We love logos and sometimes we may hate them. We recognize them and use every day. They have values, they provide status. Logos may even set differences between consumers.
Logos can be good. Or really bad.
A great logo design can mean the success of a business. Just like a bad logo design can mean the total failure of that business.
Let’s be honest: is it the same to use a computer with a logo with an apple as a computer with a logo with (let’s say) a raccoon? Of course not!
A logo conveys a set of brand values, status, social reference, identification.
But … what is a logo? Are all logos the same?
Well, that’s what this article is about: explaining what a logo is, the 8 types of logos and what their characteristics are.
Definition of Logo
Logo is short for logotype. The word comes from the greek logos, which means word. The type part came from old print systems, where font blocks were formed with types representing a character. However, there were some common words that were in a single block, such as “the” or “going” or the like. These type blocks were called logotypes. In other words: typographic blocks (or types) that contained words.
Additionally, there were blocks with more than one character, but that did not make up a word. In that case, they were called “ligatures”.
Wikipedia defines the logo (or logotype) as follows:
“… it’s a graphic mark, emblem, or symbol used to aid and promote public identification and recognition. It may be of an abstract or figurative design or include the text of the name it represents as in a wordmark”Source: Wikipedia
In other words: it is an identifying element that comes from millennia ago.
The flags, symbols, banners, drawings on shields and combat helmets, the marks on livestock, the different religious iconographies … all these things were identifying elements with very important values for the people who used them.
The difference is that since 1876 logos became what we now recognize as logos. This is so because the Bass Brewery in the UK had the brilliant idea of registering not one (as it is commonly believed) but TWO logos: the red triangle for its common beer, and the red diamond for its barley wine variety.
And in this way we had the first logos registered as such to identify a brand or product!
The 8 types of logos
Many people (including us) call any brand visual identifier a logo. It is a colloquial way of defining something that we all know and experience every day.
However, there are different types of logos. In fact, there is no agreement on how many types there are. Some people say 5, other people say 7, 8, 9 and I have seen up to 10 or 12 different types.
These taxonomies differ because there are small subtleties in the differentiations. But there are also cultural factors: for example, in Spanish-speaking countries 4 are considered basic: imagotype, logotype, isotype and isologo.
In the first case, they are those identifiers where there is image and text, but both can be separated (for example, the Carrefour logo). In the second, the identifier is strictly text. And in the last two comes the problem: isotype is an incorrect way of naming brand identifiers based on only one image (for example, Apple’s logo) that for some reason became popular and somehow survived among students and professionals. In the same way, isologo refers to visual identifiers where the misnamed isotype works together with a textual identifier, forming an indivisible whole.
After analyzing many different types of taxonomy and logo categorizations, we have come to the conclusion that there are 8 types of logos:
- Abstract Logos
- Monogram/Lettermark Logos
- Wordmark (Logotypes)
- Pictorial Marks
- Mascot Logos
- Emblem Logos
- Combination Logos
- Dynamic Logos
Great Logo Design Starts with Proper Identification
So you may be wondering: what do these nice words mean? And how do they apply to logo design and identification?
Well, let’s see the definition and examples for all 8 types of logos:
An abstract logo is a visual identifier consisting of a symbol. However, this symbol does not represent an exciting thing. Instead, it is a concept, generally developed based on psychological archetypes, or values that the brand wants to transmit.
Shape, morphology, color psychology and other concepts apply as in any other type of logo. However, due to the degree of abstraction, these concepts are fundamental and usually require subsequent testing with users.
Abstract logos are often used mainly by recognized brands, as they require a somewhat higher degree of identification. It is for this reason that novice designers often avoid them, since it is very easy to err, especially if there is no budget for tests with users.
Examples of abstract logos include: Playstation, Pepsi, Dorve, Nike, and many more.
Monogram (or Lettermark) Logos
A monogram logo is a graphic representation of one or more letters that form an indivisible symbol. Monograms have an abstract representation and a strong identity. This type of logo or iconography has been widely used since ancient times as a signature of the nobility, as religious iconography and even as signature and symbolism by artists.
Monograms are also known as lettermarks. Yet, some people considers each one to be a completely different taxonomy. This would mean a 9th type of logo. However, we consider that they only have ONE difference that may or may not exist. Simply put: a lettermark is always a monogram, but a monogram is not necessarily a lettermark.
Today, monograms or lettermarks are used as visual identifiers for the brand, generally using the company’s initials or initials.
As explained above, there is a slight difference between lettermarks and monograms: a lettermark is always very simple, while monograms can be extremely complicated and complex. As an example, this is a complex monogram
And here you have a monogram that is clearly a lettermark: both the L and V letters are identifiable with the naked eye, without much effort.
Great logo designers usually choose the lettermark variant, due to its easy recognition in any size. However, it is possible to use complex monograms when they are very exclusive products, where massive recognition is not only not important, but would damage the sense of exclusivity that we want to give the brand.
A great logo designer should be one ready to create an amazing monogram or lettermark. Some nice examples for these types of logos are HBO, IBM, CNN, ESPN and many more!
Wordmark (or logotype)
The “logos” par excellence. A wordmark is what almost everyone knows as a logotype. In sum, it is the word we use the most to define the graphic representation of a brand. We call it wordmark when only type is used in the brand, and such type is clearly identifiable as a unity of sense, or brand. Nowadays, it is very common to build brands only with logotypes, using custom fonts and colors and shapes according to the brand’s values.
The great advantage of using a wordmark is that the identification is clear and immediate. There’s no question about the brand name, it’s literally on display! This is why wordmarks are used in massive brands and products.
Great examples of brands that use logotypes or wordmarks are Google, Coca Cola, Canon, VISA and many more.
A pictorial mark is the symbol that represents the brand. It is a simple identifier with high symbolic load.
The pictorial marks are simple and easy to remember, and they become iconic by means of a repetition system, until the original symbolism of the form assumes the meaning generated by the recognized branding strategy.
For example, let’s take the case of a bitten apple. Its significance could simply be a bitten apple, or a symbolism of temptation (the apple of Adam and Eve) and by extension, of sin and the forbidden. However, today it is the symbol of a computer brand. And most people that see a silhouette of a bitten apple will think about that brand before its real meaning (just a bitten apple) or any of its signifiers (for example, temptation).
A pictorial brand requires simplicity in its design, which translates into adaptability when changing the size of the logo in different media and brand materials such as digital applications, products, business cards or letterheads.
Great logo design examples of pictorial marks are Apple, Mercedes Benz, Twitter, Target, etc.
Mascot logos are logos that include an illustrated character. The mascot logos are images of a character, person or undefined being(for example the Michelin Man) that act as a visual representation of your business.
The mascot logos have their origin in the beginnings of humanity, when the first humans came together in groups or clans, which were represented by a spirit (usually animal or a force of nature). Those spirits or forces and their characteristics served as identifiers, but also as a declaration that said clan had certain characteristics. Neither more nor less than what we see today in almost any sports team!
In more modern times, mascot logos were originally used to generate in users a sense of entertainment and / or company values. Today, they are used to further promoting the emotional design that a brand wants to bring to its audience: strength, youth, confidence, fun, etc.
Mascot logos often have a more complex design than a wordmark or brand symbol because they require the design of a complete character, which must also be represented in different situations.
Among the 8 types of logos, it is the one with the most diffuse limits, since it is often confused with illustration or animation design. In fact, it is very common that they don’t always look the same, but that the mascot is used in different positions or performing actions.
Furthermore: sometimes, the mascot we associate to a brand is NOT present in the logo. A perfect example is Tony the Tiger. Everybody thinks of Tony the Tiger and automatically associate it to Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes brand. If you ask, most people will swear the mascot is part of the logo. Yet, the tiger is just a mascot for the brand, but it’s not part of the logo!
A similar case happens with Geico and its lizard or gecko mascot. While sometimes it’s displayed in some kind of interaction with Geico’s logo, it’s not part of the official logo. Additionally, it’s one of the few famous brands (if not the only one) using a logo with a 3D mascot!
Examples of mascot logos are: Mailchimp, KFC, Michelin, Geico, etc
An emblem consists of letters within a container symbol or icon. For example, coats of arms, insignia, etc. These logos give the brand a traditional appearance that creates a feeling of trust, of “something that has existed for a long time”. It is for this reason that they are often the preferred option for educational institutions, government agencies or brands recognized for their age.
The auto industry is also very fond of emblem logos. Although they retain a classic style, some brands have had to be modernized for the usual uses of the 21st century (specifically digital usage, such as websites and mobile apps)
As mobile devices continue to shrink, the emblem presents the biggest readability challenge when reduced in size. This is the reason why Starbucks dropped the emblem logo in favor of the pictorial brand logo in its recent rebranding.
Examples of great logo designs that use emblems are: Harvard University, Starbucks, Stella Artois, Rover, Alfa Romeo, etc.
A Combination Logo or Combined Brand, as its name suggests, is a combination of the types mentioned above. It can be a logo made up of a brand image built with words or letters and a pictorial mark, an abstract mark or a pet. The image and text can be placed side by side, stacked on top of each other, or integrated to create an image.
Combination Logos are used to achieve greater recognition of the mark as such, since they combine a pictorial and a textual element. In cases of effective branding strategies, these elements can become dissociated and independently recognized. For example, the Toyota logo is recognizable as a unit, but also by the independent elements that make up the logotype.
In fact, 61% of the 100 most important brands in the world use these types of logos!
Known examples of combined brands are: Burger King, Nike, AT&T, Pepsi, etc.
A dynamic logo is one that has the ability to change its shape, color, or presentation in creative ways. Unlike “static” logos, dynamic logos are built in order to be transformed. You can change a specific aspect of the logo, such as the orientation of the symbol or the location of colors, or that the logo is part of creative scenarios.
Dynamic logos are “children of technology”. The “Generation Z” between all the types of logos. They break with the static and uniform logo concept to add movement, fun, interest, color, sound and other elements closer to the UX design than to the typical logo design.
For many designers, dynamic logos are not a category in itself, but are just variations of an original idea. However, the unlimited capacity for change and the fluidity of these changes makes this a category in its own right, often difficult to classify within other types of logos.
Dynamic logos can be recreated to suit a particular context. For this, different manipulation techniques are used, such as deformation, animation, 3D presentation, etc.
As can be seen, unlike the usual logos, a dynamic logo design can undergo major transformations. In fact, while the brand guidelines of traditional logos are very strict in terms of their presentation and “staticity”, in dynamic logos there are several components or variants of said logo, which are not definitive. Attention: this does not mean that they do not have identity manuals, but that they are different!
Among the great logo designs that can be described as dynamic we can mention Google and its “doodles”, Unilever, Coca Cola and a host of new brands that dare to “make the leap”. Also, due to its own particular characteristics, dynamic logos are often used on mascot logos.
Types of Logos: Summing it up
No matter how do you call any of the different types of logos, if you’re looking for great logo design, you need to be sure which values represent your brand, how to represent said values, and how do you plan to use your brand.
And of coure, if you need great logo designers, just make sure to say hello!