There is nothing so immediate as a logo. Your logo is your stamp on the world, a visual symbol chock full of meaning that can, in an instant, reveal to your customers the authentic essence of your brand. In this sense your logo is the proverbial tip of your brand iceberg, a small but revelatory reflection of the dense complexity of what lies beneath.
How can you pack so much significance into a graphic representation that must be scalable from billboards to business cards in size? You start by doing your homework. Logos aren’t the product of whimsical imagineering sessions by third-party designers. They’re informed by brand research, and driven by strategy and positioning.
Even the simplest logo is the result of meticulous efforts to distill a brand’s core tenets. Characterized by symbolic and archetypal imagery, your logo should be inspired by insights gleaned from the brand strategy process. Ultimately, a successful logo executes strategy through design.
In short, creating a great logo ain’t easy. You have typefaces, colors, and (sometimes) symbols to work with. Using only these basic elements, a designer must create an original signature that represents profound truths about your brand.
That signature should be informed by the sequence of cognition and be highly differentiated from your competition. It needs to evoke your brand personality and convey the quirks that characterize your brand voice.
Ultimately, however, your logo should boil down to a single idea. Logos that try to convey multiple concepts are ultimately remembered for none of them.
The good news is that there’s no shortage of successful logo styles. They can be text-based or image-based, literal or symbolic, static or dynamic. It’s helpful to understand the various types of logos when embarking on the path to creating or refreshing your own.
The categories that follow aren’t exclusionary or definitive—some marks straddle the line or incorporate more than one element. But decisions as to which style will work best for your brand should be calculated and deliberate, based on research, analysis, and insight.
The 5 Types of Logos
Wordmarks are the literary stalwart of the logo typology. Whether it is your company’s formal name, or a more readily recognizable acronym, a wordmark comprises a standalone word (or words), and should be easy to read while featuring a highly distinctive typeface. In this sense, a wordmark is arguably the simplest form of brand expression. It need not rely on symbolism, but only on a meticulous fine-tuning of character dimensions and kearning.
That said, wordmarks are sometimes conceptual or pictorial in nature, representing an idea beyond just the name it spells. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, the FedEx wordmark features an arrow in the whitespace between the final two letters. Deftly suggesting forward movement and progress, the subtlety of the symbol is in fact its most powerful characteristic.
The leaner, more minimalist cousin of the wordmark, letterform marks feature a singular letter to graphically represent a brand. Because they are freestanding and don’t constitute a complete word or message, letterforms must be characterized by bold personality and significance.
Successful letterforms come to automatically and unconsciously evoke the full name of a brand in the mind of consumers. Yahoo’s “Y” and Westinghouse’s “W” are each fine examples of this type of logo.
Advantages of letterforms include their scalability; because they incorporate minimal elements they can easily be reduced for purposes of app icons, social media, and the like.
Conceptual marks draw on the power of imagery to connote the core tenets of the brands they represent. Whether they feature an easily recognizable pictorial image or a more abstract and ambiguous form, conceptual marks should be simple yet significant, and make the most of shading and negative space.
As is often the case in branding, when it comes to conceptual marks, the simpler the design the more difficult it is to execute. Because they’re equivocal by nature, conceptual marks are particularly effective for multi-divisional, service-based, and technological brands.
When a wordmark, letterform, or conceptual mark is housed within a shape that is an essential part of its identity, it is an emblematic mark. Emblematic marks often contain multiple elements, but when choosing this route it’s wise to maintain simplicity as your ultimate goal.
The downside to emblematic marks is scalability. Because the typeface or image of the mark is, by definition, contained within a fixed space, these elements can become illegible as the logo is reduced for purposes of mobile or other small media.
When it comes to branding, the words “online” and “digital” are quickly becoming tautological. There are fewer and fewer instances where your logo is not presented via digital media. This means that logos are no longer constrained by the static nature of print. They can move and morph and even take the form of miniature narratives.
When Casa Da Musica, Portugal’s Rem Kohlhaas-designed music center, needed a versatile identity, they turned to Stefan Sagmeister, who developed a dynamic mark inspired by the building’s architectural form and featuring shifting perspectives and customizable color palettes.
Choosing the right type of logo can be a daunting proposition. When you know your brand inside and out, however, the process becomes immeasurably easier. Once you understand your brand’s personality, positioning, and foundational messaging, the type of logo that will best represent it becomes more of a gut feeling than a guessing game. This level of comprehensive understanding comes only after thorough brand research and brand strategy.
By understanding the massive iceberg that is your brand, you can shape the tip so that it reflects the hulking and multifaceted breadth below the surface.