If you talk with most graphic designers, they’ll usually tell you about three different types of logo treatments – illustrative, text and iconic. Fair enough. The Logo Factory® has added a fourth category – namely graphic logos – and you might wonder why the difference. To understand that, we’ll have to tell you a little about why we try to classify logos in the first place.
While many purists will argue that illustrative company logos are ‘too complicated’ for many types of reproduction (a valid point – and something which usually requires a discussion with clients prior to a project start), it is also an area where designers at The Logo Factory shine. Many of our designers – as well as the studio founder – have backgrounds in illustration so we tend to lean in that direction. In theory anyone can throw together some shapes to create something that is – in the loosest definition – a ‘logo’. It takes some real skill and talent to pull off a successful illustrative identity. A more common approach involves the development of an iconic design – simple shapes and images that portray a concept or abstract idea, usually in flat shapes. That leaves us with text logos – custom typography or font work. When we opened the doors to our design company in 1996, we attempted to categorize logos so that clients would find it easier to work remotely with our designers. We needed a simple way for clients to submit client briefs via the internet and tell us the type of logo they wanted us to produce. After messing around for weeks, we finally narrowed the definitions down to three main categories and defined them as follows:
Uses font work as main visual in logo. Generally speaking, does not include an icon or illustrative portion. A memorable text logo can help ‘brand’ your name and is generally easy to reproduce on a wide variety of promotional items.
Iconic logos generally feature simplified graphics (symbols) that reflect an aspect of the company and/or product portrayed. They can be used solo, or with text.
Illustrative logos are usually more complex than iconic, and are a fairly accurate pictorial representation of some aspect of the company or product portrayed. This can be the name, the business concept or a character/mascot that can be developed.
Breaking down the classification of logos into these three distinct types also helped us set up structured design pricing menus that would be equitable to clients, while allowing us to budget enough design time to make projects practical from a business point of view. Those three definitions have served us admirably over the years, but – as a result of one of our designers’ regular think tank sessions – we decided to expand our definitions by one category. We often design logos that are more complex and illustrative than iconic logos, yet simpler and more adaptable than illustrative logos.
While there are no absolutes, (a text based logo can also feature a removable icon) it’s generally easy to understand which type of logo is which. Until we get to the illustrative category.
Full-blown illustrations are one thing (and quite easy to identify), but over the years we’ve created many logos that could be classified as ‘hybrids’ of iconic and illustrative logos. Not quite full-blown illustrations, but too detailed and illustrative to be considered iconic. We’ve found that this vague category has been quite confusing to clients (especially since some of our logo design pricing is based on the ‘type’ of logo that a client wants). In order to clarify this, we decided to expand our accepted categories so that we’ll be talking about text, iconic, graphical and illustrative logos. We’re still working on the final definition but it’s along the lines of this -
A graphic logo uses a bold linear style to create the essence of an actual object without the detail and resultant reproduction constraints of a fully illustrative logo. This type of logo allows for a more realistic portrayal of an item, theme or concept than an iconic logo while still remaining easy to reproduce, scale, etc. Almost the best of both worlds. By adding this category into our studio parlance (and factoring it into our pricing menu) we should be better to equipped to ascertain clients needs and budget requirements for their particular projects.
Easier to create ‘unique’ illustration. Less risk of imitators.
Appropriate for mascot, cartoon or whimsical logos.
Is more effective for ‘fun’ establishments (bars, restaurant logos, clubs, sports logos, etc.)
Once established, has a very high recognition factor (characters, mascots)
Less likely to infringe on other copyright, and/or be confused with other designs.
Lends itself to logo variations and situations (i.e. characters in various poses)
Text portion of logo, if designed effectively, can stand alone as a text logo without illustrative portion.
Lends itself to traditional animation (though complexity may add to cost and development time).
More likely to be popular on wearables, incentives.
Easier transition to reproduction methods than a full-blown illustrative logo.
Easier to reproduce on low-resolution media (embroidery, etc) than full blown illustrative treatment.
Easier to recognize when reproduced at small sizes or from distances.
Less difficult (costly) to animate and may lend itself to 3D.
Spot color reproduction is possible. More highly rendered versions will still require 4 color process printing.
Relatively simple to convert to black and white grayscale versions.
Easier to trademark these logos (as long as a truly unique concept is featured in illustration).
Better reproduction on low resolution media (FAXs, cheques) while remaining recognizable.
Slower to visually ‘absorb’ than iconic treatment. Requires repeated exposure.
Less likely to be recognized later after limited initial exposure.
Runs risk of looking amateurish if not illustrated effectively.
Requires skillful text addition and integration.
Requires designer with technical knowledge for reproduction contingencies.
Can appear to be a clip art logo unless carefully rendered with enough detail to be unique.