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What is a logo?

Too many people confuse word-marks, graphic-marks & initial-marks.

When we use the term “logo” we’re being pretty lazy. There are actually several different types of graphic device that can represent a brand. Lumping them all in together under the term logo means that clients, designers, marketers and entrepenuers can get pretty confused.

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Nike have a graphic mark but started with a word mark and graphic mark locked together.

1. Graphic Mark

The first type of logo is a graphic mark. This type of device has no words and no initials; it is simply a graphic element. The classic examples of graphic marks are the Nike swoosh or the Apple apple. They are powerful but it takes a high level of familarity or advertising spend to create the association of the shape with your company.

2. Initials Mark

The second type of logo is an initials mark, often these are very stylised, but the core of this device is the initials of the company. Examples of initals marks include IBM, CNN or VW. They are also powerful but you need to be willing to be known by your initials only. If you still want to keep your company name but your logo is your initials, you’ll be running a two horse race and splitting your resources.

3. Word Mark

The third type of logo is a word mark. This is a stylised treatment of your company name. Examples would be Microsoft, Gap and Coke. Word marks are much under appreciated. I’ve learned the hard way that for a technology company, a word-mark should be the go-to graphic device.

Choosing the right logo for you

Lean branding always uses your business model as the starting point for brand descisions. So let your company stage dictate the type of logo you go for. Early on, when your goal is to make a credible first impression then a wordmark will make it easy to understand who you are. As you gain traction you can easily transition to an initials mark or graphic mark.

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Pepsi have evolved from a word mark to a graphic mark but this doesn’t mean that you should start out with just a graphic mark yourself.

Avoid a mushed together lock up

A lean brand will have several modular graphic elements that you can choose from for each application. Some designers give you a word mark, an initials mark and a graphic mark for a single brand. Its important not to confuse them, or to use the them together unnecessarily.

Premature use of initials

If your company initials are not immediately recognisable (to your target audience), then using an initial mark by itself will not be sufficient for most applications. In this situation, you’ll be tempted to use the word mark as well as the initial mark at the same time. This is a common, but fatal branding mistake. You can quickly end up with an initial mark stamped, unnecessarily, all over your collateral.

Let the words do the talking

Imagine a T shirt with your graphic mark enlarged on the front, and your word mark on the sleeve. This is the common (and incorrect) ratio applied by young graphic designers. For most startups, it would be much more powerful to have the word mark on the front of the T shirt and the graphic mark as an accent on the sleeve.

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Silicon Vally investors KPCB have a portfolio of awesome companies. They’ve all invested in distinct but readable logos.

An app icon is not a logo

These days the first thing a startup often designs is the iOS app icon. This is fine, but don’t suddenly start slapping the icon on stickers for your laptop. Early on, you’ll still need the word mark to create word of mouth and recognisability.

Logo vs System

The reason that I say there is “no such thing” as a logo is that your logo doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s only ever seen by your audience in context. That context is a design system.

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The reason you can recognise a brand isn’t the logo, it’s the overall visual design system.
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Mock up tools allow designers to show a brand in use. This is vital for Lean Branding where things can change fast.

Written by

Digital Brand Strategist. Coffee geek. Street photographer. Startup advisor. B2B & lean branding:

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