of good health", this new logo is spotlighted on every product range.

The impressive trait of a brand is to never lose its soul and purpose. And, this is very much applicable for Dabur. Throughout the Herculean task of having to carry the legacy, it has yet remained loyal to its roots and ayurvedic practices without compromising the quality of its formulation.

Before we leave the nostalgia lane..

It is amusing to see your childhood brands outgrow and find better ways to exhibit creativity along the evolving audience who seek to channel their consumer experiences through these brands.

In hindsight, the Indian branding journey is as rich as its history of gaining Independence. The classic brands reflect on the political and economic conditions of the country at the dawn of freedom and the way Bharat rose like a phoenix to present its unique design identity to the world.

If we are any more farsighted, we believe the classic desi brands will keep reigning, redefining, redeeming, and rebranding themselves seamlessly to meet at the contemporary bays of innovation as well as to let the customers' bond stay tight and the desi brand pillars stay strong!

Creative Gaga