What is a logotype?
It is very common to use the term logotype to refer to any symbol or element that is used to identify a brand or company, whatever type it may be. And this is reasonable, since there are several types and not everyone is familiar with the terminology that identifies each one of them. Moreover, it is convenient to use it in a generic way. In fact, in this post, I’m going to talk about logos referring to all kinds.
It is important, however, to know how to differentiate between logo and brand, as a brand is much more than a logo, this being just one more element (although essential) of the whole that makes up the visual identity of a brand.
According to the RAE, the word logo comes from the Greek λόγος lógos ‘word’ and τύπος týpos ‘mark or brand’, and means a graphic symbol peculiar to a company, commemoration, brand or product, and also a group of letters, abbreviations, figures, etc., merged into a single block to facilitate typographic composition.
Etymologically, logos (λόγος) in Greek is word, study or treatise, and typos means mark or engraved character.
As we can see, these definitions are very focused on the use of words or characters for the representation of a brand, but they leave a little aside the other elements that may be accompanying these words, the symbols.
What kinds of logos are there?
Brand logos can be assigned to several general categories, although the limits between these categories are flexible and many brands combine elements belonging to one or more categories.
To be able to speak in general terms, we can say that a logotype can basically be made up of two elements: alphanumeric characters, and iconography or symbol.
With these elements we can obtain a classification:
WORDMARK: Composed only of alphanumeric characters.
ABSTRACT: It is the combination of a symbol with text, and both can work together or separately.
EMBLEM: The emblem is the fusion between the symbol and the text, they are never separated.
ISOTYPE: It is only the iconic part, or symbol, and within this category there are also several types:
- Monogram: A symbol composed of one or more initials.
- Anagram: A word (even if it functions as a symbol) made up of syllables or letters of the entity’s name.
- Acronym: Unlike the anagram, it has no phonetic articulation. It differs from the monogram in that the letters are not joined, but are clearly differentiated.
- Initial: This is the first letter of a word or name.
- Signature: It is a variant of the wordmark logotype, but in this case using a handwritten typography. It is used above all when the name of the creator of the brand is to be highlighted.
- Pictogram: It is the symbol, which works independently, without the need to add characters. It can be figurative or abstract.
What should a logo look like?
The difference between art and design is that art is subjective, works of art are made for the sole purpose of expression, entertainment, to provoke emotions or to be admired. In art there are no rules, everything is allowed, as artists communicate and transmit only what they want, their ideas, emotions or feelings.
However, design has a functional objective, we designers are in charge of transmitting the ideas, values, philosophy or tone of a brand. You may like the design of a logotype more or less, but that is not important, the important thing is that it fulfils its function. The work of a graphic designer is more similar to that of an architect, our designs do not express our ideas or emotions, but they have the function of fulfilling their objective, generating sensations and communicating. To do so, they must comply with certain rules. A logo should be:
This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that a logo is viewed from different distances, different media (digital, print) and different media. The less complex a logotype is, the easier it will be to read and to apply to different media.
In addition to digital applications, a logo must be able to be printed in colour, or in black and white. There are times when we see designs with gradients, shadows and effects, which are not suitable for use on a stamp, for example. All these possibilities must always be taken into account even if these applications are not initially considered, you never know where the logo may end up being applied, and that is why it is better to ensure that it is reproducible with a good initial design.
At certain sizes, especially smaller ones, it is more difficult to appreciate the shape and details of a logotype. That is why it is necessary to take into account the negative spaces, the thickness of the strokes, the size of the letters, and many other factors when designing a logo.
As I mentioned, not all the responsibility for the brand lies with the logo. The visual identity of a brand is made up of many visual elements: colour, typography, graphics, iconography, animations, patterns, etc. They all work together to make a brand distinguishable. But of course, the logo, more often than not, has the most prominence, and therefore has the responsibility to be unique and original.
This is one of the most complicated, yet important parts of designing a logo. The simpler and more iconic, the more impact it has on us and the less difficult it is for our brain to remember its shape in the future. That doesn’t mean that we have to go for total simplicity, simple shapes can make visually appealing symbols.
Many times clients ask for the logo of their brand to be focused on the fashions and trends of the moment, but if so, you have to bear in mind that at some point you will have to restyle or redesign the logo in order to adapt it again.
Having said that, I would like to add that it is advisable to avoid trends. A few years ago we could see how all the logos used very complex gradients, shadows, reliefs, and now we are going back to simplification, to “less is more”. I don’t think it’s right one way or the other, I don’t think we should let ourselves be carried away (even if it’s hard) by fashions or trends. The more a design is alien to these fashions, the more timeless it can be, and work equally well in different eras.
What kind of logo is best suited for my brand?
Now that you have seen all the different kinds of logos out there, I hope you understand that reaching the conclusion of what kind of logo you need is not so easy, it depends on many factors that influence the decision: What is the name of the brand? Is it long? Short? Are they acronyms? What is the target audience? In what media is it going to be used? These questions are only part of the process used to figure out what kind of logo is right for you.
There are some cases in which I think it is quite clear. For example, being a freelancer is not the same as having a company. If you are freelance (photographer, architect, illustrator, artist, etc…) and your brand is your own name, in my opinion, a wordmark, a signature, or a monogram with your initials would be enough.
However, if you have a company and you have created your own brand, independent of your person, with its own values and philosophy, it is more convenient to have an abstract logotype, as it seems to me the one that offers the most advantages or versatility: by having a symbol and a logo that can work independently, it is more adaptable to different scales and media.
Deciding what kind of logo is the most suitable for a brand is not an easy task. Many factors have an influence and the possibilities are also numerous. But by following the right design guidelines, it is possible to achieve optimum results that are functional, that communicate, that generate sensations and that fulfil their objective.
Hi, I’m Roberto Vidiella.
I am the founder and Creative Director of VIDI. I am passionate about graphic design, and through this blog, I try to deepen my knowledge and share what I have learned during my career. If you leave me a comment, you help me to keep learning and improving, and also because I’m really excited about it!