Icon, Mark, Brand, Emblem: The Missing Guide to Logo Design Terms

You’ve heard of all these logo-related terms before: Icon, mark, brand and emblem. Virtually everyone (including some working in the ad business) uses these terms interchangeably at will. That speaks to the lack of familiarity with the different terms in logo design!

A logo goes beyond business and marketing because it’s all about promoting brand recognition. That’s why logos can apply to organizations or movements as well as private individuals just as much as they can to commercial enterprises.

There are fine differences between an icon, mark, brand and emblem. Knowing what they are will empower you to create your own logo with greater effect and differentiate your product or services from the other creatives in your industry.

If you’ve ever been confused by these interchangeable design terms, be confused no longer! Join us as we take a close look at the subtle differences and sometimes similarities between these logo-related terms.

The Icon

In logo design, an icon is a symbol that conveys strong, universal values and ideas that make it immediately recognizable. Essentially, it’s a straightforward and bold representation of a company.

While an icon can be in the shape of a recognizable item, it’s typically changed in an abstract way to make it stand out. That adds all the more to it being very memorable.

In a graphical sense, though, an icon can also apply to our digitally obsessed culture and its immediate recognition of icons on our smartphones and apps. Just look at your smartphone, and you’ll see a slew of instantly recognizable icons that serve as symbols for your favorite apps, such as:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp

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In the Creative Market marketplace, we have a slew of icons, icon sets and hand-drawn icons.

The Mark

The word “mark” has many variations when it comes to marketing: iconic mark, word mark, combination mark, and trademark — all relating to the logo and its design. A mark is graphic symbol used to identify a company’s product or service as distinct from others in the same industry or marketplace and, beyond that, to give the company an identity.

Of interest and importance when discussing the mark are the variations you’ll come across when gazing at logos.

As mentioned, there’s the iconic mark, word mark, combination mark and trademark, all with different features.

The iconic mark uses a graphic symbol like the ones we discussed above to identify the brand’s products and services.  It’s very common for businesses to utilize icons in their branding since they take a short time for people to process. Plus, they convey ideas more effectively than the written word.

In business, some examples of icons are:

  • Ralph Lauren
  • Apple
  • Prada

Take the Ralph Lauren polo. It’s universal because many around the world understand the significance of sport, and the symbol of a rider on horseback is easy to remember. When people see this icon, they instantly associated it with Ralph Lauren, as it’s so direct and simple.

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The word mark is essentially an entity’s logo that’s comprised solely of text-only typographic design, for the purposes of branding and identification. Many famous logos are word marks; for example, the Google logo is a word mark.

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The brand mark is also about identifying a company and giving recognition to its unique product or service. Such a mark is a design element that provides visual recognition to a brand. A brand mark can be a symbol (think the Nike swoosh) or even a character (think Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes).

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The beauty of a brand mark is twofold. First, it helps to distill a brand down to a symbol if the name of a company is really long and potentially hard to remember. Second, it helps when it comes to international marketing, as people who don’t speak the native language of a brand can easily identify said brand just by its symbol. As such, companies that are huge and worldwide probably benefit the most from a brand mark as their logo.

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Finally, we have the trademark. This can be anything from an expression or a design to a recognizable sign, as long as it has been legally protected and helps to differentiate a particular brand’s product or service from those of others. You can find trademarks on company buildings and packaging to labels. For example, the famous Starbucks logo is a trademark, as is its popular line of Frappuccino beverages.

The Brand

A brand differs from an icon and a mark in that it is a broader system that distinguishes a company’s products or services from its competitors. To be sure, a brand can also be represented by a logo or symbol — however, when we refer to a brand we encompass multiple

Brand is also known to refer to the actual company strongly associated with the logo. For instance, a McDonald’s restaurant location or its headquarters is representative of the brand of McDonald’s, just as the actual Golden Arches symbol is representative of the brand.

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When we talk about a company’s brand, we also can’t ignore the closely-related term known as branding. Branding can be understood as a set of design, messaging, and communication decisions meant to create a long-lasting impression in the minds of your customers.

For example, the insurance company GEICO uses a plain, old word mark that spells out its name as its corporate logo. However, when we speak in terms of its brand, other associations instantly pop into your head. The most prominent one is likely the company’s much-vaunted gecko mascot, which is featured in virtually every GEICO commercial, acts as its unofficial spokes“person,” and greets customers on the company’s homepage.

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The reason these other associations are in your mind when we talk about GEICO is due to the company’s successful branding efforts. Through messaging and communication on everything from commercials on TV to sponsorships and the web, we get the impression that GEICO, the brand, is helpful and service-minded (which it should be as an insurance company), but also humorous, largely thanks to the gecko mascot (which gives the brand personality and makes it instantly relatable to a large number of people).

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There are a lot of brand and branding resources in our Creative Market marketplace.

The Emblem

Finally, we have the emblem. Design figures prominently here, too, but unlike a mark or brand, an emblem isn’t exclusively related to the business, marketing and advertising industries. In fact, it’s more of an abstract and representative image of a broader concept like a moral truth, an allegory or even a person.

In this way, an emblem is closer to an icon than a mark or brand since it also touches on more powerful and universal concepts instead of just being a logo or branding meant to help identify a company in a crowded marketplace.

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One of the most famous emblems in all of pop culture is Superman’s logo, which is actually the emblem of the House of El, Superman’s lineage in DC comics. Such an emblem transcends business and marketing because it’s pretty much universally recognized.

Of course, emblems are religious in nature, too, with famous examples being the wheel of St. Catherine of Alexandria and, believe it or not, a pig and small bell for St. Anthony Abbott.

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It’s important not to confuse an emblem with a symbol, as the distinction is as follows:

  • An emblem is a design that stands for a broad idea or concept or a specific individual and represents the abstract in visual terms
  • A symbol is more straightforward in that it simply substitutes one thing for another (like the Golden Arches of McDonald’s as a substitute for the fast food of burgers and fries)

Check out our selection of emblem creative assets in our Creative Market marketplace.

Logo-Design Terms: Not Really Interchangeable!

We hope you now have a much better idea of all of these confusing logo design terms! As you just read, while they all relate to the broader concept of design and creating logos, their histories and uses can be quite different.

Some terms like mark and brand are used to help companies, products and services stand out in the crowded marketplace.

Other terms like icon and emblem have a bigger purpose both in tradition as well as meaning, as they’re used to represent loftier ideas and individuals that are quite transcendent.

So the next time you’re thinking about logo design, designing a logo for a client or perhaps for your own brand, be sure to refer back to this guide so that you stay on the right track.

And, as always, remember to browse the Creative Market marketplace for inspiration and awesome ideas on all things related to design, logos and artistry.

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