A logo is not always an icon and a wordmark - they live together either stacked or side by side and get stuck on everything the brand can get their hands on. In reality, many modern logos are simple wordmarks. They can be a perfectly selected font with excellent kerning and impeccable placement and colour pairings that make you fall in love with brands.
It's not to say that icons don't hold a special place in visual identities. Icons can help brands show up online in ways that longer wordmarks can’t compete in. For instance, we all know what Spotify looks like because it lives on our phones, with daily usage, and we know the Nike swoosh because we’ve been beaten over the head with it for 50 years.
The question is: Should your company have an icon or a really well-designed wordmark?
Why should you have an icon as part of your branding in 2023?
Maybe you've got a mobile app, or are working towards having one. Tiny well-designed icon tiles with a high competition environment, like a home screen, for example, make for great use as a brand indicator.
On the other side, perhaps your brand is one that shows identity in a passive way. Consider clothing lines like Fabletics or TNA, where the icon goes on t-shirts, sweaters, and shoes. These are situations where you're selling passively, by having the icon on display.
The frequency of a stylized wordmark is more frequent than you think. Think about brands like Supreme, Coca-Cola, and FedEx to name a few. These brands have made their wordmark their integral identity marker, their logo becoming iconic and widely recognizable.
Why should you have a wordmark as part of your branding?
It keeps your brand name front and centre, almost like a formal introduction we'd make with our own names, eliminating guesswork around the brand identity. This recognition of your brand name also allows the opportunity to push primary brand colours to add another dimension to the visual identity. Maybe most importantly, it clearly identifies the name people would search for. If you choose an image without an associated wordmark, it can be difficult for people to know who you are. Folks may only remember the funky shape of your logo, so how will they google you?
So, now you understand the reasons to have a wordmark, but you may still like the idea of a small symbol for your brand for passive instances like social media. Great!
Welcome to lesson 2: Multi-level visual identity.
Primary brand representation: Wordmark
This level is for the important first introductions for your brand, for example, you'd see it on title pages, your website, business cards etc.
Secondary brand representation: Badge/icon
Often, this level of brand representation lends to social media usage. This may look like the first letter of your brand, like Freshbooks for example, or a redesigned circular version of your logo. Why design your icon to suit a circular format? Take a look at the socials you spend time on, most of them have opted to use a circular profile image these days. However, your icon doesn't have to only live on social, it could also appear as a secondary element in presentation decks as the little icon at the corner of the slide.
Tertiary Brand element: A playful option!
While this option isn't necessarily mandatory, it lends itself to making your brand more approachable and human. The element is attached to the brand but doesn't say much about the business itself. By the time clients see this version of the logo, they've already been exposed to your brand's wordmark and icon. The importance of legibility and recognition decreases at this stage because folks already recognize the brand in all its forms.
This part of the identity is used for personality because when brands are hyper-focused on legibility, the fun often gets zapped out; feel free to play around and bend the rules. You’ve already asserted yourself, so you might as well play with something new in these instances.
The trick about multi-level identities is that these elements don’t live as a single unit; they live in support of one another. The confusion about multi-level identities is that clients often try to show them all together in one logo, and then break them up into their own respective pieces. It's easy to use multiple logo iterations across a website landing page and not notice they are not the same because they're designed to be cohesive.
So now that you have context, do you really need that icon?
On the hunt for a digital branding partner? Super Duper Studios is a digital branding agency in Toronto. We specialize in game-changing visual identity, websites that make sense, and double-tap-worthy social media content. Nice to meet ya! Email me at email@example.com and let’s chat.
Rebeca MacKinnon Community Manager at Super Duper Studios.