Basic Types of Logos, Their Subtypes, And How To Design The Cornerstone of Your Branding Identity
The different types of logos and how they affect your branding
Amenemhat makes clay pots. Little does he know it, he’s also one of the first logo designers in history, and a decent one at that — sure, it’s not much to marvel at, but it’s functional and delivers the message, the message being that these are the great clay pots by Amenemhat, and not those terrible clay pots by Amenemope.
Be it a simple stamp at the bottom of a clay pot, or an innovative and disruptive abstract mark, your logo is the lynchpin of your whole brand identity. It’s probably your first contact with potential clients, and it’s the first thing people think of when they think about your brand. It needs to communicate your product and your values as much as a single image is able to do that.
- Distinction. A logo separates you from your competitors, and a truly unique logo makes you stand out.
- Memorability. Again, your logo is the first thing people think about when they think about your company — and if your logo is memorable, it stands to reason that they’ll think about your company more.
- Consistency. You have the same logo — or, slight variations on the logo — across your whole product line, unifying your products. Amenemhat makes pots, dishes, mugs and vases, and they all have the exact same stamp.
- Loyalty. We assume the high quality of a product if on it we see the logo of a brand that we trust.
There are three basic types of logos: images, letters, and a combination thereof. There are subtypes to each, and every type of logo could be used in a variety of ways. Your logo should be simple, recognizable, versatile, and memorable. Let’s see how different types achieve those functions and those features.
First Type: Images
The most straightforward way to approach it. The company is named Apple — let’s have an Apple on the logo. A simplified depiction of something tangible, something real, works if your company has a literal name or a solid concept to its branding. However, this is a perilous route to take for a digital product that does something complicated and that can’t be explained this easily.
Examples: Apple, Twitter, Telegram.
Your product is more likely to have a more abstract logo — it’s easier to visualize your metaphor this way, and there are only so many real things in the world that could be reasonably used as logos. But this is complicated — while an abstract logo could greatly invoke a feeling, like the motion of the iconic Nike Swoosh, it could be easily misread. The logo for Spotify is supposed to imply soundwaves, but it’s simplified to such a degree, that when we look at it we might just don’t think twice or see WiFi. On the other hand, let’s consider the logo for Rows — an alternative to Google Tablets, its logo is itself a part of a spreadsheet. It is ingeniously simple while perfectly representing the product and the company’s name.
Examples: Spotify, Rows.
Mascots are usually used for more light-hearted products: an endless amount of cereal mascots, Colonel Sanders, the mustached gentlemen on every can of Pringles whose name happens to be Julius, but they can fit just as well for your digital product.
Examples: TunnelBear, Mailchimp, Duolingo.
A lot of digital products are complicated, and what they need in their branding is exactly what a mascot can provide: some humanization, a touch of levity. You can learn more about effective brandings with mascots in our article on the subject.
Second Type: Words and Letters
The second most straightforward approach to your logo. It might seem deceptively simple, but this simplicity is hard to achieve. To create a memorable logo with only typography alone you’d have to go through tons of typefaces, and then would have to customize the right one to really communicate your brand.
Examples: Uber, Webflow.
If you want typography in your logo, but the name of the company is just too long, strive for simplicity — abbreviations and acronyms greatly lend themselves to more solid, serious logos. In the process, you might find a particular form, like the exemplary logo of Federal Express with its arrow.
Examples: IBM, HBO, FedEx.
Streamlining things even further, you could use just the first letter of the company’s name. It would be extremely complicated to get it right, for a single letter to convey the full message. But if done right, the final result is memorable, and as a bonus, is infinitely adaptable.
Examples: McDonalds, Tilda, Notion.
Third Type: Combination
Mark and text
Best of both worlds requires twice as much work, but as the result, you get both a graphical mark and the company’s name in a recognizable typeface. This versatility can’t be overstated, as it leads to easier adaptation of your logo. However, you need to be careful — neither the graphical mark nor the lettering should outweigh one another, and this balance is hard to achieve.
Examples: Airbnb, Microsoft.
Emblems, inspired by the seals and crests, carry that traditional weight with them and are now barely ever used. Especially in digital products. The difference from a mark and text logo is that emblems have their elements within a classical shape, and the result is all too serious amidst decades-long trends of simplification, streamlining, and flatness. And if you do want to add a classical air to your logo, it’s easier to achieve by using the right serif for the typeface. But there is one big benefit to emblems: they look great as patches on your merch.
Examples: The Old Starbucks Logo, Harley-Davidson.
Adapting Your Logo To Different Formats
The logo is a cornerstone of your identity, and it should be just as flexible. Consider how it could change and adapt to different social media, to your merchandise, to outdoor advertisements, et cetera, all while staying the same. Let’s circle back to the aforementioned Rows, and see how the logo adapts to different platforms (via Focus Lab).
It’s not required of every product yet, but you should consider an animated logo. A carefully designed logo can reveal your metaphor, but motion greatly adds to it and makes it all the more memorable. Check out our more in-detail article on who needs an animated logo and why.
And while adapting your logo to different formats, keep in mind that you can’t just create a template and slap your logo on it every time without thinking. If you do, you might end up with something like this:
How To Make A Logo: Conceptual Approach
There are two ways to design a logo. Well, three ways, if you also consider just sketching and hoping for the best.
The first approach is formalist. If you already know that you want a combination logo, you might just type out the name of the company and see if there are any shapes there to highlight and to focus on. We can assume that the FedEx logo came around that way, and also the logo for Westown Medical Center.
There’s a W, and M, and between them, a cross was found, suitable for a logo relating to medicine. But what if it was an Eastown? We find this approach unreliable, and go towards making logos with the same workflow as we use for everything, with a little more focus.
First comes the analytics. Just the same as making a website or a wholesale brand identity: we look at the product, its goals, unique value proposition, positioning, its name. We analyze the current corporate style if there is one. We take a look at the competitors’ logos — whether they’re conceptual, whether the shades of the same color are used for logos throughout the market niche, what shapes are used, what typefaces. Even if competitors’ logos are bad, we still have to analyze them, because they’ve established themselves on the market, so they’re doing something right. And our logo will be compared against theirs.
Now we forget entirely about competitors’ logos, and everyone’s logos period. This is the time to step back from any preconceived notions. Based on the analytics, we think of two or three metaphors that are suitable for this product. To these metaphors, we put together elaborate and comprehensive moodboards, that we boil down to get the exact right mood that the final logo needs to evoke.
Time for the designer to take that mood and just go crazy with it. If it’s an abstract logo, it’s time to sit down and just sketch and sketch and absentmindedly scribble over and over again until something is found. And when that elusive something is found, it could be iterated upon.
At this point, the designer pretends to be a sculptor. It’s time to chisel away the rough edges, drop everything unnecessary. And now the variations of the logo could be placed into the mockups to see whether they could answer to potential customers “who we are, what we do, and what you’ll get”.
Here are the early sketches of the logo we’ve made for TimeX and the final result:
Some of the Logos That We’ve Made
Thankfully, in the past decade, we’ve moved away from skeuomorphic metallic curves and inexplicable blobs. The current logos have regained and reaffirmed pre-digital flatness, but there are limits to how streamlined and stripped-down things can get. Websites are already getting back to a more complicated track after years and years of minimalism, with web brutalism being the most shining example. Soon enough, logos might let the hair wild too. Because a good logo has to stand out.
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