Numerous types of logos can be seen on worldwide brands. Some brands even have multiple logotypes used to market their goods and services to consumers.
Behind all of these different logos, however, is the graphic designer. Graphic designers play a unique role in forging some of the most identifiable logos and emblems on Earth, but all can be derived from these nine types of logos.
The Types of Logos
When reading about the following logo types, remember that many have similar elements. That means that as a logo is designed over time, it may move between these types over successive iterations or even utilize multiple logotypes that are part of an overall more prominent brand. Look at this list as something to pick and choose from rather than being locked into a single category as a designer.
And be sure to see our list of cool logos for plenty of inspiration.
1. Brand Marks (Symbols)
Brand Marks are the most symbolic of the logotypes on the list and are among the most fun to design. Think about iconic logos such as those used by brands like Target, Twitter, and Apple. These logos are based on a solid image representing the brand.
These types of logos can be compelling but can also be quite tricky to use effectively. Simplicity is involved in these logos, but they also carry solid associations and are meticulously designed.
Brand marks are easily remembered and recognized. When you see an iconic red and yellow seashell shape in the distance, you realize it is a Shell station. Or if you see an iconic bullseye logo, you know that there is a Target shopping center nearby.
When to Use Brand Marks
Images representing a brand can convey a message quickly. They can be a tempting option for designing branding material, especially as pictorial designs can be easily transplanted across various materials and dimensions. Some brand marks, such as the Apple or NBC peacock logos, have become famous and culturally significant images.
Aiming for a brand mark as a primary logo is a challenging prospect. These logos tend to emerge as a brand gains notoriety and a following, as most brands that use brand marks did not initially have those marks for their logos.
However, if a client’s brand has a built-in following, designing a logo with brand marks in mind is something to consider. Especially if the logo design process runs through a few of these logotypes.
Wordmarks are among the most common forms of logos that can be seen and appear deceptively simple. However, understanding the fundamentals of design and typography is essential to designing a successful wordmark. It also helps to have a name that stands out.
For example, one can’t think about the name Coca-Cola without thinking about the white, swooping text on a red background.
The same applies to Google. The simple letters and the multi-color nature are instantly iconic, and most people would be able to identify it on sight. A catchy name and distinctive approach to lettering can make wordmarks compelling logos.
When to Use Wordmarks
Wordmarks are best utilized with a specific word or set of words. However, beyond that, the pairing of a foot font or custom typeface is equally essential. Even a combination of typography choices can be helpful.
A short, catchy name combined with visually exciting text choices makes wordmarks some of the most accessible logo concepts for brands and businesses. In many ways, wordmarks are the bread and butter for designers’ portfolios.
The advantages of wordmark logos lie between being easily reproducible across branding initiatives and as a concept that’s most easily iterated on in the design process.
Wordmarks are an excellent first stop for designing a brand. Multiple fonts can help make font-based logos relatively easily. Just be sure that the combination of the name and font-based logo works.
Despite their relative ease in production design, wordmarks can be a tricky logo type to get right.
Letterforms are attractive logos often associated with the biggest brands on Earth, often built on existing logos and branding. Indeed, many companies utilize multiple styles of logos for different purposes. Letterforms are generally single-letter logos representing a brand or company and can often be part of the larger logotype design. Great examples of letterform logos include Beats, McDonald’s, and Facebook.
Consider McDonald’s “golden arches,” which, when combined, create an “M” that can stand independently as a visual icon. You don’t need to see anything but the “M” on a paper cup to identify that the cup came from McDonald’s.
However, the logos are also easily inserted into a more prominent wordmark for the branding materials. McDonald’s iconic “M” may be the gold standard for business model branding.
When to Use Letterforms
The key with letterforms is that they’re most often used with brands that have a long-term brand identity and are already iconic. Aiming for a letter form right away might be risky for graphic designers as most working letter forms work because of established history.
However, when designing a logo in general, recognizing visual elements that work for a letterform down the line is brilliant, especially when designing logos around business names.
Being forward-thinking and presenting a letter form to business owners commissioning logos is a smart move and should be a part of any design process for wordmarks. When working with a client, giving multiple branding material concepts never hurts, as one never knows what will stick with consumers.
4. Monograms (Lettermarks)
Sometimes mistakenly considered an even more straightforward form of a logo than the wordmark, Monograms are deceptive in their complexity. These letter marks are typography based and comprised of brand initials.
While this might make for a straightforward design, much thought goes into them. Think about some big monograms: HBO, NASA, and IBM. What do they have in common? They’re huge names in their respective industries, and those names already carry weight which is felt in those monograms.
Monograms are best utilized by identifiable brands, especially ones that have been around for a long while. Designing a monogram as a primary logo is a bold strategy.
When to Use Monograms
Abbreviations are commonplace in specific industries, particularly conglomerated media and technology companies. A monogram might best be considered a supplemental concept to a more prominent logo rather than the main design. This is especially helpful and true of businesses and brands with longer names or a need for a more minor identifier on certain marketing materials.
Emblem logos are some of the most iconic. Some of humanity’s earliest concepts of emblems and marks were used to represent brands and organizations. Many such emblems can trace their design inspiration to things such as crests and coats of arms, which, in medieval times, served to represent families and kingdoms visually. Think of early crests as medieval marketing materials.
Emblems can often be thought of in terms of badges and seals. They are self-contained imagery, often combining shapes and text within a larger representative shape, often in circles or shields. Classic collegiate emblems are exemplary representations of these older forms. At the same time, more contemporary examples exist that show how the core concept is the same, but shapes and imagery can be updated.
Modern emblem logos that can prove inspiration include the logos for Starbucks, Cadillac, and the NFL. They also have designs that are contained within a robust and central shape but are filled with evocative imagery or designs that convey elements of the brand.
When to use emblems
Emblems tend to be the “fancier” of the logotypes because they can sometimes be more complex while harkening back to historically significant imagery and design tropes. It may seem silly, but the emblem can sometimes be read as a brand conveying quality or importance within its field.
Many early car company logos of the 1900s would rely on such emblems to give their companies a little more prestige, given the need to introduce a new form of transportation to society getting along on horses or foot. Emblems can carry an air of importance but also prove risky as they can appear overdesigned or be seen as potentially arrogant.
Luxury brands or institutions benefit most from emblem logo designs. A brand that has lasted for quite a while can leverage its history and turn to an emblem to convey its longevity and influence.
Though in the case of a brand like Starbucks, the risk of the emblem paid off as the brand focused on positioning itself in a long history of coffee production. In such a case, think of the emblem as a narrative. Does the brand have a story best told through such a design?
Mascot logos can be compelling and iconic concepts but heavily rely on broad appeal and character design and may not be appropriate for every business needing a logo. Of the various logotypes, mascots may be the best examples of high risk and reward. A mistake with a mascot could lead to inclusion in a list of bad logos.
That said, mascots can hugely influence branding and make for a wonderful design challenge. Consider the following list of brands: Disney, KFC, Kool-Aid, and Cheetos. All of these brands have recognizable mascots. Disney has Mickey Mouse, while KFC has Colonel Sanders. Kool-Aid has the iconic Kool-Aid Man, while Cheetos has Chester Cheetah.
However, for every iconic mascot, there are a dozen less easily placed and fall out of favor. Take, for example, Cool Spot, the 7-Up mascot in the 1990s. Even the iconic cartoon character Bugs Bunny serves as a logo for Warner Bros. animation but is not considered iconic enough to serve as the logo for Warner Bros. proper.
When to Use a Mascot Logo
With mascots, the nature of a character needs to be easily communicated and have a broad appeal. Still, the mascot also needs to be pushed as a primary representation of the company. Burger King may use the King character in their advertisements, but he does not appear in their primary logo, so the character does not work as a mascot for a logo.
Suppose your brand or design project has a primary character that communicates critical aspects of the design or is meant to appeal to a specific audience. In that case, a mascot may work best. In other instances, mascots are a curiosity or novelty supplanted by less whimsical design.
7. Letters Inside Shapes
Logos that utilize letters inside shapes tend to be the most distilled form of the emblem style. They are distinct because they reduce an emblem to a pictorial image featuring letters and shapes. Well-designed logos of this time include logos from brands such as LEGO, Ford, and UNIQLO. These logos occupy a strange but exciting space between recognizable images and brand names. These are often associated with clothing brands, where they can fit nicely on tags.
The key to these logos is that the designs preserve space. They tend to be simple and scalable, like pictorial mark logos but maintain the brand’s name. Letters inside shapes are a type of image that can be very iconic for logos. A well-designed logo of this type will also likely use a shape associated with the brand’s focus.
When to Use Letters Inside Shapes
Consider famous brands that use letters inside shapes for their logos. LEGO has a unique name that fits in a simple block shape, but there is the genius of it. The LEGO text is rounded and simple, reflecting child-like play, while the box the text is found in evokes blocks or boxes of bricks. The logo combines graphic elements that represent the brand in different ways. It strongly relates to how letters inside shapes make for meaningful visual branding.
Letters inside shapes make for a good in-between between wordmarks and emblems and can go a long way to creating symbolistic meaning. Graphic designers can learn a lot by exploring how these logos work.
Abstract logos can be a very iconic and powerful choice for a brand. Abstract designs tend to be undefined shapes without ready associations. If the brand and logo are a hit, that brand is forever associated with the shape. This is an incredible level of influence.
Brands with strong abstract symbol logos include Pepsi, Nike, and Adidas. The abstract, tri-colored Pepsi orb carries the brand’s colors but is wholly unique as a shape that can be hard to describe. Nike’s iconic “swoosh” is so powerful that nearly anyone with a connection or understanding of sports can recognize it.
The Adidas logo is also highly iconic, with a trio of leaf-like shapes with interconnecting lines.
These shapes are so unique and iconic that they are recognizable and are not easy to confuse. Nobody can draw the “swoosh” without it being associated with Nike.
When to Use Abstract Logos
The abstract symbol logo is a bold and innovative method of creating a logo. Still, the logo has to become something readily associated with the brand and not be confused with anything else.
The Pepsi logo is a circle until the red and blue shapes are integrated into the design. The Nike logo is, in some sense, a checkmark in shape, but not entirely. It is enough to set the logo apart.
With that said, creating a strange jumble of a shape doesn’t necessarily work either. The shape needs to have an appeal to it. The Adidas logo is an excellent example of disparate design elements that work harmoniously and create a pleasing look.
The power of an abstract mark makes it appealing, but if not done correctly, it becomes laughable. These dynamic logos are some of the most iconic but are easy to mess up.
9. Combination Marks
The combination mark is a logo that combines multiple elements of a logo design into a single design. For example, combinations of letters, shapes, abstract concepts, or mascots can intermingle for exciting, iconic logos. These can be some of the safest bets for logo design but can also become unnecessarily messy.
Some iconic combination logos include Doritos, Burger King, and CVS logos. These logos feature combinations of different logos to make a cohesive, whole logo. A great example is the Doritos logo which includes a wordmark for the brand but also features an abstract, triangular shape. The shape features jagged edges with coloration evoking the chips, while the triangular shape also represents the chips.
The CVS logo features the brand’s wordmark but pairs it with an abstract heart shape that evokes the iconography of a bandage, reflecting their health and wellness industry.
When to Use Combination Marks Logos
Combination mark logos are versatile and often considered a “safe bet” in design. However, that doesn’t mean that slapping text and a symbol together makes for a good logo. The correlation between the brand and the image needs to work well, and that is often the result of careful attention to marketing and emphasizing the brand through the logo.
The Doritos logo works because it abstractly evokes the corn chip. While not quite a hamburger, the Burger King logo evokes the shape of a hamburger by layering design elements in an iconic sandwich-style stack. This can be seen in many food brands such as Hardees, Nestle, and more.
Combination mark logos benefit from strong associative imagery that can convey the product or brand. The CVS logo works so well because the geometric form of the heart shape reads as caring, while the bandage imagery is a visual representation of the company’s role in health.
If your brand can find that unique visual connection, which is often harder said than done, then a combination marks logo is a strong option. Creating a dynamic mark with a brand logo is possible through combination design.
Final Thoughts on the Types of Logos
Marketing campaigns often utilize many types of logos to foster a connection with consumers. These nine logotypes range from entirely pictorial graphics with huge cultural implications to simplified lettering with an air of authority.
Whether an abstract mark or a letter mark logo, different types of logos can carry different implications, and graphic design skills can help brands get the most out of their identification.