How To Design An Iconic Logo With The Right Symbol Like Professionals

When it comes to iconic logos, you can probably come up with some right off the top of your head. If you can’t, here are a few to help you out:

When creating your own logo, you want something that will stand out and be instantly recognizable. So how do you create a logo like that for your own business?

Let’s start with some of your basic choices.

Icons and Symbols

What are you aiming for with your design? You’ve probably put some thought into the message you want to give, but there are a lot of other aspects to consider. Think you might just go with whatever works?

If your iconic logo is at stake, you might want to think again.

The famous designer Milton Glaser (the man behind the “I Love New York” logo) said, “There are three responses to a piece of design — yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

Here are some basic things to take into account while you’re reaching for your wow.

First of all, you might want to play around with some very rudimentary concepts for your logo. Try things out, and get a feel for what you want to end up with.

You’ll need to decide whether you’re looking for a true iconic logo, or a logo that includes a symbol. What’s the difference?

Well, an “icon” is a visual representation of some actual thing. If you sell hand-made irons and your logo is a simple black and white picture of an iron, then you have an iconic logo. (Also somewhat ironic, in the most literal sense!) Not in the sense of “McDonald’s logo” iconic, in that everyone recognizes it; but literally iconic.

(You can see the difference, right?)

A “symbol,” on the other hand, is symbolic. The Nike logo is a symbolic logo; it’s a swoosh. Nike doesn’t sell swooshes. The swoosh is a representation of the idea of the company, rather than the company’s actual wares or services.

In short, iconic logos involve icons, and symbolic logos involve symbols.

It’s nice when things are exactly what they sound like, isn’t it?

That doesn’t mean that you can’t create an iconic (in the “instantly recognizable” sense) logo with a symbol, or vice versa. But it does mean that you should know what you want your logo to say about your company, whether it’s going to be a literal representation of the 100% recycled paper knitting needles your company sells, or a free-form shape that represents the wisdom of the environmentally conscious grandmothers that you market to.

Selecting Your Icon

If you’re working on putting together a simple, classic logo using minimal features and elements, good news! There are a lot of basic choices and shapes to choose from our free logo maker. And even if those run out, and you can’t find anything that really speaks to you, there’s always hand-drawn possibilities, and careful combinations.

Always keep in mind your designing principle, the reason for what you’re doing. This is especially important when it comes to logo design, since logos are so integral in the success and recognition of a company. Designer Susan Kare said, “The best icons are more like traffic signs than graphic illustrations.” You want a logo that evokes a definite response in your client, just like a stop sign.

Some things to consider when choosing your icon include:

What does this icon or symbol say about my company?

Logos are all about setting a tone and a mood for your company, and they can send more of a message to your potential clients and customers than you might initially think. Deciding on a playful icon, perhaps one that is quirky, hand-drawn, or irreverent, will definitely let your clients know that your company isn’t just another by-the-book business. However, if you’re opening up a business along the lines of a law firm or a funeral home, it would probably be a good idea to keep the iconic hijinks to a minimum.

Does this icon make sense?

This may seem like a silly question, but there’s a reason for it. Of course, you don’t want the reaction to your logo to be “Bzuh??” So taking a minute to consider your audience and what their likely knowledge base might be is a good idea to make sure your logo lands on common ground. A good example is the “save” button on a lot of word processors. Yeah, there was a time (not that long ago, it seems) when we saved things onto disks. Not so much anymore, and yet there is still the iconic holdover of the “disk” as a representative of the “save file” function. Perhaps you’re starting a file storage company and you’re looking at a Word-inspired logo. Depending on the age of your potential customers, this may not be something that they connect with very well.

What connotation might this icon already have?

On the other hand, there’s the definite potential to build on the back of something that is already established. The hashtag, as an example, is now very well bulwarked into our public consciousness. If you choose an icon that includes one, or even just choose to have the hashtag as an icon by itself (although that would be risky, since it’s so common), it already has a built-in connotation to your audience. Usage of something along those lines would communicate that your company is youthful, digital, and self-aware. Knowing your audience and piggy-backing on built-in messages can help you to make the most of your simple, iconic icon logo.

Is this icon too similar to others out there? The great things about icons is that they can be very simple. The difficult thing about icons is — they can be very simple. When you’re working with simple lines and uncomplicated shapes and colors, it can be very easy to end up with a logo that looks just a little too close to that of an already established company. And when that happens, you run a risk of suffering from a case of mistaken identity. Most graphic arts have an element of derivation, but it’s really a good idea to be aware of what might crop up as an issue. This does require research on your part, as you may not even be aware that the icon you plan to use for your cool new jeans company is also the logo for the skilled hairdresser logo a few towns over.

Will this icon be memorable? Getting too complicated with logos is almost never a good idea. The simpler and cleaner something is, the more likely that it is going to be remembered. And the more it’s remembered, the more your business grows. Choose an icon that stands out; if you have a few options, try doing a test run on friends or even on your local community. If you need to know whether people react more warmly to a monkey with or without sunglasses on, get out there and poll the people.

Adding Text To Your Icon For A Combination Mark

Now that you’ve chosen your icon and you’re confident about what it says to your audience and clients, let’s take a moment and talk about creating a combination mark.

Combination marks are pieces of graphic design that incorporate both the icon or symbol, and a piece of text. The text can vary depending on how much or little needs to be added to the message. It can be the entire name of your company, initials, or even just a single letter. You can also choose to have a standalone combination mark, where the type is separate but complementary to the icon, or an integrated combination mark, wherein the letters actually form part of the icon or symbol.

Something like the Converse symbol is a good example. In that case, not only is the icon itself both simple and recognizable, the font choice for the wordmark is also simple and recognizable, to the point where the font itself passes as a logo on its own.

Choosing whether to use type, and how much, and where, is all about the aesthetics and how much extra information you want the logo to contain.

You can also have the typeface reflect the icon, augment the tone of the icon, or even work towards explaining the icon or symbol that you have chosen to use. Sometimes, a logo choice isn’t entirely understandable until the audience puts the company name together with the icon, and the complete picture is achieved.

Some thought and care should go into the choice of font, of course. If you have a font established for your business, such as in marketing or on signage, that’s a good place to start. Again, your choice of font can say a lot about the business. Loopy, complicated fonts can be a difficult choice for a logo, but plain, stylized fonts are easily recognizable, easy to read, and on trend.

Using Icons Alone

You don’t need to add text, of course. Fonts are always optional, though they do a lot to help you establish your new company right out of the gate.

If you’ve carefully chosen an icon that has its own stand-alone value, then by all means, give it a chance. Try out a few variations on the icon without the text, and do test runs on your potential audience to see if it stands out as memorable enough even without the supporting text.

A company like Starbucks, as ubiquitous as it is, is a great example. The text is identifiable, certainly, but do you really even need to see the name of the store in order to start dreaming of caramel macchiatos? No, not really.

Choosing The Color

Not to harp on McDonald’s and the style choices they’ve made too much, but let’s talk about the Golden Arches for a moment.

Can you imagine if they weren’t golden, for example?

The bright yellow of the classic (and, yes, iconic) sign is part of what makes it so memorable. This is not to suggest that you should always without exception opt for bright primary colors in order to make an impression on your audience. (Don’t do that.) But it is definitely to suggest that some serious consideration go into choosing your colors for your icons and symbols.

This Inc.com article suggests that 80% of consumers believe that color increases brand recognition, which leads to 84.7% of consumers citing color as their main reason for buying one particular product over another. If your iconic logo jumps out at people on more than one level, in short, it will make it that much more likely to give you an edge over your competition.

Checking into the psychology of color before settling on your palette, and doing research on how your audience is likely to react, is an important component of making this decision. If you want to instill confidence in your audience, for example, and have them view your company as implicitly trustworthy, a cool color such as blue is suggested to help you achieve that end.

These choices, of course, go back to your original ideas for the message you want to be conveyed by your logo. Choosing a color that matches that message, rather than detracting from it or muddying the waters, is equally as important as choosing a logo or symbol.

Adding Effects

After getting this far in the decision making process, you may have ended up with a flat, one or two color icon or symbol logo. And there’s really nothing wrong with that.

But you might want to go further, just for your own personal aesthetics, or for what works best for your company.

Depending on the application you’re using to put your icon together, there could be a number of effects built in that require only a few simple clicks for customization. Changing color, tone, and opacity are all options to consider.

You can also think about borders, which can give your logo a nicely finished feel.

Texturization is pretty on trend right now for logos, as well. Especially with the rise in the hand-made and vintage look, classically inspired textures and distressing can give your iconic icon logo a leg up in the world. Using a variety of different brushes in Photoshop, doing a wash over the entire logo, or simply adding bleed or shadow to your lines and text can all help you to end up with a logo design that is unique, classic, and exactly what you were looking for.