Logos and Branding

What is a Logo?

Ron Cobb’s Semiotic Standard for “Alien”

In the world of design and brands, the term “logo” is kind of nebulous.

Let’s define two terms to work with:

  1. Logotype – A stylized text version of the brand/company name.

    There is something about the name that has been altered in some way to make you remember it. Also called a “wordmark.”


  2. Symbol/Icon – The mark itself, either pictorial or abstract, specifically designed to invoke the distinct identity of the brand. Sometimes called the “logomark”

    Usually placed near the name of the brand or company. If the brand and logo is strong enough, with time it can be associated with the brand even without any text.

    It is a very powerful thing to have a graphic mark that is able to embody the entirety of a brand. Many ideas become possible.

    The most successful and iconic symbols are often the most simple as well.


Do You Need A Symbol? Not Really

Designing a logo that is simple, iconic, and original is becoming more difficult after almost 70 years or so of identity design.

So many symbols, icons, and graphics have become trademarked,  even in their rawest forms, by existing brands.

If you’re designing for a brand, they own the rights to their name. You have the freedom to experiment when designing a logotype.


But when designing a symbol for a brand, it is much more difficult to design something original and ownable by the client.

The first thing you should decide is whether or not the brand needs a symbol apart from just the logotype.

There needs to be a pretty good reason for having a symbol. Why? It’s another thing people will have to learn, on top of your logotype and brand colors.

When to Use A Symbol

There are three situations that warrant designing a symbol to represent a brand.

1. The brand name is too long

Remember, any given brand is going to be represented in a lot of different sizes and shapes of media. A custom symbol helps solve for that.






2. The company or entity is a very large organization with sub-brands

A symbol can help unify an organization with a bunch of smaller units within it.






unc logo
unc logo

3. You want a singular image for consistent branding across all touchpoints.







So if symbols are so difficult to create, develop, and own, why invest the time and money into using them?

The potential to create value is immense. Over time symbols become more and more associated with their brand.

A well-crafted symbol instantly recalls the values and character of the brand it represents.

A well-crafted symbol stands the test of time and becomes more and more recognizable as it is used.


Next: Designing Logotypes