What's the Difference Between a Logo and Symbol?
If you’re reading this, then you’re on a quest to understand the difference between a logo and a symbol.
First of all, we have two important things to say that will clear this up:
1. Technically, there is a difference between a logo and a symbol
2. We confuse the two all the time, but it’s not a big deal
The only people who worry about using the two terms correctly are professional designers (after all, it’s their job to know these things). But for everyone else, you get a free pass to switch between the two words; the person you’re talking to will probably know what you mean.
*Hot Tip*: If you’re discussing logo design with clients or a designer, then it is essential to establish your definition of a logo, so everyone is on the same page. Is it a wordmark, lettermark, pictorial mark, or a combination mark?
Continue on if you want a clear understanding about the difference between symbols and logos, and to learn about the common types of logos.
In common speech, people use the word logo to mean “a word, symbol, or combination of the two that is used to represent a company, brand, or event.”
However, if you look up the two terms in a dictionary (which we did), then a logo can only technically be text, such as a word or initials—and a symbol can only refer to a picture. On top fo that, there is a third term that refers to the combination of the two: combination mark. (Logical, right?)
These definitions work fine for brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung, IBM, and Amazon. But what about Apple’s famous fruit icon? It’s hard to argue that that’s a symbol and not a logo.
And Nike? You’ll often see their famous swoosh and their brand name together. Do we call that both a logo and a symbol? A combination mark?
Most of the time, using the term “logo” is fine, but to be on the safe side, you can specify which type of logo you’re referring to.
Here are the 4 most common types of logo designs used by famous brands and small businesses.
Wordmarks are entirely font-based logos. These logotypes focus on the brand’s name alone, so there are no icons or initials. Brands with an energetic, catchy, and short name tend to use a wordmark.
Visa, Google, and Coca-Cola are just a few companies that use wordmark logos. Combined with a unique font and color scheme, wordmarks can be just as effective as picture-based logos.
Note that hi-tech companies prefer to use clean fonts that are modern looking, whereas Coca-Cola created its own cursive font, which is instantly recognizable.
A good time to use a wordmark is when your company is new to the branding scene. By using your business’s full name, you can help boost your brand’s awareness, but only if the name is short enough that the logo won’t look cluttered.
Lettermark logos (or monogram logos) only comprise of the brand’s initials, like HBO, HP, IBM, ABC, etc.
By using their initials, brands can simplify both their name and logo.
Which is easier to say, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA?
Similar to a wordmark, a lettermark logo puts the focus on letters only. So, choosing a font style that matches your company’s persona and character is vital.
If your business name is a bit of a mouthful, and you need to brand your logo across many marketing mediums, using a lettermark can make it easier for you.
A pictorial mark is a graphic-based logo that uses an icon, picture, or symbol. It’s probably the logo type that springs to mind when someone says ‘logo’.
Twitter, Apple, and Target each have strong, branded pictorial logos that audiences instantly recognize.
Pictorial logos can also be abstract images. Pepsi has one of the most iconic (and expensive) abstract logos. (Did you know they paid $1,000,000 for it?) Other famous examples include BP and Mitsubishi.
One of the most potent levels of branding is when you’re able to link your company to an image or icon only. It means your name has become so strong that it’s risen above the need for words.
If you’re thinking of using a pictorial mark, it’s super effective when it’s a literal image of your brand’s name (such as Apple), or if you can use an image that shows the service you provide or the products you sell.
So, like we mentioned above: What happens when you combine a wordmark, lettermark, or pictorial mark? You get a combination mark.
The symbol can be above, below, to the left, to the right, or even placed behind the text. Plenty of big brands such as Burger King, Lacoste, Nike, Delta, BMW use a combination of their name, initials, and an image.
Using a combination mark also allows brands the freedom to pick and choose which elements of their logo to use in unique situations, such as online marketing, or printing their logo on physical items, such as business cards and pens.
So, a symbol and a logo are not technically the same, but they often do identical things. Talking about the distinction might not be useful to you, but when discussing logos with designers, it’s best to use specific terminology to avoid confusion.
And, now that you know what the four most common logo types are, you can always get your point across with clarity and full understanding.