There are no hard and fast rules for which type of logo you should use for your business, but each type has different variables to consider and knowing what there are can help you to narrow down the best option for you.
Showing examples are always helpful in a post like this, but to avoid using the same ones you see over and over again in other posts covering similar topics, I’m going to embrace the Aussie in me and only feature logos from the land of kangaroos.
By the way, you might be interested in the logo design checklist — get your free download here, so you can make sure you’ve got all the key design principles covered in your logo.
Before we continue, why do you need a logo, anyway?
Before getting into which type you need, I want to cover why a logo is something you need at all. Starting at the basics — what is a logo? We use the word logo to mean some kind of mark that is used to represent a brand. It’s not the brand itself, but it is a part of the brand.
A brand, of course, is something every business needs (here’s a different post on that topic), and at the core if it branding is about distinguishing your business from your competition. It’s how you can stand out, show people what you do, and communicate why they should care.
A logo is like the face of your brand. Used successfully, it comes to embody everything your brand represents. People who see your logo associate it with who you are, what you do and why. It creates a visual consistency between various touchpoints and builds awareness and recognition of your business.
What are the different types of logos?
Here are the 7 the types of logos I’m going to cover:
- pictorial marks
- abstract marks
- combination marks
Pretty much as it sounds, this type of logo is made up of a word e.g. the name of the business. Think Google, Coca-Cola and Netflix (or look below for my Australian-specific examples).
Wordmarks put the name of the brand they represent at the front and centre. Their simplicity makes them easy to understand and there’s a certain quality of confidence that comes from a mark where the name alone is shown to be enough to hold up a brand’s identity, in my opinion anyway.
Wordmarks are a great choice if you want to put the focus on your business’s name, and build recognition it. It can be especially powerful is you’re using your own name for your business as it reinforces the connection between you and your brand.
To create a distinct wordmark, there needs to be a good use of colour and choice of typography, which might incorporate some unique customisation. One additional benefit of wordmarks is that they tend to age quite well, compared to icons or other marks that can start to look dated in just a few years, depending on the style used to make them.
This isn’t to say that wordmarks are immune to ageing badly — typography can also follow trends and styles that will immediately connect them to the era in which they were designed. However, there are definitely a lot of examples of typography that have stood the test of time. Some of the most beautiful typefaces we still use today were created 50, 100, 200 years ago. Sticking to clean typographic choices can lead to a logo with a lot of longevity.
Making sure a wordmark doesn’t look “boring” often comes down to the rest of the brand identity and ensuring the logo is supported by a thoughtful overall design.
Just like wordmarks, lettermarks put the focus on the business name. The difference is that lettermarks use only a few characters, such as an abbreviation or initials. If your business name is particularly long and unwieldy, a lettermark can be one possible option to clean up your brand identity and create something a little more memorable. NASA, for example, is far easier to say and remember than the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Be aware that what you show in your logo is how your brand will come to be known. So if you want people to refer to your brand by its full name, than don’t use a lettermark (unless it’s combined with the full wordmark).
Instead of using text, these logos represent their brands with a symbol or icon. Generally, companies who use only a pictorial mark have built up recognisability over time. We can look at the example of Nike, which used to have the name of the company incorporated into the logo. Now as a huge global brand they can be recognisable by their (wing of the Greek goddess of victory) mark alone, so the name “Nike” was dropped from the logo.
Newer and smaller brands probably can’t rely on a pictorial mark alone — there needs to be a name so people know who they are. When both a pictorial mark and a wordmark or lettermark is used together, it’s an example of a combination mark, which I’ll get to below.
Pictorial marks are depictions of something tangible — an apple, a panda, a kangaroo. These icons need to represent some kind of meaning that links them back to the business they represent.
Unlike pictorial marks, abstract marks don’t represent something physical. Instead, they can represent intangible things like feelings or values like growth or positivity.
But just because they don’t need to depict something you can see, doesn’t mean abstract marks can be meaningless. The generic “corporate swoosh” is so widely used, it’s a cliché. These swirly logos don’t carry much meaning to viewers, and only seem to have been chosen as a logo because that’s what people think a logo should look like.
Abstract logos are deceptively hard to do well, but they’re not impossible. A well-designed abstract logo is a powerful mark since it uniquely represents its brand, and nothing else. Take Twitter’s “Larry the bird” logo and stick it in the sky of a simply-rendered child’s drawing and sure, it’s still Twitter’s bird logo, but it’s also just a bird. The logo of Mercedes-Benz will be Mercedes-Benz’s logo no matter where you put it.
Most logos probably fall into this category, which uses both text and imagery to create a single mark. It’s the best of both worlds — combining the name of the brand alongside an icon that represents it.
Logos designed like this need to be considered as a whole. If the logo looks like two separate marks that happen to be sitting close together, it’s not right. The mark needs to look like a single, strong unit.
A combination mark is a good choice if it’s important to include the name of your business, but you also want an icon or symbol. It’s also good to consider if you think the name of your business alone isn’t enough to stand out.
I have to admit, I’m not a fan of using mascots in logos, but there are certainly some types of brands where they work well. Sports teams, for instance, or brands targeted towards children.
The rules for good logo design should still apply — the mascots should be rendered in a simple and well-balanced way, with a limited colour palette. The logo should be designed with any touchpoints it will be used for in mind, whether that’s apparel, TV screens or lunch-boxes.
Of course, to use a mascot in your logo should mean that the mascot is a highly visible part of your brand. Using a mascot that isn’t a central part of what you sell is just confusing.
With its use dating back centuries, even the modern versions of emblems used as logos today have a strong sense of tradition attached to them. Emblems are a great way to establish an impression of history to your brand. Their designs allow for quite a bit of detail to be included, which means they can tell the story of your brand.
However, the amount of detail also means they tend not to scale down to small sizes very well. This limits their flexibility somewhat, but an option around this would be to have a simplified version of the logo that can be used at reduced sizes.
As with any logo design you consider, it’s important to think about what touchpoints it needs to work on. Emblems look great on packaging which makes them popular logos for beverage companies but are less effective as a tiny app icon on your phone.
So, there you have it. The main types of logo designs and when they work best. If you’re in the process of setting up your business and are making those big decisions about what kind of logo you want representing your brand, I hope this helps.
For my fellow Aussies, did you recognise all these logos? (That mascot was such an iconic part of my childhood.)
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