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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
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Amiga Imagery: The meaning behind the Amiga's changing image

It has been over 20 years since a small American company first associated the Amiga brand with a computer. Although the word is an everyday part of the Spanish language and has reasonable success as a brand in the music industry, it would become synomous with 16-bit computing and high-quality graphics. In this article I will be analyzing the various images that have been used to symbolize the Amiga and examines how the designs represent the state of the Amiga market and the internal politics of the owners at the time.

Amiga - Dedicated to the Science of fun (1982 - 1984)
Boing Ball - the unofficial Amiga logo (1984 - 1985)
Checker Mark (1985 - 1994)
Stylized 'A' (1985 - 1987)
Amiga  Case  design (1975 - 1995)
Commodore  Digital  Convergence  (1991 -  1992)
Post-Commodore  Logos (1996  -  Present)
Boing Ball - the official Amiga brand (1997 - Present)
Amiga - Dedicated to the Science of fun (1982 - 1984)

Amiga - dedicated to the science of fun!

The first Amiga logo was created by the American company, Hi-Torro during 1983. To avoid confusion with the lawnmower manufacturer 'Toro' the joystick designers made a strategic decision to change their name to Amiga Corporation. The Amiga name was chosen through the teams desire to move away from the typical company names of the past (such as International Business Machines) to one that would be more attractive to technophobes and non-computer users. This was smart thinking on their part, during the 1980's IBM still had the monolithic image conjuring images of room-sized computers and people in white coats. The Amiga brand became extremely important during the late 1980s when Commodore marketed the machine towards the home market.

Like its competitors Acorn and Apple, the Amiga name symbolized that computers were tools designed for the ordinary Joe or Jane to learn. The logo demonstrates the fashionable electric design of the early 1980's - the AMIGA brand being composed of a continuous red streak that symbolized a flow of electricity. At the time this would convey a level of complexity through the stylized font. The oxymoronic subtitle, 'dedicated to the science of fun' also attempts to create a unique 'seriously fun' image creating brand awareness for the company.  

It may be presumptuous to suggest 'The Power System' heading is an earlier indicator to the development of the Lorraine prototype.


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Boing Ball - the unofficial Amiga logo (1984 - 1995)
Boing Ball

To demonstrate the Amigas hardware capabilities, the bouncing Boing ball demo was written late one night at the Winter CES show in January 1984. At the time it was an amazing achievement that surpassed all current systems of the time, seamlessly handling real physics whilst multitasking in the background.
The original Amiga team preferred the Boing ball design, adopting as the unofficial trademark. Dozens of Boing Ball logos were made for the A1000 launch, until Commodore decided to use the checker mark.  It quickly became synomous with the Amiga hard-core, appearing in demos, T-shirts, and magazines.

Dr. Ryan Czerwinski of Merlancia Industries explains the origin of the Amiga Boing ball and checkmark

 

Check Mark (1985 - 1994)
Amiga Checker mark

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After the Winter CES funding was at an all-time low, forcing Amiga Corp. to seek new sources of revenue, including the option to sell the technology to the highest bidder. Several suitors were courted, including Sun, Atari, and Commodore. The latter was successful, continuing the Amiga's development. At this point in time, Commodore had been doing extremely well with the PET business computer and was attacking the 8-bit market with the Vic-20, C64, and numerous other machines. As a natural progression, the Amiga adopted several of the design and graphic characteristics that defined them as a Commodore product. This was a fair choice at the time. However, by the mid-1990's the fascination will all things electrical had fell out of fashion through a process of commodification and demystification of these items.

The most obvious change was the prominence of the Commodore name on the A1000 case. A raised impression of the name and "chicken-head" logo showed exactly who manufactured and sold the machine. Above this was the newly redesigned AMIGA logo, in a custom-Times New Roman font. Commodore had adopted the name of the Amiga Corporation for the computer, replacing the original 'Lorraine' project name. The new Commodore-Amiga also had a new trademark of a multi-coloured checkmark. The rainbow colours of the design symbolized the advanced graphic chipset that lay at the heart of the Amiga. In a time when the Apple Mac could only handle black and white graphics and the IBM PC was a text-based monstrosity, this was an important promotional technique. However, it did not get the recognition that it deserved in comparison to the Apple logo or Atari's 'pitchfork' design.

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Whilst the checkmark appears to be a new development it firmly routes the Amigas origin in the range of Commodore machines that had been released during the past 10 years. The rainbow effect is a characteristic Commodore design that had been used in the past to a lesser degree with the C64, to create an impression of ease of use and power. To a degree this was Commodore's interpretation of the Amiga, not to be treated as a separate product for a different, high-end market but as a continuation of the Commodore 8-bit line onto 16-bit. It had worked in the past so why change their market and potential userbase? This trend was continued with a marketing style that can only be described as... interesting. Commodore did not know where to place the Amiga; it was too expensive for their traditional low-end games market, yet in their eyes it was a killer games machine. This lead to a great deal of confusion between selling for a home market or the professional.

Let us fast forward a few years to the next most notable change in the Amiga design. The A500+ had been launched with Kickstart 2.04 as standard, a professional looking system that allowed lower-end Amigas to be just as usable as higher-end models. The checkmark was moved into the ROM, re-emerging on the boot screen, where it would exist for the remainder of the "Classic" Amigas' life.
TOP Stylized 'A' (1985 - 1987)
Style A Mark
In addition to the checker mark discussed above, early documentation came emblazoned with a stylized 'A'. This was a 3D variant of the standard Amiga logo font. Its multimedia abilities were highlighted in this design through its placement under a stage spotlight. The design was dropped soon after the release of the A1000 with a greater emphasis on the checkermark.

 

Amiga Watermark (1989 - 1993)

Watermark
It is uncertain when the first watermark appeared. The first recognizable image was on the cover of the A500 manual where it cast a rainbow effect over the 'A500' name. The colours create the impression that they are brush strokes on a canvas - a distinct and immediately recognizable design, echoing back to Andy Warhols' presence at the launch of the A1000 and the Amiga concept of painting on-screen 'canvases'.
WB2 Watermark

For the release of Workbench 2 in 1989 it was moved to a prominent place on the manuals and disks. As you can see on the image (right), the impression of a rainbow plays very strongly but is not as impressive as the first design. It seems simpler and removed the warm affect of the orange.

WB3.0 Watermark

The image changed again with the release of Workbench 3, returning to the  paint metaphor. This emphasized the immensely powerful AGA chipset with its capability of displaying 256,000 colours onscreen. At this point Deluxe Paint had become the standard art package, resulting in many professionals associating the Amiga with computer art.
The image takes on a darker mood with contrasting colours being placed together. This is quite a sharp, distinct look that manages to convey a sense of strength. The WB3 colour splash also appeared on the AmigaOS 3.1 manuals but the disks reverted back to the rainbow effect of WB2.0.

When Gateway bought the Amiga the disks and box were redesigned again abandoning the colour splash and using a number of small squares. This is probably the last time that the colour splash will be used on the Amiga packaging rendering it an image of the past.

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Amiga  Case  design (1975 - 1995)
Commodore 64C

Commodore 64C

Commodore Amiga 500

Commodore Amiga 500


The Commodore heritage is not only evident in the logo but the whole 'wedge' look of the Commodore Amiga systems. A heritage that has been rejected by many current Amiga owners in favour of placing their machines in a tower case. The design choice was based upon a decision made in 1975 - ten years before the Amiga was launched - by Jack Tramiel after making a loss of $5 million. Learning from this error, he chose not to rely on outside suppliers again, designing subsequent products in-house. (To read more about this event go to the Commodore History). 

As shown by the associated images, the console all-in-one design of low-end Amigas is a progression on the earlier Commodore 8-bit design, even down to the gaps at the top of the system to allow air to circulate. The general layout of the A500 keyboard has a similar design, taking into account the space required for extra keys. The keyboard also gains a more professional feel to it, making it more useful for a home-office than the C64. The addition of a numeric keypad, extra function keys, and drive lights attempt to provide some additional functionality, providing real-world benefits rather than the aesthetic features that Commodore viewed them.

When the A500 was launched the checkmark that had played such an important part on the A1000 casing temporarily went missing. It could be found on the packaging but was not present on the Kickstart 1.x boot screen or the actual A500 casing. All that graced the machine was the word 'Amiga' embedded into the top of the casing, as well as the Commodore 'chickenhead' symbol and the name of the machine (A500). This played a major part in Commodores' plan to associate the Amiga with Commodore and all that they stood for as well as marking a turning point in their attitude towards Amiga. This time the Amiga was sold on its own merits rather than the Commodore brand name.

However, whilst these designs were fine for earlier 8-bit models it is a topic of debate whether the Amiga should have been graced by their inclusion. In particular, the A1200 should have had a more professional look using a pizza box design, a less-expandable desktop case with an external keyboard. This had been moderately successful with many of the Apple 68k machines and would have made it more attractive to an office environment. This may have helped to move the Amiga away from the game console image that it gained during the late 1980's.


A600 A1200

During 1991 and 1992 Commodore used surface mount technology that reduced the hardware size further. This tactic produced the A600 and A1200 - two low-end machines that offered new technology in a familiar wedge-like case. In particular, the A600 design removed the numeric keypad and shrank the keyboard to C64 proportions. The result was a severely cut down A500 that retailed at exactly the same price.


The last Amiga computer to be launched - the A1200 - followed a similar trend with a distinctive look.  Fortunately, the cream-coloured casing had been replaced in favour of a white-professional looking design that improved on the rounded edges of the A500. The moulded AMIGA logo also returned into the case.

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Commodore  Digital  Convergence  (1991 -  1992)
CDTV

During the 1990's it finally dawned on Commodore that they should begin to alter the basic design of the Amiga. Their solution was the CDTV - a black unit inspired by the video player - that was aimed at a market that would be known as the 'Digital Convergence' market. The CDTV was designed to be a home entertainment unit rather than a computer, blending with the stereo and the TV, hence the black design. In their attempt to distinguish the machine from the standard Amiga, Commodore insisted that it must be located a few meters away from other desktops. While it looked the part, the machine flopped as a result of its high price tag, disappointing system specs and a misunderstanding market: Amiga owners did not buy it as it was not sold as a computer and lacked Amiga references; while ordinary customers did not buy it because it was not a computer. 

In retrospect the machine was ahead of its time, aiming towards a market that would not solidify until the late 1990s. Audio compact discs were just catching onto the market, it was not until 1994 that CD-ROM really took off in significant number. Its low-processing capabilities also limited its ability to catch the publics imagination.

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Post-Commodore  Logos (1996  -  Present)
Beehive design Contender 1. The Beehive
Dianetrics Diametrics logo
When Commodore went bust the Amiga trademark disappeared and the checkmark became a thing of the past. The Commodore-Amiga tag had been so successful in associating the company with the system that most people thought the Amiga was dead. This was a problem encountered by  Escom when they bought the Amiga - how to redefine the Amiga's position as a computer looking to the future. The first stage of this process was to separate the Commodore Amiga brand name into two distinct businesses - Commodore BV for branded PCs, and Amiga Technologies for the Amiga. This separated the Commodore and Amiga name, forcing them to progress on completely different paths.

The second stage of the Amiga's rebirth was the need to develop a new corporate image that was not linked to the past. Under the new slogan 'Amiga- Back for the future', Amiga Technologies announced the new Amiga logo - nicknamed the Beehive or Christmas tree design by Amiga fans. 

Contender 1. The Beehive
The Beehive logo was presented at the first Amiga Technologies GmbH press conference. It was part of the design for several Amiga 4000 tower cases that were displayed.

A few months later an individual named Karl Jeacle found an advert for Dianetics and commented on Usenet that their logo looked exactly the same to the Amiga. Using the subtitle of 'The modern science of mental health' it is hardly the image that a computer that is trying to make its way back into the limelight should portray.


Look at the red square Winner. The wordmark

Contender 2. The Red Square

As a result of the questionable design promoted by the beehive design, Amiga Technologies issued a second wave of designs, choosing an Amiga wordmark. In a press release FrogDesign stated the new logo would create a positive response:

"The Amiga Wordmark evokes both a classic and elegant feel as well as modern look. Bodoni, the font selected to build upon is a classic font. Further refinements involving the manipulation and subtraction of serifs and the addition of the red square create a progressive, yet elegant logo. The red square represents technology and adds energy to the logo by implying a sense of motion.''

The new logo has a very European feel to it, and is partially based upon the design principles of the Escom trademark. They both share the same colour scheme but use them to create different moods. The black text of the AMIGA creates a bold and strong impression with the red square giving an interesting angle to the work. Or it could be crap.

For better or worse, the wordmark logo has accompanied the Amiga beyond the Escom era, becoming an important image during the Gateway tenure and the current Amiga Inc. generation.

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Boing Ball - the official Amiga brand (1997 - Present)
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After Escom went into liquidation the Amiga was bought by Gateway who also wanted to add their own original slant on the Amiga. After examining numerous images of the Amigas past they settled on the use of the Boing Ball, from the first Amiga demo. After 13 years, the Boing Ball became the official logo, finally banishing the ghost of the Amiga checkmark. The Amiga wordmark was incorporated into the design, symbolizing a rebirth of the original Amiga ideals and a combination with the new. The curved line below the Boing Ball creates a certain sense of motion as well as creating an unconscious smile to the image (as shown by the Mac logo, many feel that the smiling face invites non-computer users to use the machine). As a contrast the original boing ball is shown, taken from the AMosaic web browser, that shows how the image has gained a modern edge through the adoption of light source and a gradient on the red.

It almost seems as if the Amiga has come fall circle, recreating the original ideas and feelings associated with the Amiga before Commodore, Escom, and VisCorp. The Boing ball has changed from an impressive demo to a representation of the whole Amiga philosophy.
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Last Update: 23/02/2002
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