Designing Brand Symbols

What makes a brand symbol effective?


What is the job of a brand symbol? Not promotion. Not communication. On a basic level, a symbol’s job is to identify the brand.


A symbol is not the whole sentence. It is merely the period at the end of the sentence.

Three Criteria for Good Symbols

How do we determine the effectiveness of a symbol?

  1. Appropriateness – Is it appropriate for the brand? Does it “feel” right for the brand. This can be hard to nail down.
  2. Distinctiveness – Is it unusual enough to persist in our mind so that its form is easy to remember?
  3. Simplicity – Is it uncomplicated in form? Is it flexible across sizes and formats while retaining consistency?
The National Geographic symbol

designing_brand_symbols3It’s just a yellow rectangle, right? Yes, but…

Over time, and through consistent use, it has become a vessel for all the feelings and associations related to NatGeo—exploration, travel, science, geography, education, wild animals, and environmentalism.



designing_brand_symbols6Think of a symbol like the flag of a country: It may not visually portray much “about” the country, but it is strong, bold, and distinctive. Over time, it becomes the perfect vessel for all of the feelings and associations about the country it represents.

How Do We Judge What Is ‘Appropriate?’

Judging a symbol based on whether or not it is memorable or simple is pretty straightforward.

Judging a symbol’s appropriateness is much different. You have to think about what the client needs in terms of concept and personality.

Re-designing the U.S. Open Symbol

In 2018, the design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv was hired to redesign the logo for the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

Read and watch the videos below to see how Designer Sagi Haviv approached the various stages of designing the new symbol.

Defining the Design Problem
  1. In-depth discussions with the client about their needs and wants
  2. Conducting market research to gauge public perception on certain subjects

  3. Using your own artistic instinct and intuition. Take input, but be prepared to push back with expertise

Finding what is appropriate is a skill that is developed over time by doing the work.

Try and get as much information as possible from the client and ask as many questions as you need to.

video iconWatch a video of Sagi Haviv talking about how to define the design problem when building brand symbols


Designing the Solution

We work on a continuum of distinctiveness and simplicity.

Too simple, it will be generic and uninteresting. Too distinctive, it loses functionality/versatility.

How distinctive can we make something while still keeping it reasonably simple in form?

video iconWatch a video of Sagi Haviv talking about how to design the solution to design problems presented when building brand symbols


Presenting to the Client
video icon
Watch a video of Sagi Haviv talking about how to present design work in several real-world contexts so that clients can see how their work will look out on signs, on the web, on merchandise, etc.

See more amazing logo design on the Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv website. Their simple case studies for each project are great inspiration if you are building your own web portfolio of design work. They really show the power of developing just a few REALLY GOOD images to show your work.


Next: Designing the Apple Logo