By Jennifer Farley

Fundamentals of Logo Design Part 4: Symbol-Only Logos

By Jennifer Farley

So far in this series we’ve taken a look at Typographic Logos and Type and Symbol logos. Today it’s the turn of those logos which are bold enough to go without accompanying type. The third category of logo design is “symbol-only” logos. These are the Madonna or Britney of logo design – so famous they don’t need a surname, or in the case of a logo, so recognizable they don’t need to have the company name attached.

This type of logo is generally reserved for the really big boys and often results after a redesign when the company is so large that it can be recognized by a symbol alone. It’s probably not a great idea to use a symbol-only logo as part of your branding when you’re first launching. It helps enormously if the public are aware of the company name. The main idea or advantage of the symbol logo is that “a picture tells a thousand words.” A good design along with the power of repetition can make a big impact. Symbols and icons are powerful. They can convey a lot of information rapidly.

A symbolic logo uses an image to convey an authentic or abstract representation of a business. Without any text to explain the symbol, the logo can be open to a broad interpretation of what the company is about, which of course can be a good thing or a bad thing. Probably one of the most famous symbol-only logos is the Nike “swoosh.” It is instantly recognizable on clothes and sports equipment and has a solid tribe of followers. I wonder how many people would buy the exact same product if it didn’t have the swoosh on it?


Many symbols are not necessarily a direct illustration of the subject matter or “here’s what we do,” but rather a representational idea. Apple doesn’t grow apples. The first Apple logo depicted Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with an apple dangling over his head. The phrase on the outside border reads, “Newton… A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought … Alone.” The Apple logo now looks very different, but there is a throwback to this original idea.


The disadvantage is, as already mentioned, if a symbol is separated from the company name or word mark, it can be difficult to recognize or make the connection. Here’s a group of well-known logos that represent companies and organizations and even icons in popular culture that are recognizable by their symbol alone. Do you recognize them all?












Are any of these logos a favorite of yours? What other symbol-only logos do you like?

Next week we’ll take a look at some of the questions that should be asked when thinking about designing a logo.

  • Zoe Feast

    Hi Jennifer,
    A nice collection of the “creme de la creme” of iconic logos. It takes time and huge brand awareness to get to this enviable stage. It is a difficult thing to explain this to my logo clients!

  • Anonymous

    I agree. It took all the above corporations years and in some cases decades of providing a leading product, service or events and throwing a lot of money at brand awareness before they could afford to remove the logotype. It wouldn’t be a a good idea for a new startup or young company to run with a monogram logo only.

  • Anonymous

    I like the Olympics logo the best; not just for the simplicity, but for the meaning behind the colors. When the Committee designed the logo, they decided to include those five colors because there’s at least one of them in the flag of every Nation on Earth.

    I also like the World Wildlife Federation logo because of its simplicity. Many companies who get to this stage (where they can take the words off the logo) should keep that premise in mind (simpler is better).

  • Anonymously

    Nike bought their logo for $30… logos are meaningless without a good brand. Google is currently the most well know brand, before it was Coke. Logo wise, it’s easy these days to get a strong logo — what’s hard is getting the clients to want it. If you’re doing a logo for yourself, focus on other things. If your doing logos for other people, focus on volume, not quality… the quality logos will come with the volume and find brands that fit them. I’ve personally done over 3000 logos…

  • Anonymously

    Oops, it was $35, not $30 was the Nike logo… :-)

    “In June 1971, Davidson presented a number of design options to Knight and other BRS executives, and they ultimately selected the mark now known globally as the Swoosh. “I don’t love it,” Knight told her, “but I think it will grow on me.” Davidson submitted a bill for US$35 for her work.”


  • john hansen

    here is an interesting logo design for a division of a Texas ranch in the artificial insemination business to produce superior beef herds, and more award winning designs if you’re interested,

  • LogoLover

    The WWF logo is a favourite of mine, not just amongst this series, but all-time.

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