Logo Design Insight – Brand Marks

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A brand mark is a pictorial representation of a company or organization. They exist with a company’s logotype in their brands’ lock-up. However, they can integrate the organization’s name or initials, as in the case of letter form or emblem logos.

When we think of these different styles of brand marks, it helps to think of a continuum that ranges from image based to type based illustrations. Letterform logos fall on the typographic end of this comparison, and and graphic elements incorporated into them are usually simple geometric or abstract shapes. Pictorial logos, by comparison, are the opposite. A successful pictorial logo incorporated no (or nearly none) text, and emblem logos sit in between the two.

Once a pictorial logo is settled on as the appropriate solution for a brand’s identity challenge, the most important factor in deciding amongst the three is their primary function. In the case of a car manufacturer, an emblem is often the choice for adorning the grill of their vehicles. For a television network, a small iconic graphic is a better choice to adorn the corner of their broadcast.


Burger King / NASA logo example
MINI / Perrier Logo Example
Sherwin Williams / NFL Logo Example
An Emblematic Brand Mark is…

A visual brand identity that combines typography and imagery in a single, proprietary mark, often with a tagline or other supporting typographic elements.

Terms Referencing This Style

Enclosed Logo, Combination Mark

A logo that combines equal parts type and graphic is known as an Emblem. These logos are often the first style people imagine when trying to brainstorm their new identity. Letters mixed with images can be very memorable and impactful, but often at the cost of versatility.
Because of the larger number of elements, their legibility suffers at smaller sizes and when rendered in black and white. Because of these significant limitations, this style of logo has become less popular, and has mostly been replaced by traditional, two-part combination logos.

With that said, they are ideally suited for certain industries, namely athletics, automotive, restaurants and government agencies. Simple geometric shapes, wings, badges etc. can provide the perfect backdrop for an organizations name or initials. This style harkens back to some of the most historically significant logos, namely cattle brands, family crests, and formal seals.


Holiday Inn / T-Mobile logo example
Lowe's / CNN Logo Example
McDonld's / facebook Logo Example
A Letterform Brand Mark is…

A primarily typographic depiction of a brand’s leading letter, monogram, or full name, some with simple supporting graphic elements

Terms Referencing This Style

Letter Marks, Monograms, Charachter Mark

A letterform brand mark is a primarily typographic representation of a brand’s name or initials. They are somewhat graphic in nature, usually incorporating simple geometric shapes or decorative elements. They are more easily associated with a brand, but often retain the simplistic versatility of pictorial logos.

Overall they are fairly self explanatory, and a time tested manner of representing one’s brand. However they often lack the visual punch or memorability of more graphic logos. They also can look redundant or conflicting when combined with a brand’s full logotype in a lock-up. If used with out a a full wordmark, abbreviated letter marks can lack the association with one’s brand in the same manner as pictorial logos.

This style of logo is best suited for a brand with a very short or very long name. Longer names can be shortened to acronyms or reduced to their leading letter, while shorter ones can be coupled with a simple graphic component to help instantly define their category.


Firefox / Bank of America logo example
Coach / NBC Logo Example
A Pictorial Brand Mark is…

A graphic depiction of a brand, usually iconic and simplified, that is completely devoid of typography.

Terms Referencing This Style

Symbol, Graphic, Icon, Mascot

A Pictorial brand mark is a simple but bold symbol that represents a company or organization. Like a traffic light, they convey information quickly, and without the need for type. In our increasingly global society, this is a particular benefit, as they do not need translation when viewed by or used in non-English speaking populations.

The strength of these iconic images often lies in their simplicity. This allows them to be instantly recognizable and memorable, and allows them to be used in a wider array of applications and sizes. On the other hand, if you plan on using them without any logotype they require a significantly larger marketing budget to cement association with your brand. The Nike swoosh would look like a simple check mark if you were raised on an island that Nike’s brand awareness hadn’t reached.

Pictorial logos can be further broken down into several sub-categories, and which I discuss on this page.