Design for Success: The 5 Logo Types

When you are starting a business or begin the stages of re-branding your business you may find yourself asking the question How do I develop the best possible branding and logo for my business? This is a common problem and it is not easy to find a straightforward answer. This is one of many issues that people face when beginning their branding journey, so we have tried to break it down for you in our Design for Success blog series. This first iteration explains a few core concepts like what is a logo, what are the 5 main logo categories and what are the benefits and disadvantages of each type of logo.


What is a logo?

By definition, a logo is a symbol or other design adopted by an organization to identify its products, vehicles, uniforms, etc. Logos are designed for recognition of a business, group, or event, and they are used to reinforce the identity around or within an organization. Your logo acts as the face of your company and it will give your consumers their first impression of your business. The imagery, font, or colours you use in your design will cause people to make assumptions about the services or products that you provide. The category that your logo falls into may also affect what people will expect from you and your organization. Let’s get into it!

1. Symbol / Icon

Simple stands the test of time, and icon-based logos are normally simple yet bold. Think about Twitter’s logo: A flat blue silhouette of a bird. Writing that out makes it sound pretty boring, but we recognize that icon right away because it is easily identifiable. We know that little blue bird represents Twitter. Why is it so easy to remember? Because it’s straightforward and it is universally accessible. Think about the symbol for a house. You’re probably imaging a square with a triangle on top to represent the roof. The house symbol is not exclusive to you or your community; millions of people across the globe know what that symbol means. Without the need to spell it out, your icon-based logo can reach larger audiences, regardless of language barriers. Don’t be fooled: Simple does not mean bad or cheap. Simple logos make it easier for people to identify your brand and makes it easier for you to reach those people. Some of the largest companies in the world make money from their icon-based logos. Twitter, Nike, Apple, and Shell, just to name a few.

2. Wordmarks

Wordmarks are exactly like what they sound. These logos are a word, normally the name of your company (although, your company may have many logos to represent certain products, lines of products, or services). Wordmarks are font-based, and those who design wordmarks will often create a custom font for the company’s logo. These custom fonts can either be made from scratch, based off of existing fonts, or simply altered existing font (ie. changing height or width of characters). This is where amateur designers (or their clients) can fall into trouble. Make sure you have the rights to use the font in your logo. There are many fonts that are available for free online, but the font maker may stipulate that it is for personal use only. Wordmarks can also be strong and easily identified, but they can also create language barriers. For example, if you run a company in an English-speaking area, your wordmark logo may not make sense to people in an Arabic-speaking country. That being said, maybe your business does not have a demographic outside the country in which you operate. The future scale of your organization may affect your choice in this matter. However, there are many successful companies with wordmarks: Google, Facebook, Disney, Virgin, FedEx, Ebay, L’Oreal and more.

Fun fact: Coca-Cola has international logo variants! Their famous script-based logo is rendered in different ways in different locales.

3. Lettermark

Lettermarks are very similar to wordmarks, but they are made up of — you guessed it — letters rather than a full word. Lettermark logos typically use the initials of the company, and it is a good choice for companies with long or hard to pronounce names. The designer takes the initials, or acronym, and turns the letters into a unique design. Depending on how the design is rendered, this can help to make lettermarks more universally recognizable than wordmarks. However, there are a few caveats with lettermarks. First, you will have to put in extra effort to convey the intent of your organization. Because you do not have an icon or word to tell the consumer what it is that you provide, you will have to initiate additional marketing strategies to clearly communicate your message. Second, you need to make sure that the characters in the initials look good together. The initials may also create an unintentional second meaning. For example, my father’s old elementary school, the Albert Street School, used their initials in their lettermark logo. What does that spell? Yeah… Needless to say, they rebranded. Successful, beautifully designed lettermarks carry the weight of many well-known brands, including CNN, BBC, and H&M.

4. Combination

A combination logo is a lettermark or wordmark AND symbol. This is a great option for well-established brands because it offers versatility, allowing the organization to use different elements of the logo separately. In addition, succinct text can compliment the symbol by clearly communicating what it is that your organization offers. For example, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both use combination logos, and although the icon of their logos may not sum up what they do, the accompanying name brings things together perfectly. There a couple things to watch out for when creating combination logos. It is easy to become a little over zealous when designing these logos. The more elements we add to a design, the more apt we may be to add too many details or too much information. The best combination logos are clear and easy to understand, with all the elements of the design being harmonious with one another. No font, colour, or shape should feel out of place or unnecessary. Rule of Thumb: If an element does not improve the design as a whole, get rid of it! Cut the clutter; simplicity offers clarity and timelessness.

5. Emblem defines an emblem as “a heraldic device or symbolic object as a distinctive badge of a nation, organization, or family.” For example, your family crest is a type of emblem, and emblem logos are often seen as a crest-like shape. The important distinction between an emblem and a combination is that there are not separate elements of an emblem that can be used independently from each other. The text is part of the icon/symbol and therefore cannot be separated. For the sake of versatility, companies using an emblem logo may consider using sub mark (or “sub logo”), the design of which is a simplified derivative of the main logo, or simply takes one recognizable element of the logo. Other companies without emblem logos may make use of a submark, but it is especially useful for those using an emblem. Like the combination, designing an emblem is easy to overwork. Many emblems can seem busy, using too many shapes and colours, or rendering the text in such a way that it is hard to read. On the other hand, a well-designed emblem conveys strength, power, and historical significance. Companies such as Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, and Porsche use an emblem logo as part of their brand with great success.

There you have it. Icons/symbols, wordmarks, lettermarks, combinations, and emblems all come with their own strengths and potential downfalls. It takes a knowledgeable design expert to craft a logo for the success of your business. Do your research and pick the category that works best for your company’s brands, products, and marketing strategies. And remember; a simple logo is a good logo.

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