Design & UX
Article

Surviving Logo Design in the Real World: Symbols and Wordmarks

By Felix Mak

Continuing on from the last installment in this series of articles, “Surviving logo design in the real world,” Felix writes about the components of a logo – symbols and wordmarks.

As designers, we should all know the difference between a wordmark logo and a symbol based logo. When designing logos, designers will likely aspire to design symbol based logos – due to that low grade design noise out there… wordmarks seem like the easier thing to do. There are a lot more mediocre wordmarks out there than symbols. The reason is probably that designers feel it is more creative. However, if we are looking at effectiveness, then both are valid and creative.

We shall look at two examples to see how a company and recognition can affect the evolution of how a logo is used.

A symbol based logo

Apple is an organisation that everyone has heard of. One would have to have been living in a cave to not recognise the apple logo with a little bite out of it – or the little white stickers that the marketing department at Apple hopes will be stuck on the back of car windows.

However, this recognition was built over time – over decades. The usage of the Apple logo in its initial form was accompanied by a “low power” wordmark ‘Apple’ and was dropped for the symbol as recognition of the company increased to to such a point that even a 2 year old could recognise it.

If you are hoping to create such an iconic symbol for an organistation that may or may not get to such dizzying heights of recognition, you might partner your iconic symbol with a wordmark. That way, you leave the option to drop the wordmark if and when the organisation reaches that point. If the organisation never reaches that level of recognition, it has the wordmark to partner it — which in the end gives more options for application.

A wordmark based logo

The Dell logo is a wordmark based logo that incorporates the name itself. The current logo includes a circular device which is basically window dressing and more to do with application than the logo itself. However, the power of this logo cannot be denied. As a logo, people all over the world can read the name of the company. There is no mystery. If someone does not know the company, it is easy for someone to find out who or what it is. While using tall bold letters, the letter ‘E’ is tilted and joins the ‘D’ and the first ‘L’.

While the logo does look like it is based on Arial Black (or something similar), the tilted ‘E’ gives it enough uniqueness to make it a strong wordmark that cannot be mistaken. The designer possibly knew that using bold capital letters would make the viewer feel that the company was big, solid and even corporate — important aspects to build trust with potential customers in its market, which includes large-scale enterprise operations.

Don’t discount the wordmark

A great wordmark will incorporate strong design reasons as well as incorporating the company name — or at least elements of it.

Paul Rand produced some of the most effective wordmarks in the history of graphic design.

The above companies are powerful for many reasons – many of the reasons come from how the organisation was run and how successful they are or were, no matter who originally designed them. Our job is to lend strength to the organisation through meaning, inference and recognition of the single element that represents it as a whole, by designing its logo.

However, the question remains — wordmark or symbol? This can be a hard decision for designers. Sometimes you need to give your thumbnailing a chance and just doodle without too much agenda — don’t discount doodling time!

How do you feel about wordmark and symbol based logos? The answer will likely mirror your design style.

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  • http://www.fijdesign.com/websites.php Fij Design

    Yes great post, sometimes logo can look much better once quality of product and brand is established.

  • Abe

    It is a nice article.
    I think a combination of both  wordmark and symbol can be more effectful.

  • Anonymous

    This is a nice article.
    i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you. Go here, www.tinyurl.com/3qa436v

  • Jared

    I think a symbol only works on its own when the company is recognized in its target area. a town, city, provence, country, or globally. Using a wordmark and symbol works well and like you said you can always drop on or the other. 

  • George Langley

    “However, this recognition was built over time — over decades.”
    And that’s the crux. You could design anything that is just unique enough to be identifiable, but has no inherent meaning. Apple what: Records? Growers Association? A Teachers Appreciation Club? What does the sitepoint logo say in and of itself? A couple of arrows? A couple of laptops? Trap doors or attic spaces being opened? A pair of single quotes? Or the begins of an HTML comment? They are meaningless until the brand behind the logo is identified.

    I see the apple and I know what Apple is in all of the company and its products’ glory, only because of everything they’ve done to produce “insanely great” products. I see the sitepoint logo on a new book, and I’m willing to believe that this book is probably pretty useful and factual, because the newsletters, forums and other books that sitepoint produces are pretty useful. A weak logo may be a turnoff if you are unfamiliar with the company that it represents, but if you already know that company and then see the logo, it becomes whatever impressions you have already formed.

    Take a look and see just how many logos practically say nothing in and of themselves – Adobe? HP? Bell? If you didn’t know, would you have any clue what they were selling or the culture behind them?

    • Felix Mak

      Hi George,

      I understand what you are saying and totally agree your point about a logo in itself generally not having much or any inherent meaning in isolation.

      What we might look at here is what a logo is. If I define a logo as a design that an organisation uses to represent itself, then the meaning of the logo should be driven by what the organisation does or represents itself as. Which means that if the organisation did not exist, meaning would be lost (other than any socially or culturally significant meaning that we derive from it at the time).

      I think what you say is very important. A logo is a very important part of brand and identity strategy and while designing a logo, we should not forget this.

      Without the rest of the company, you wouldn’t need a logo or an identity or a brand.

      I think you would choose to design wordmarks or symbols paired with wordmarks to add an extra chance of recognition before it starts conveying any meaning that is designed into itself. I had better mention that any meaning needs to be in context to the business itself and the target market/audience. As you can tell from my last article, I feel that context and meaning is very important.

      Cheers and thanks for your interesting comment.

    • Felix

      Hi George,

      I understand what you are saying and agree with your point about a logo in itself, generally not having much or any inherent meaning in isolation.

      What we might look at here is what a logo is. If I define a logo as a design that an organisation uses to represent itself, then the meaning of the logo should be driven by what the organisation does or represents itself as. Which means that if the organisation did not exist, meaning would be lost (other than any socially or culturally significant meaning that we derive from it at the time).

      I think what you say is very important. A logo is a very important part of brand and identity strategy and while designing a logo, we should not forget this.

      Without the rest of the company, you wouldn’t need a logo or an identity or a brand.

      Any meaning that a logo has needs to be in context to the business itself and the target market/ audience. As you can tell from my last article, I feel that context and meaning is very important.

      Cheers and thanks for your interesting comment.

  • Gopibabu B

    which software is best for logo design?

    • Felix Mak

      Hi Gopibabu,

      I would suggest a software that can draw in vector. That way, you can resize the logo you design without any loss of resolution. Abobe Illustrator is the vector drawing software I use.

      Any other suggestions out there?

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