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)

Branding is full of different types of logo, but did you know there are actually five broad categories? This is a great place to start when considering your next logo design project as it immediately focuses your mind on exactly what style your design is going to be.

The five basic categories of logo styles are: wordmarks, lettermarks, brandmarks, combination marks and emblems. This post is going to explain how each category is defined, give you some famous examples and explain when and why they should be used. 

It's worth noting that not all logos fit neatly and cleanly into these categories, which isn't a problem. You should see them less as a rigid system and more as a way to get you thinking. For more advice on logo design, see our how to design a logo guide, which lays out the golden rules of designing a logo and our pick of the best logos around.

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 word mark or logotype – is in many ways the simplest type of logo, casting the company’s name in text alone. They may be based on handwriting, signatures, custom fonts or (less common) existing fonts. 

Famous examples include the logos for Coca-Cola, Disney, Mobil, Canon, Sony, Visa, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Pinterest. 

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

Also known as a monogram logo, a lettermark logo is again made of text, but based on 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 contains no text but is an image, icon or symbol that represents the company or brand. 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, combination marks mean you can convey a visual idea of what they 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, Starbucks, 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.

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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 (opens in new tab), 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, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects. 

With contributions from