Iconic Logo

Do you have an iconic logo for your business?
A.  We have no logo at all.
B. Our logo is kind of boring.
C. We have a nice, professional-looking logo.
D. We have a professionally-designed logo that effectively announces our brand.
E. We have an iconic, professionally-designed logo that effectively announces our brand,  and makes us stand out as leaders in our field.
[Score:  A=0, B=1, C=2, D=3 and E=4]

Why is this question important?

“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
Paul Rand, Graphic Designer

A logo is crucial to your company’s branding.  A powerful brand without a truly iconic logo is a virtual impossibility, so it is definitely worth investing in a professional design that captures and communicates the core message of your business.  As Paul Rand so eloquently points out, your logo is like an ambassador – silently representing your brand, putting your best foot forward and declaring your uniqueness, value and success.

It’s a pretty tall order for a tiny image.  But with a little care and attention to what a logo can and should achieve (and what it cannot, and should not attempt to achieve) you can choose the right and most iconic logo for your business.


What do we mean by ‘iconic?’  

In graphic design, the term can be used to distinguish a logo type as ‘symbolic’ (think of Apple’s apple or Nike’s tick mark) versus logos using the company’s name or initials (such as Disney or Coca-cola) or logos combining a symbol with lettering (for example, Microsoft Windows or Adidas). 

But for our purposes, we’re using the word iconic in the broader sense of an ideal representative symbol of something – in this case, your unique brand.

A great logo is a powerful way to help customers remember your business.   Whether you like it or not, your logo design is at the heart of your communication plan.  It reaches out to your target market, reassures your customers, and reminds everyone just why they do business with you in the first place.   It helps communicate your message to your target audience.   When people look at your design, they should instantly think  – and think positively – about their past experiences with your company.  Your logo is short-hand advertising, constantly reminding your customers that you’re a vibrant player in the competitive marketplace, helping you stand out amid the barrage of competing images and messages.

So, what constitutes an effective logo?  A great logo – an iconic silent ambassador for your brand – must be simple, memorable, distinctive, versatile, appropriate and timeless.  Let’s look at these in order.


Perhaps the single most important aspect of any logo.  After all, look how little relative space a logo occupies – whether in print materials, on clothing, packaging, products or even on a huge billboard.  Complex designs are difficult for audiences to process quickly, and as multi-media continues to diminish our attention spans the trend is for ever simpler designs.  There’s a caveat, though.  Nike has been able to develop one of the simplest logos of all time, but only after building a worldwide reputation in its market.  If your company’s name is not yet a household word, your logo may have to carry a little more complexity.

Starbucks began with a relatively complex logo based on a 16th century woodcut of a topless, twin-tailed mermaid, and mentioned the name of the company and three products: coffee, tea and spices.  As the company became more fully branded with coffee the logo was simplified and the words ‘tea’ and ‘spices’ dropped.  Today, the stylised image of the mermaid is so inextricably linked to the international brand that the new logo has dropped both the word ‘coffee’ and the name of the company itself.  But this evolution to simplicity took thirty years of brand-building!

Apple, too, went through a similar evolution.  Their initial logo included a detailed woodcut of Sir Isaac Newton under an apple tree, with the words’ Apple Computer Co.’ wrapped around it.  Simplicity came later.


How does a logo become memorable?  Part of it, as in the Starbucks example above, is the long, hard process of building a brand name, the memorability coming from years of advertising and operational success.  However, Starbucks would certainly fail one test of memorability: look at a logo for a few seconds, then try to redraw it.  If you can’t replicate it with reasonable accuracy then it probably won’t be easy for customers to remember.  What ten-year-old child can’t draw McDonald’s golden arches?  Also, linking your logo to your name through uniform use of typefaces and colours can also add to memorability.


This is a fairly subjective term, but nevertheless a crucial aspect of logo design.  Distinctiveness is the aspect of your logo that makes it stand out from others, especially those in your own market sector.   When designing a logo, look at those of all your competitors and anyone else in your marketplace.   Try to determine what they all share in common (do they, for example, tend to use three letter abbreviations for their companies? or do they tend toward the blue-green end of the colour spectrum?).  Then, as Apple’s slogan advised, ‘Think Different.’  Challenge your designers to come up with something entirely unlike anything currently out there.  That’s distinctiveness.


As I mentioned earlier, logos have a lot of work to do.   As your first line of branding defence your logo appears absolutely everywhere: on all marketing and communications materials, on your website, letterhead, products and packaging, staff uniforms, company vehicles, in your email signature … everywhere.  So your logo has to work equally effectively when it’s a tiny emblem on a printed pen, on a TV ad or on a massive billboard.  Although it must consistently use your corporate colours, it should also work in those instances when it must be printed in black & white or greyscale (you don’t want your bright blue company’s name disappearing on a blue T shirt!).


The image you choose for your logo must be appropriate.  Another way of saying this is that it must be meaningful, in that it is directly linked to a core message of your company.  If your company sells anchors, then your logo could be an image of Popeye’s tattoo, but if you think too far outside the box and come up with a skyline of Anchorage, Alaska, you’ve probably failed the appropriateness test.


It may seem absurd for a start-up or young company to be thinking about posterity when designing a logo, especially since, as I’ve pointed out, many companies’ logos continue to evolve over time.  However, you should still strive for longevity in the sense that you are building the best logo to represent your brand as it is now.  So, for example, avoid any trendy fonts or images, or references that depend on knowledge of current events.

If your brand changes substantially in the future, a revision of the logo may be needed, but if you’ve done your homework and developed a strong and appropriate brand, it should be a very long time indeed before it has to change, if ever.  Think how little Coca-Cola’s logo has changed over the years, and companies like Amazon, Google, Toyota, Kodak and the 96 other corporations that Forbes says will be around for 100 years have designed their logos to stand the test of time.

Shouldn’t you?

The first step in branding

A logo is only your first step in branding, and it cannot be separated from other aspects of your brand identity, especially your name, corporate colours, strapline, tagline and company slogan (yes, these are different!).  Whenever your customers see a graphical representation of your brand (your logo) accompanied with aural or textual representation (your spoken or written name, strapline, tagline, etc.) they access additional parts of their brains to process the information, which fortifies the impact of your brand.