What you call your “Logo”, is probably much more than that.
When talking about a company or organization’s identity business owners, graphic designers, marketing professionals (and non-professionals alike) use words such as “Logo”, “Trademark”, “Font” and “Brand”. Often, these terms are used interchangeably and inaccurately. In this article, I plan to outline my understanding of a corporate identity dissection, and offer clarification on the anatomy of a business identity, using industry-professional vocabulary. After reading this article, you’ll be spouting proper design and marketing rhetoric when talking about the graphical look of your company.
To start, we should consider the basics. What is a ‘business identity’?
A companies business identity is everything visual and verbal that combine to form the assets which distinguish it’s reference from all others. Notice I said “it’s reference”. What distinguishes the actual business, is it’s products and/or services. However, your business identity is your business’ persona, it’s facade, it’s projected image. The business identity is a big part of your company’s overall brand, and can be an key factor in influencing the way customers look at your business.
As a graphic designer, I often get requests from new business owners to create a “logo” for their company. Usually, at this point they have already given their company a name. What they are requesting from me, is to create the visual identity for their company. They’ve already taken a very important first step in the creation of their Business Identity, by giving their business a name and binding it in language. When that name is transcribed, formalized, and standardized in written and graphical language, the visual aspect of their company’s identity takes shape.
What’s in a Name?
Determining the proper noun by which your company is referred to, is an imperative step in the creation of your business identity. Too often this is an afterthought, and companies and organizations miss a key opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competitors from day 1 of the inception of their identity.
Ideally, a company’s name should be distinguishable; meaning, it shouldn’t be easily mistakable as one of it’s competitors. It should also be memorable; meaning, it leaves a lasting impression in the minds of consumers. The internet boom took the choosing of distinguishable names to an extreme. Suddenly names of companies sprung up like Yahoo, and Google – names that were not only memorable, but fun to say. Linguistically, the chosen name may or may not have additional meaning in contexts outside the company. Sometimes this meaning has a relative connection to the company and it’s brand, sometime it does not. Nike is an athletic shoe company, but it’s also the name of a greek goddess who personified ‘victory’.
The Sum of It’s Parts
To generalize, A company’s Visual Identity may be divided into two main anatomical parts: The Logo-Type, and the Logo-Mark. Each part can play a role in the visual realization of the given name. Not all graphical representations of corporate identities will have both, sometimes only one of these parts may exist -but we’ll get to that later.
The Logo-Type represents the stylized written name of the company which may be created using custom made letter forms, a pre-existing set of type (a font), or often times a combination of the both. The logo-type provides the connection between the verbal dimension of the name and it’s visual perception as written language. A successful logo-type has regard for legibility, and of course memorability and characteristics that make it stand out from competitors. The logo-type may also be referred to as the “word-mark”.
The Logo-Mark is a graphical symbol that accompanies the logo-type, providing a visual communication that extends beyond written and spoken language, making a connection in the mind of the viewer between the company’s name and the symbol that represents it. Visually, it can be symbol-based, pictorially-based, or completely abstract. Sometimes this connection has literal implications, sometimes it is conceptually-abstract, and sometimes seemingly unrelated altogether. The electronics and computer maker Apple, Inc. has an apple for their logo-mark, an obvious connection. The investment firm T. Rowe Price has a ram for their logo-mark –perhaps not imagery you’d think of when your pondering over mutual funds– unless that is, you know about T. Rowe Price.
Arguably, your word-mark has the most importance when visually communicating your brand. Without it, your audience must rely purely on the recognition of your logo-mark, and the company it represents. Often the word-mark can stand alone, and sometimes the integration between the two is such that they are basically a single mark. On rare occasions a company’s brand and it’s Identity carries enough recognition, that the logo-mark can effectively stand alone.
In Part II of this series, I discuss the psychology of Identities and their parts.