The 5 basic types of logo and how to use them

Types of logo Mobil/Twitter/Starbucks/Adidas/CNN
(Image credit: Mobil/Twitter/Starbucks/Adidas/CNN)

There are many different types of logo, but they generally fall into five broad categories. And while this might seem like a simplification, it can be a useful place to start when considering a new logo design project since it can help focus your mind on the style of logo that fits the brand you're working with.

The five basic categories of logo styles are wordmarks, lettermarks, brandmarks, combination marks and emblems. Below, we'll explain how each category is defined, providing some famous examples for inspiration. We'll also explain the benefits of each type of logo and when and why they should be used. 

It's worth noting that not all logos fit so neatly into these categories, but that isn't a problem. You should see this as less of a rigid system and more as a way to help provide some general direction when approaching logo design For more advice, see our how to design a logo guide, which lays out the golden rules of logo desig. We also have a rundown of the best logos ever made.

01. Wordmark 

Mobil logo illustrating the wordmark type of logo

The Mobil logo was designed by Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv in 1964

A wordmark, also known as a logotype, is in many ways the simplest type of logo, displaying the company’s name in text. They may be cursive/handwriting logos, which could be based on signatures, or they can be designed from custom fonts or (less commonly) existing fonts. 

Famous examples include the logos for Coca-Cola, Disney, Mobil, Canon, Sony, Visa, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Pinterest. Of course, logotypes still provide opportunities to get creative and incorporate clever visual references (just think of the FedEx logo with its hidden arrow).

For big brands, the simplicity of a type-only logo can convey a sense of confidence, history and stability. However, the wordmark can also be a good choice for a startup, as it contains the company's full name and helps to make it known. Once that name has become ubiquitous, though, it’s often the case that brand or company will switch to a…

02. Lettermark 

CNN logo illustrating the lettermark type of logo

The CNN logo was designed by the late Anthony Guy Bost in 1980

Incorporating monogram logos and 3-letter logos, a lettermark logo is again made of text, but uses only the initials of the company or brand, rather than its full name. Famous examples include the logos for Cable News Network (CNN), Home Box Office (HBO), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Procter & Gamble (P&G), and Electronic Arts (EA).

As these examples suggest, a lettermark is a good choice for a company whose name is difficult to pronounce or too long to work as a logo in most media. This is an especially important consideration when it will need to shrink down to tiny sizes on mobile devices, for example. 

Shortening a long company name to initials will also make it easier for your audience to remember your logo and name, especially in global markets. The challenge with both lettermarks and wordmarks, however, is to make them distinctive enough visually that they become instantly recognisable. That’s less of an issue when it comes to designing a...

03. Brandmark

Twitter logo illustrating the brandmark type of logo

This version of the Twitter bird, originally created by Simon Oxley, was created by Doug Bowman in 2012

Also known as a pictorial mark, a brandmark is an image, icon or symbol that represents the company or brand, without actually spelling out the name in text. Famous examples include the Apple silhouette, the Target bullseye, the Nike ‘Swoosh’, the Red Cross symbol and the WWF panda.

A brandmark can be a great way for audiences to form a psychological connection to your brand, as the brain responds on a deeper, more instinctive level to an image than written text, which needs to be interpreted. 

This principle can be seen, for example, in social media, where a symbol like the Twitter bird, the Snapchat ghost or the Instagram camera icon encourages people to share content they’ve encountered on a website almost unthinkingly.

Using only a symbol to explain your brand also has obvious advantages when it comes to serving a global market, as it can (in theory) be instantly understood everywhere in the world. The success of a brandmark, however, does rely on audiences knowing what the symbol means, so it’s a tricky thing to pull off for all but the best-known brands.

04. Combination mark

Adidas logo illustrating the combination mark type of logo

This Adidas logo, combining a wordmark and a symbol known as the Trefoil, first appeared in 1971

As the name suggests, a combination mark involves a combination of wordmark and symbol. Famous examples include the logos for Adidas, Doritos, Lacoste, Pizza Hut, Xbox, McDonald’s, Walmart, Microsoft and Domino’s Pizza.

Also known as iconic logotypes or lockups, combination marks mean you can convey a visual idea of what the brand represents, as well as making it clear what it’s called, so it’s particularly useful for new or less well-known brands. Its complexity also means it’s easier to trademark, and means your logo is more distinctive and less likely to be confused with other brands’ logos.

That same complexity, however, means it’s more difficult to reduce the design down to smaller sizes. Therefore it’s ideal if the different elements can used separately as well as in combination; the Adidas logo shown above is a perfect example of this.

05. Emblem

Starbucks logo illustrating emblem type of logo

This classic Starbucks logo was in use from 1992-2011

Like a combination mark, an emblem also involves both text and symbol, but in this case the text appears inside the symbol. Famous examples of emblems include the logos for Ford, the Starbucks roundel, Harley-Davidson, UPS, MasterCard, Burger King and the NFL.

Emblems are less flexible than combination marks, as their elements are typically difficult to separate out. Historically used by organisations such as schools, charities, sports teams and government agencies, and resembling a badge or seal, this style of logo can lend an air of authority and authenticity to a modern-day brand.

Looking for more logo inspiration? See our picks of the best band logos and the best textless logos.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects. 

With contributions from