The Three Kinds of Logos


Logos are like snowflakes. They come in all shapes and sizes, and no two are alike (unless there’s a trademark dispute). You’ve likely seen thousands of different logos in your life, but did you know there are three basic categories all logos can fall into? Each category has its own pros and cons, and some branding systems will incorporate two at once.


A wordmark simply uses the full name of the company in a specific, often custom, typeface. Famous examples include Coca-Cola, The Gap, and Home Depot. The advantage to wordmarks is that everyone will always know what your brand name is. It’s impossible to not know what brand this logo belongs to. However, the downside is that wordmarks struggle to function well in small spaces and they run into serious trouble if you have an international brand. When Coke tries to sell in foreign countries like China or Germany, they have to completely redo their logo so people can read it.


When a logo is a depiction of the name of the company, it’s called a pictorial. Apple’s logo is an apple, Target’s logo is a target, and Domino’s logo is a domino. Pictorials are great because they reinforce the name of the company with a realistic representation of the name of the company. The issue with pictorials is that not every brand can use it. Take Ford for example. They’re named after their founder Henry Ford, so unless they wanted to slap a picture of old Henry’s face on every car and truck they make, a pictorial wouldn’t work for them.

logo design

slap a picture of old Henry’s face on every car


Abstract Shape

Ever notice that some logos are just meaningless shapes that don’t really mean anything? That’s because a lot of logos are just abstract shapes. Nike, possibly the most well-known logo on the face of the planet, is just a pointless shape some graphic design student got paid $35 to create. Other great examples are Pepsi, Master Card, Chase Bank, and Brookside Studios (obviously). Abstract shapes debatably make for the best logos. They normally look good in one color or at any size, and they translate well into any language or setting.

Brands are getting smarter and realizing they need a versatile branding system, not just a stand-alone logo. When Wal-Mart rebranded a few years ago, they changed the typeface of their wordmark and changed the generic star to a more distinctive flower. This new system allows them to us the wordmark when they have space, and they can use the abstract shape separately while still maintaining brand consistency. This pairing of a wordmark with an icon is a great way to get flexibility and consistency out of your branding system. 

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