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Symbol vs. Logotype: Typography in Corporate Identity

Oct-01-2013
The great Corporate Identities – the most memorable and instantly recognizable (from Coca Cola to IBM, Chase to Lloyds, Mc Donald’s to Apple, Mercedes to Shell) both in subliminal and instinctive ways – all have one thing in common: great Corporate Identity Designers.

There is no rule to decide which is the better solution – type or symbol. Either solution is arrived at through an analytical design approach. The client may drive the solution with their personal preference, and hopefully, they keep in mind why they employed a professional in the first place.

Surely a typographic based corporate identity in logotype form has a stronger sense of identification with a company than a symbol, right? You’d think so. But is BP really more memorable than Shell? IBM more so than Apple? You see the dilemma. There’s strength in both solutions.

Imagine you are in a new town looking for your bank. Your eyes takes in a stream of information as they scan the streets below until, in the distance, you detect the Barclay’s Blue — and nothing else. You are too far to detect any name or shape, yet convinced and knowing that the bank you are lookinhg for has been detected — even at a distance of 100’s of yards on a busy street. These semi-dayglow style colors can be just as important as the symbol or logotype shape in a Corporate Identity and show that neither solution, isolated from many factors such as color, is enough on it’s own.

Colour is a science in its own right. Science plays many a part in our perception of what we see and absorb. Branding Agencies and brand communication companies are at the forefont of this science.

In recent years, many British companies, probably for historical reasons, left their Britishness behind in seeking to make inroads in other countries: British Petroleum became BP. British Airways — BA, British Oxygen — BOC, British Homes Stores — BHS. Colonies have long memories – and in the case of BP, it sometimes comes back to haunt…

The power of type in corporate Identity can’t be underestimated – it is above and beyond. The examples in the collage here illustrate the diversity of solutions. All are well known distinctive symbols or logos. The stand-alone Batman symbol, the cartoon-like Google logotype, the cut to the Chase, the simplicity of Nike, the original Kodak, Xerox, Playboy. The strength of the Carlsberg logotype is in it’s Fraktur based script, and that was originally a font from Guttenburg’s time! Hyundai has distinctiveness too, in both symbol and type.

Perhaps companies that use both symbol and type are the most successful. You could say this is too much — you don’t need a belt and braces! Lloyd’s Bank has the distinctive Black Horse symbol with an equally distinctive font, immersed in their strikingly identifiable custom green.

So what works? A thorough corporate identity design process – in each and every case – is the only way to find a solution that’s right for you. Following the right process, doing your research and understanding how your company is different, will result in the solution being the right design.