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222. Graphic Design 101: Logo vs. Symbol

Tap, tap, tap. Class…class?! Settle down now! I said settle down NOW! That’s better.

I’ve noticed a trend over the past nine years. I thought it was just a flash in the pan, a simple lack of good judgment. Like most bad trends I thought, “this too shall pass.” But for whatever reason - complacency, the need to impress one’s self/clients or forgetfulness, design terminology has fallen apart.

I’m referring specifically to the use of the word logo. I’m not sure how, why or when this happened but it hasand it must stop.

Let’s review:

  • Logo: Word or words in type. Identify company, brand, project and group. (Nike)
  • Symbol: Marks without type used to identify a corporation, agency or institution. (Nike Swoosh)
  • Combination Mark: Symbol and logo used together. Also called signature.
  • Pictograph: Public symbol used to cross language barriers for direction, safety, and transportation. (men/women restroom signs)
  • Letter Marks: Letters form name in type used to identify company, often to shorten long name (HBO).
  • Logo Mark: no such thing.
  • Logotype: no such thing in the commercial mark arena**…but I will allow.  However, the correct wording would be to say, “the typeface used for the logo or letter mark”. 
  • Word Mark: no such thing.
  • Brand Mark: no such thing.

Now, I know you’re saying to yourself…what a tight ass! What’s the big deal? The big deal is that it just isn’t right! It’s like bad grammar. I’m sure Paul Rand is probably spinning in his grave. Should all tissues be called Kleenex?  Well, of course not! This improper use has gotten so bad it’s reached the White House! Even my star student Jason Smith has begun using this description for all marks.

The Pepsi globe is a freakin’ symbol! The type treatment for the word Pepsi is the logo. The typeface is not the logotype! It’s the typeface used for the logo….PLEASE!

(clearing throat sounds)….sorry for the outburst.

Now, can you stop trying to overly impress your clients with flashy made-up words to describe a mark? You’re professionals…so start acting like it. If not, I’ll have no choice but to write you a pink slip and send you to the principal’s office.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to the teacherslounge for a cigarette and a stiff cocktail.

Class dismissed. :)

**More clarification is needed. Logotypes are special typographic characters consisting of multiple letters much like ligatures but not blended together. However, my encounter with the term Logotype has been misused to describe a logo (see above) or the typeface used for the logo.


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Reader Comments (10)

So, um. Is pictobrandmark okay? Ha!

Love it.

Reminds me of the font vs. type argument. I like that you're not afraid to throw a few jabs my way!

December 17, 2008 | Registered Commenterjj
It's easy to get lost in the rhetoric. Ultimately, meanings of words do change...much to the chagrin of academics. But "combination mark?" I can see the confusion in the client's face already.
December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJason Locke
Words and their meanings change over time. But...

I was told that back in the day, Lippincott & Margulies, leading corporate identity firm (RCA for example), referred to customized letters in a name as a "wordmark". It helpfully distinguishes between signatures (don't even get me started on "lockup"), symbols, and those composed only of letters. Same as your "letter mark". I'm sure there are examples in print to confirm this usage.

"Logotype" was originally a term from metal typography that means joined letters, these were cast in one piece so delicate parts would not break off. You can check this easily. It makes sense that trademarks cast as single elements for metal typesetting were later called logotypes, since they would be one piece of metal.

As far as authoritative references, I don't have VCU's own Phil Meggs' "History of Graphic Design" on hand to check, but look in Doyald Young's "Logotypes and Letterforms" pages 3-4. Young taught at Art Center in Pasadena for over 20 years and did familiar work for TV, corporate identity and packaging.
Good point Mr. Locke! But who knows...maybe what was old is new again? Try Combination Mark, it might just work? I'd love to see your client's face too.
December 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRoss
Well done anonymous logotyper w/ experience.
December 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRoss
Hold up! McClain! How on earth have I been using the term word mark after having had you at Furman? What in the —? I'm so confused. Totally ordering History of Graphic Design (which should be italicized, not in quotations, if we're being technical) and getting some background on all this before I lead myself further astray.
January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDarsey
Terribly sorry but I disagree with all this.
Paul Rand may be turning in his tomb but Saussure must be having a blast.
January 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBezierk
I gotta say ... I feel as the conversation goes, between creatives and clients ... logomark, wordmark, fullmark seem to be the easiest to use. Are they actual words ? No. But they're just words, they don't control us ... we control them.
March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStGermain
thanks for sharing!
October 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdendy
Really nice post. I agree with your concern.
April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

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