Chapter 4: The Types of Logos, and Why They Matter

There’s a lot that goes into designing a logo and before you even touch pen to paper or consider commissioning one you should put some thought into the type of logo that will be best for your brand. A good designer can give recommendations but no one knows your brand better than you so familiarizing yourself with the different types is extremely beneficial. There are seven main types; all of which work well in different situations and have their own pros, cons, and caveats.

Logotypes 

Logotypes, also known as wordmarks, focus on the brand’s name to help build recognition. The most critical aspect of wordmarks is, of course, the typography. Without complementary images and icons, your brand name will be functioning as the visual design.

Because logotypes focus on building familiarity with your brand via text you need to choose your font very carefully. Logos have to convey a lot of information, and without the addition of imagery, your font is responsible for getting your business’ purpose and value across.

The color, shape, and style of the words are tasked with conveying more than just your business title. This is especially true if your brand name doesn’t directly explain your business or is a nonsense word. 

Using Logotypes

  • If your brand is new consider using a logotype to help tie together your visual identity with your brand’s name.
  • Logotypes work best if your brand’s name is on the short side.
  • Is your name and brand name the same? Using a logotype will help build the connection between you and your business.
  • Staying Fresh: Companies that utilize wordmarks often update their logo to stick with trends.
  • Without careful design, logotypes are easily forgettable and generic. 

Logotype Examples

Google has done a fantastic job of taking a nonsense word and turning it into a memorable logo. The font choice is simple and utilizes a myriad of colors. The colors represent not only the many search results while using their search engine but the diversity of their products. Utilizing bright colors makes the company come across as fun and easy to use. 

Other popular logotype examples are Coca Cola, The New York Times, Yahoo!, and Visa.

Letterforms

Letterforms or lettermarks take individual letters from a brand’s name to form a mnemonic device for the company. These marks, similar to wordmarks, tend to be exclusively typographical. When working with letterforms, typography is key and is even more important than it is in a wordmark. Use careful consideration when choosing the font as the shapes of the individual letters convey different moods.

For example, rounded letters go well with circular logos while angled fonts do well with rectangular ones. Big bold letters can help convey strength while script can portray whimsy or high class depending on the flourishes. Due to the concise nature of letterforms, you can really go all out when it comes to font choices. This can really help you stand out from the crowd but be sure to retain legibility. 

Using Letterforms

  • New brands can benefit from the simplicity of letterforms but need to include the full name to help build brand recognition.
  • Long brand names do well as lettermarks because the design is smaller and works well across a variety of situations and products.
  • Certain industries often abbreviate their brand’s name in their logos, so it doesn’t hurt to follow suit. This is especially popular for companies that are based on individual names such as law firms, graphic designers, and photography studios.
  • Be careful, ff a letterform is not designed carefully it’s easy to end up with an illegible logo.

Letterform Examples

Many television networks take advantage of the letterform to display their logo. HBO, CNN, and NBC are all solid letterform examples that have ingrained themselves into their viewers’ minds. Chances are once you come across the logo you can guess the content you are going to see which shows that the logos do a fantastic job.

Fashion is another industry where letterform logos run rampant. Chanel, DKNY, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren have all went with recognizable monograms as they work well on clothing and easily become an iconic visual for the company. Think about it; all it takes is a glimpse of the double “Cs” on a dress for you to know it’s a high-end Chanel piece.

Pictorial Marks

Our first logo that strays from a “purely” typographical solution. The pictorial mark or brand mark utilizes an icon to help define what a brand does. Many companies go with a pictorial mark as it’s easier to capture everything about a brand when you can rely on an image alongside text. Pictorial marks are also extremely flexible because the icon can be used solo once brand recognition is achieved. 

All industries have simple imagery that relate to what they do. For example, culinary brands can utilize food items and utensils while those in the legal industry can reference Justice’s scale. Unique companies will need to think outside of the box when choosing their icons.

Using Pictorial Marks

  • International brands benefit from the pictorial mark because “An image is worth a thousand words.” By capturing your brand’s essence in your icon you have a better chance of communicating your brand’s purpose to those who may not understand your wordmark.
  • Be careful not to lock yourself in a box if you plan to expand your company in the future. The last thing you want is to use a specific icon that only works if your company sticks to your starting agenda. 
  • Pictorial marks are a ton of fun to make! Many companies use puns based on their names to arrive at their icon choice (think John Deere’s deer logo).

Pictorial Mark Examples

Social media is the place to look when searching for pictorial marks in the real world. Twitter’s logo featuring the bird icon, named Larry after Larry Bird, is a prime example. Twitter utilizes the bird alongside its simplistic wordmark. Now that they’ve become popular they can use Larry all by himself.

Apple has been around so long their bitten apple (a play on the name) is all they need to represent their company. While the apple has nothing to do with the IT giant’s specialization, years of great marketing tactics have turned the unrelated symbol into a valuable asset. Other examples are Target’s target symbol and Instagram’s camera.

Abstract Marks

When it comes to abstract marks the sky is the limit. While pictorial marks borrow imagery from real life, abstract marks can be anything. The lack of limitations means that the literal route is practically a no-go when it comes to the icon. Designers will need to use color and shape psychology to pick the perfect colors, shapes, and spacing to convey your brand’s mission. 

Abstract marks often convey a real-world object but in an artistic way. Once your target audience connects the dots the mark will most likely be unforgettable.

Using Abstract Marks

  • Abstract marks are only as good as the person who designs them. There are no rules to follow, and the lack of boundaries makes it easy to end up with a logo that won’t make any sense to your audience.
  • Abstract marks are perfect for large companies with extensive service and product ranges where a simple pictorial mark may not be able to convey all the brand does.
  • The icon in abstract marks won’t work well alone for companies who haven’t solidified their brand, but once they’re recognizable, they help brands distinguish themselves from the competition.

Abstract Mark Examples

Adidas utilizes several different abstract marks. The three leaf shape represents the Americas, Europe, and Africa with Asia respectively while the lines signify diversity across the land masses. The three diagonal lines for their performance line are representational of a mountain, and the challenges athletes face. They also have a logo with their brand name and three horizontal lines alongside it. This final mark is extremely flexible and is usable no matter what the future holds for Adidas. 

Other examples of excellent abstract marks are Nike’s swoosh, and Pepsi’s iconic red, white, and blue circle

Mascots

As human beings we are drawn to faces (even if they aren’t quite human), so mascots harness this positive power. However, mascots are really hard to get right. You want to create an iconic character that your target audience will love to interact with now and for years to come. If you do get this logo right your brand’s mascot could be timeless. Generally, brands who utilize mascots aren’t very serious. That being said, they work exceptionally well in family and children orientated industries. 

Using Mascots

  • If your brand’s vibe is approachable, playful, friendly, fun, and upbeat a mascot logo might be worth looking into.
  • Mascots can change their expressions making them extremely flexible and easy to use in a variety of marketing scenarios. 
  • If you need to use your logo across a wide range of mediums be careful with the mascot’s design. Highly detailed mascots won’t translate well when made super small.

Mascot Examples

The first mascot that came to mind while we were writing this guide is the iconic top hat and monocle-wearing Mr. Peanut. The Planter’s mascot has been featured on their products for decades, and while it’s gone through quite a few revisions, the base has remained the same.

Other well-known and long-lasting mascots include Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, The Kool-Aid man, and KFC’s Colonel Sanders. 

Combination Marks

Combination marks can draw inspiration from any of the other logo types covered. For example, if you want to integrate a cool icon or mascot into a fun and funky font, a combination mark is right up your alley. Combination marks are essentially the best of all the logo worlds and allow you to mix and match visuals and text with very little limitations. 

Combination marks are also extremely versatile and easy to use, making them one of the most common logos seen today. While pictorial and abstract marks separate the imagery from the icons, the combination mark blends the two creating a seamless visual experience that your target audience is sure to remember.

Using Combination Marks

  • Perfect options for new brands who are transitioning. Combination marks allow you to create easy-to-understand associations between your brand’s name and the imagery used.
  • If you need a flexible logo that can easily evolve with your company consider trying a combination mark.

Combination Mark Examples

Burger King blends its logo into a burger. The logo is colorful, fun, and displays exactly what the company provides. Doritos mixes its wordmark with a triangle that simulates the shape of its chips. 

Emblems

Emblems are old-school and have been around for hundreds of years. The earliest emblems are seals and crests that have existed to represent cultural groups and royalty. Emblem logos convey a sense of trustworthiness, tradition and are extremely recognizable. They also provide the space to include everything your logo needs, the wordmark, imagery, and taglines, all in one cohesive shape.

Using Emblems

  • Emblems are highly detailed so they are difficult to make work at smaller sizes and don’t read well at extremely large sizes.
  • Emblems don’t translate well across every material which can be a nuisance when you intend to apply your logo on real-world products.
  • Emblems are a great way to give your brand an established feel that boosts trustworthiness with a single glance.
  • Emblems are most often used by social organizations, educational institutions, and state agencies.
  • It’s easy to get carried away with intricate details when designing emblems, but it’s essential to balance out form and meaning.

Emblem Examples

While people may think about circles when it comes to Emblems they don’t always follow a simple shape. Harley Davidson encapsulates their brand name in a unique shape that won’t be found anywhere else. Starbucks’ initial logo places their wordmark around their iconic mermaid in a circle which was easier to stamp on all of their products. 

What logo type is best for you?

Creating the perfect logo for your brand is a journey and will take time. Picking the ideal font and imagery and learning to harness the power of design principles such as colors, emphasis, shapes, type, placement, visual movement, and negative space all play a part. Reviewing the pros, cons, and caveats will help make your journey to the perfect logo a lot easier!

Don’t feel locked down to your original picks either. If after some trial runs you feel like something is missing give one of the other types a try; it might be a better fit.