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The Beginner’s Guide to Logo Design.

Part Four

What kind of logo—iconic, typographic, or combination?

Now that you’ve thought about the idea that your product or service can represent (last section, if you missed it, click here), you’re ready to start thinking about your logo design.

Three different kinds of logo designs.

Your logo has two basic purposes. The first is to represent your product and associate it with the idea you want it to represent. The second is to help your customers recognize your product, which happens every time they see your logo.

Of course, there are millions of logos in the world. Just about all of them can be categorized into one of three groups: iconic, typographic or combination marks. Let’s take a quick look at the differences:

Iconic logos.

Iconic logos (also called symbolic logos) are simply shapes or icons that are easily recognizable and represent a company or idea. An iconic logo either literally or abstractly represents your product, or the idea that your product represents.

Because an icon alone doesn’t include any words to add context, if a consumer isn’t familiar with the logo, they may not associate it with the product it represents. It fact, they may not even know it’s a logo!

Let’s take a look at some examples:

The Nike swoosh is among the most recognizable abstract iconic logos in the world. It represents a wing and speed, but it isn’t really either of those things. Today when we see the Nike swoosh, we think of shoes, athletic equipment, competition and athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

The Shell logo is another example of a great icon, this time it’s a literal representation of the company’s name. When you see the Shell symbol or a sign, you immediately know what kind of gas/service station you are at and the kind of service you can expect from the company.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the VolksWagon logo. It’s a symbol made up of the company’s initials. It doesn’t include the company name, but it quickly conveys the ideas associated with the company and name: irreverence, fun to drive, affordable engineering, etc, because you’ve seen it many times before.

All of these logos say something about the product or company they represent, but they do it with a symbol that doesn’t literally “say” anything.

Iconic logos are generally best used by organizations with well-known products and large marketing budgets, which can spend the money required to make these logos familiar with big ad campaigns and repeated exposure. For this reason we discourage most of our small business customers from using a logo that only consists of an icon.


Typographic logos.

Typographic logos are also known as logotypes or word marks. These logos are uniquely styled type or font treatments of the product or company name. Because there are thousands of fonts, there are literally thousands of options available when it comes to creating a typographic logo.

When it comes to typographic logos, choosing the font makes all the difference. Take a look at these examples:

Disney’s word mark uses a font based on Walt Disney’s handwriting. It is whimsical, fun, and creative, which are the ideas the Disney brand represents to its customers.

FedEx is a great Example of a typographic logo that uses color to separate the two word parts (Federal Express, the company’s original name). Also note that the type creates a subtle arrow shape pointing forward in the negative space between the E and the X. It’s a nice visual bonus created by a great design.

Another great example of a word mark is the easily recognizable Coca-Cola logo. This is simply the company name in a unique script that has come to represent “the real thing” around the world.

Logotypes or word marks are often a good option for small businesses because they are made entirely of your product or company name, so customers don’t have to think very hard to remember it when they see it. With the right font, you can create a mark that is both recognizable and represents the ideas you brainstormed while thinking about your product’s position (if you’ve forgotten go back to the last section and review).


Combination logos.

This is the most common type of logo we see. It combines a unique icon with a type treatment of the product or company name, hence the name combination mark. Combination logos have the advantages of both icon and word marks. They include a symbol that can represent the ideas your product represents. And they include your product name in an appropriate font so customers can easily remember who you are. Again, let’s look at some examples:

McDonald’s is a great example of a combination logo. Their mark is the easily recognized Gold Arches, but it also includes the name in the logo, either in red, or in white when printed against a color background, making the whole logo so easily recognizable you know it in an instant. Notice that the McDonald’s logo doesn’t include a hamburger, fries, or any of the other products that McDonald’s sells.

The I♥NY logo is another great example. By using the ♥ as a graphic stand-in for love, it forces your mind to “think” about the logo, making it more likeable and memorable. The simple type treatment makes the logo easy to apply to all kinds of things that New York has to offer.

Another great example of a combination mark is the Red Lobster logo. By combining the restaurant name with a graphic depiction of a lobster, you immediately recognize the sign (before you can even read the words) and know exactly where you are and what kind of food you can expect.

Combination marks are the most common logos used by small businesses because they offer the advantages of both symbols to help represent a business’s main idea, and the potential to create a great type treatment with the product name. This is the kind of design we generally recommend to our customers.


Incidentally, our free logo design software makes it easy to choose an icon (from a catalog of about 10,000) and match it with one of almost 50 fonts to create an awesome combination logo. But more about that in the next section.

So what kind of logo is best for you?

Think about this question and in the next section we’ll show you how to put it all together with colors and fonts.