By Felix Heyes & Théo Dufaÿ
Harvey Ball was paid $45 back in the early 60s for a job that now earns its trademark owners ‘The Smiley Company’ around $130million a year.
So if you’re contemplating whether or not to copyright your work, I’d say go for it.
For those of you who don’t know the original story behind the eternally recogniseable jaundice suffering ‘Smiley’, here it is:
Back in the 60s, Harvey Ball was commissioned to create the symbol as a badge to be given to the employees of State Mutual Life Assurance (an insurance company) to help lift spirits after some difficult internal reorganisations. Apparently it took him all of 10 minutes. He didn’t copyright it.
From there(ish) Bernard and Murray Spain, owners of two Hallmark card shops in Philadelphia, were the first to commercialise the ‘Smiley’ next to the line ‘have a nice day’, selling 50m badges in the early 70s.
Then came the symbol’s journey in music culture. Which is long, and unsurprisingly full of drugs. So I’ll leave that for you to discover in your own time and skip to where it reached its commercial nirvana.
It was ‘Shoom’ club owner Danny Rampling that made the ‘Smiley’ recognisable in the way we now know it after using it on a flyer. The symbol took a few weeks to catch on, but when it did, it swept the UK as ‘the logo of acid fashion’. From here the ‘Smiley’ took on a schizophrenic nature depending on media coverage. Switching from dream symbol of youth to the face of a killer, as this music culture icon was eclipsed by news of deaths in clubs, low quality Ecstasy and Pill-Pusher turf wars.
It's next to impossible to measure the life of a symbol when you create it, and I very much doubt any of this crossed Harvey Ball’s mind when he drew it. All in all, I think it’s a great example of how such a bland icon can evolve to mean so much.