« Back to Blog December 10, 2015 | Logo Design

Anatomy of a Logo

There is a lot of different terminology that gets thrown around in the world of identity design, and at times it can be pretty confusing to keep everything separate. What is the difference between a logotype, an emblem, and a signature? Does it even matter?

Understanding these different terms is important, but these categories are fairly loose and a lot of overlap exists between them. At the end of the day, understanding these differences is less about being able to categorize things to keep them separate and more about realizing how these different elements interact with each other and the meaning behind them.


A brandmark is any visual or auditory element that is associated with a brand. The Nike swoosh is a brandmark. The NBC chime is a brandmark. The color red is a brandmark for Target. Brandmarks are pretty wide ranging in terms of what they actual are, but in the end they boil down to anything that people come to associate with your brand that words can’t express.


A wordmark (or logotype) is the name of the organization or product designed in a way to convey the meaning behind the brand. Some wordmarks may even include other types of marks mentioned below, but the key is that the name of the business or product is the main focus of this type of mark.



A letterform is a term used in typography to describe the shape of a letter. In logo design, it is used to describe a mark that uses a letter’s shape in an interesting way to convey the brand’s meaning. This can include anything from monograms, to more abstract symbols that resemble letters.


Pictorial Mark

A pictorial mark is a literal image of some recognizable aspect of the brand it represents. These types of marks tend to be the easiest for people to decipher and understand, but can take more time to gain association with their brand as these symbols already have meaning outside of the brand.

When the Apple logo first debuted, I’m sure some people saw it and thought it was for a fruit company. (The logo is of an apple with a bite out of it after all.) But now, I doubt there are many people left on earth who don’t see this iconic mark and immediately think of Apple, computers, or the iPhone.


Abstract Mark

An abstract mark is a symbol with no inherent meaning. When a company cannot be pinned down with a literal image of all the different services they provide or products they produce, choosing a mark with that is ambiguous means that the brand controls the meaning behind that mark.



An emblem is a brandmark where the name of business or product is completely linked to a pictorial element. Emblems are a prime example of how different types of brandmarks are combined to create a more effective message. However, emblems tend to be much more complex than other kinds of marks, so they can be difficult to use at smaller scales.



A signature (also called a lockup) is how different categories of brandmarks fit together in the brand’s identity. A signature could include a combination of a wordmark, pictorial mark, and a tagline. By combining the different elements in a strategic way, brands can improve and focus the messaging of the brand even further.


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