The following has been excerpted from Tony Spaeth’s Identity Works.

Renault symbol

When should a CEO choose a wordmark, and when a symbol?

In general, consider a symbol only when:

Choose a wordmark when:

More on Tony Spaeth‘s website Identity Works. Worth a visit.

Renault symbol photo credit

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November 19, 2011


This is a very cerebral and mechanical approach that doesn’t do justice to finding the value in a strong brand-idea. A brand-idea determines what type of brand-marks are most suited. This is not a problem that needs a complex formula to decide the best outcome…

Point taken Andrew. I’ve read some of your opinions, so I’d think you’d tend to agree that making overly firm rules in creative work can be a bit hazardous. I prefer to use rough guidelines and basic strategies. Heck, even the terms we use have ever evolving meanings, so I try to stay away from phrasing ideas in the absolute. That said, knowing Tony has a real handle on incorporating market strategy and analytics in creative work, I wouldn’t dismiss any of the ideas behind what’s said here (not saying you were). It’s tough for me not to assume that Tony probably has some Harvard type data/research that would point to these being more that just decent ways to approach things.

David, I’m feeling like this is a snip-it, that without the full context, places this process in a tighter a box than Tony would want (and that’s ok, it’s a blog post not a masters thesis). What I take from this is the basic idea that communication and practicality trump artistic sense. Now that everyone and their 12y/o sister is a designer, we’re seeing less practical considerations. I see lots of clever, sharp looking logos that likely miss the mark in term of connecting with the audience and overall appropriateness – thus not solving the problem. Designers often call it the “research phase,” but isn’t it really a more robust investigation in formulating a “market strategy” and using that to develop the reasoning behind the essence, tone, and look of a brand? I think that’s what Tony’s touching on here.

Hi Andrew, Todd. I saw Tony’s piece as a few thoughts to keep in mind when working on a project. Not, “You must do this,” but rather, and to quote, “In general, consider…”

I agree of course. I just was hoping people didn’t read the “only when” language as a rule. My note to you was intended to point out that up-and-coming designers on the whole need to make sure they are asking these type of questions. Too many designers get lost in nitpicking aesthetics before making real world considerations (i.e. parent company issue,budget considerations, etc.).

This is pretty much my mindset when I’m in the process of making a logo. I don’t see it as something that should be written in stone. It’s more of a logical foundation to build up something that can be exceptionally creative.

A wordmark can take just as long to design as a symbol logo. That it’s somehow less work is a myth.

I lean more towards what Andrew said, – it depends on the branding process.

What are they all about and the answer to that goes well beyond what they sell. Does it come across better in a wordmark or a symbol?

thanks! g.

Great thoughts David. Too often have I seen logos of companies with very generic names that don’t feature any distinctive symbol. If you’re name isn’t memorable & your logo isn’t either, how will I remember your company?

I’m a bit late to this thread, but read it with interest, as I am a trade mark lawyer, having previously worked as in client services in a regional branding agency.

I understand the comments made by posters, but I should add a further one. I hope that designers appreciate the registrability criteria for a trade mark, be it a word mark or a symbol/logo. In the UK and EU at least, there are four basic requirements:

(1) the mark must be distinctive; that is it must have a sense of ‘uniqueness’ and noticeability about it. Bland and commonplace words such as “DESIGN” or “VALUE” are, as a general rule, out unless they are combined with other distinctive words/elements.

(2) the mark must not describe a characteristic of the goods or services on offer. So, marks such as “EFFICIENT” for cars, or “BROWN” for clothes are out.

(3) the mark must not be a generic term for the goods on offer, such as “LINOLEUM” or “ESCALATOR”.

(4) the mark must not conflict with any existing registrations (or other relevant rights) for the same or similar mark, covering the same or similar goods/services.

I accept that this is a very simplistic review of the main factors and that it seems to impose quite a stringent set of requirements on designers, but think of this: is there much point in a client investing thousands in the design and roll-out of a new brand identity, only to find that he can’t get a registration to protect his investment, so potentially allowing others to copy his new logo? Or perhaps even worse, a client spends thousands on a new brand then finds that a competitor is already using (and/or has a registration for) something similar, potentially resulting in a re-brand or a law-suit.

The issue of categories for any execution of a Brand’s Identity is a question of descriptives and their boundary constraints. The very nature of design is ‘by’, deliberate, decision making against criteria. We tend to be a boundary/category working progress type of creature, why most of us are designers. We love the challenge, the tighter the brief the harder it can be. It’s like getting out of the maze.
I am for jumping boundaries, not ticking boxes and generally running a creative muck. However it’s clients who need the descriptives most often as we price point the identities.
I’m one for designing a wordmark with an accompanying icon/mark/symbol and any other devices that I think the future platforms will need. I call them ‘Corporate Messengers’ so these have flexibility and can be used in creative ways into the future, as ‘you’ the designer or firm will not always have control over the brand communications. Guidelines (there I go again – parameters -constraints) need to be set in place for future creatives to use and extend and develop -even have fun with when these solve problems.
BUT don’t we designers just luv the challenge of parameters and constraints?
Well done I like this blog so do some of my students.

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