Digital design and branding has made these terms ubiquitous, overused and more importantly, misused. Logotype, logo, logomark, wordmark, icon, and brand are often used interchangeably, inappropriately and without an understanding of which one is actually what. For many it simply doesn’t matter, to them a logo is their brand, a logotype is just another word for a logo, icons are doodles and ‘brand’ is a one-size-fits-all term for any under-defined strategy, this has to stop.
In an industry which seems to consume and spit out terminology like a piece of gum that lost its taste many chews ago, it may be time to reclaim these terms and re-assert their original meaning. The reduction of a profession and craft with hundreds of years of history to sensationalized buzz-wordy-ness is disappointing. To continue to misuse these terms so that there no more meaningful than more modern vocabulary slang such as going viral, marketing blitz, buzz-worthy, or web 2.0 is inexcusable.
A logo is not a logotype or a wordmark. A logo is a logomark, and a logotype is a wordmark. Not every brand needs both. Some brands will always only utilize a wordmark for identification. With the emergence of internet based businesses, logotypes only corporate identities became very common, there is a very practical reason for this. For the first time, the logotype had to identify the company and communicate to the audience how to access the service. Later internet businesses felt the pinch as domain names, the only way to access the product online, became harder and harder to come by. Alternate spellings and made up words became company names for the purpose of communicating the company name, how to access the product, and define the use. For example, Pixler, Twitter, Facebook, and SnapChat all communicate on three levels simultaneously, this was a first for logotypes.
A logotype, or wordmark
The logotype started as the name of the company, simple. Over time, it became desirable to stylize the spelling of the name for greater legibility, recognition and to differentiate. Stylization began with alternate typefaces, a custom typeface, modifying letterforms for visual impact and meaning. This stylization and design to express visual meaning is as important today as it was a hundred years ago. Crowded storefronts, legal documentation, branded assets, and goods were all more readily recognized as a branded good when the logotype was unique, as a result, it had greater value.
The one thing a logotype, or wordmark is not, is a logo. They are different things entirely. The logotype is comprised entirely of characters from the alphabet. Sometimes a logotype is emblazoned or accompanied by a logo, but it is always and only a stylized letter spelling of the brand name.
Popular logotypes include:
A logo, or logomark
A logo is a visual symbol. It’s a pure graphic representation of the company or brand. Great logos contain layers of symbolic meaning which contain both immediate and subtle interpretations which are gradually revealed. Other logos become great because of the influence and success of the company and contain little visual meaning. More brands still have no logo, relying on a logotype or other visual elements to represent their brand.
The definition of logo(s)
The term logo is from ancient Greek, logos, which meant an idea or thought. In theological circles, the logos meant a purpose or incarnation of a divine spirit. Stoics knew the logos as the active principle which governed the origins of the universe.
The origin of the word logo is a weighty one, alluding to a divine source from which the universe emanates. From that definition, it may at first seem that the term is misused in referring to graphic icons. The fact that a single symbol can represent the entirety of the Worlds largest Companies, Countries, Religions and ideas would suggest that it may in fact be the only word fit for the job.
Examples of great logos include:
Not every company or brand needs a logo
If your Company or product is in need of a visual identity program it is worth considering the differences between the elements which comprise a branded identity. Depending on the industry, use, communication, intent and expectations as a result of developing a branded identity the choice will vary.
We know that a logotype is critical for internet based companies as it communicates three messages simultaneously. Each industry will have an expectation and precedent for identity development and to a large extent the development of a new brand in an existing marketplace will be highly influenced by the existing players. Each situation should be evaluated and addressed accordingly.
Before developing a visual identity, logotype or logo, consider all the factors, competition, environment, and target market. A logo or logotype could come to represent the entirety of your brands meaning in a single graphical symbol or design. So when entering a design project, do so with great consideration and respect. This is an important decision, making a hasty one without respect for the craft or simply underinvesting could mean disaster for your brand or company.
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