Logo Design AdviceLogo, Design, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2018

A Beginner's Guide to Logo Styles


When creating a logo, there are many different visual options to consider—color, typeface, and imagery to name a few. (I discuss more in-depth about my logo design process in this previous post.) One of the first decisions you need to make when starting the logo design process is what type of logo mark is best for your project.

There are several different types of logos, and each kind has a distinct feel which can influence how your brand is perceived and how effective your logo is. While all logos are essentially combinations of type and images, there are various reasons why you might choose one type of logo over another, as each type has its own strengths and weaknesses in regards to appearance and practical use. Here's a brief overview of the different types of logos and the pros and cons of each one.

Wordmark and logotype

One of the most frequently used types of logos is the wordmark. Sometimes referred to as a logotype, a wordmark simply uses the full name of the company by using typography alone. Some well-known examples of wordmarks include Google, Disney, Subway, and Kellogg's.

Wordmark
Here's a sample wordmark logo. Often this typography is stylized or typeset in such a way to create a unique, visually-interesting logo.

To ensure that your wordmark is distinct and represents your company's essence, it's best to use custom details in the typography, rather than merely using a font with its default settings, to type out your name. Some companies have custom fonts created to differentiate their wordmarks; others use the signature of their founder. Think about how the letterforms interact with each other, and consider using color or type weight to emphasize parts of the mark, like in the example above. Because logotypes rely on type alone to convey your message, it's imperative that the logo is typeset well and that all letterforms feel properly kerned, easy-to-read, and balanced.

Wordmarks can be a great choice for a new company that's starting out because the entire name of the company is being immediately presented in the logo. This can help you to start to build some brand recognizability quickly. However, if your company has a name longer than two or three words, it might be best to consider other options—the longer the wordmark, the more cluttered and overwhelming the logo will be, and the harder it will be to use in applications where space is limited. The examples I mentioned earlier are all just one word, which is one reason why they make good logotypes. Because of their simplicity and cleanness, logotypes are usually easy to replicate and make a terrific choice for companies who will be using the logo across a wide variety of applications.

Lettermarks and monograms

Lettermarks or monogram logos are built from a company's initials. They are similar to wordmarks in that they use only typography. Think IBM, NASA, CNN, and ESPN.

Lettermark
Here's a sample lettermark logo. Lettermarks are especially useful when a company has a long name, and they can help people have an easier time remembering and pronouncing complicated names.

Because lettermarks have fewer pieces than wordmarks, you may find that you have more creative freedom to explore different type treatments. Lettermarks also take up much less space than wordmarks, so in many cases they'll be easier to use across applications. An acronym logo with several letters can feel corporate and official, so keep this in mind if you're considering using a lettermark. If your acronym only has one or two letters, try abstracting the letters to make new shapes or consider how the letters can interact to make a visually interesting composition.

Sometimes it may be necessary to employ aspects of both wordmarks and lettermarks to create a logo better suited for your company. For example, if you are a new organization or not well-known, it may be best to write out what the initials of your company stand for underneath your lettermark to help people learn what it is you do, like in the example above. Or, you might find that you can abbreviate the name of your company in the logo without reducing the name to initials only—FedEx (Federal Express) and "The Met" (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) are two examples where the logo is shortened to create a quicker read and an easier pronunciation.

Pictorial or symbolic logo

The next type of mark is a pictorial logo, which consists only of a graphic symbol or icon. Some of the most recognizable brands use this type of logo—Apple, Target, Microsoft, and Snapchat are some examples. The icon you use can either be literal—Target's logo is an actual target—or more conceptual, like the Nike swoosh. One advantage to using a symbol on its own is you're able to communicate something immediate about your company using visual language alone, making pictorial logos ideal for global brands which exist in different cultures with different languages.

Pictorial
Here's a sample pictorial logo. Because it represents your company without the use of words, a pictorial logo has to be simple, distinct, and memorable.

Pictorial logos can be a challenge for newer or smaller companies to use simply because they require much previously established brand equity. Even though a pictorial logo on its own can create a bit of intrigue and mystery, it's ultimately not practical enough to use for every application. Large, influential corporations can generally get away with using a symbol on its own as a logo because people frequently see and interact with these brands. However, many big companies didn't make the switch to pictorial logos until they were more established. For example, Apple's iconic logo was frequently seen along with the company's name during its early years until the brand became recognizable enough without the type. Another example of this is Starbucks, which has recently dropped their name from their emblem logo and now uses the Mermaid illustration on its own after developing into a globally recognized company. Companies like these have grown to the point where they simply don't need to include their names anymore, which makes logo replication simpler and easier.

Combination mark

One of the most common types of logos is the combination mark, which is simply a logo that uses both typography and a pictorial mark. Well-known combination marks include Domino's, Verizon, Amazon, and Adidas.

Combination mark
Here's a sample combination mark logo. Because they employ both text and imagery, combination marks allow much creative freedom and design choices, making them a versatile choice for just about any type of business.

Combination marks are ideal choices for new companies because including text along with imagery is an effective way to help the public start to recognize your brand immediately. They are generally easier to trademark because of their distinctness, and they have a degree of flexibility and adaptability which allows them to be broken into their respective pieces in certain applications. For example, the pictorial part of the mark can be used on its own for favicons, app icons, and even merchandise.

There are a few challenges with combination marks that are important to consider as you design. Because of the number of elements in these logos, it's easy for combination marks to quickly become too cluttered or disjointed, so make sure you avoid using too many fine details. The type and icon should work together—ensure that together these elements feel balanced and harmonious. Depending on the layout of the type and icon, you might end up with a logo that's difficult to use in different applications, so you may want to consider creating horizontal and vertical versions of the mark.

Emblems

One of the most traditional choices when it comes to logos, emblems have been used throughout the history of branding to contain type and imagery in a holding shape. Usually resembling badges or crests, emblems have an official, academic feel about them which makes them popular with schools and government agencies, and car companies tend to use emblems for their compact nature. Some well-known emblem logos include Starbucks, UPS, the NFL, and Ford.

Emblem
Lastly, here's a sample emblem logo. Because of their classic, vintage feel, emblem logos have made a bit of a comeback in trendier industries like coffee companies, breweries, and sports teams, but an emblem can look sleek and modern as well.

The biggest challenge when it comes to emblems is limiting the level of elements inside and around the mark. If illustrations are included, then make sure they're simple enough to be easily reproduced with any printer and recognizable at any size. Keep extra strokes, flourishes, and other visual elements to a minimum—as a general rule, the less complex your design, the better.

Now that you know a bit about the different types of logos, don't be afraid to do your own research on what kinds of logos are commonly used in your industry as you begin your design process. When choosing what type of logo to use, it's important to consider all factors in order to make the most effective logo possible. Explore how each type of logo could work for your project, and ultimately think about all the various contexts your logo will be in as it's introduced to the public.

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