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Let's Talk About Literal Logos, Hit or Miss?

Let’s Talk About… is a series of short publications where complex topics are discussed in an accessible and light-hearted format. Let’s Talk About… is presented as a case study of the ins and outs of the world of design for seasoned experts and newcomers alike, including those who may be undergoing the research process before engaging with an agency for future projects. With this in mind, we hope you enjoy this series of publications as much as we’ve enjoyed producing it.

Read more about this series on:

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Let’s talk about logos that try to literally portray an aspect of their product/service. Are they better? Do they provide any advantages over logos that lean more towards the abstract? As always, it depends!

For brands that are more focused on a B2C (Business to Consumer) environment, a logo that is very literal can have advantages; especially if we’re talking about a new brand with little to no brand recognition or following. However, this isn’t necessary, and going an opposite direction can also have advantages.

Think of Apple, perhaps one of the world’s most recognizable brands. From its inception, Apple has always been known by the same name and it has always sported a logo related to the apple in some way, shape, or form.

dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design

This is a brand that, for the most part, can be considered a B2C brand although some aspects of the Apple funnel are B2B (Business to Business) and DTC (Direct to Consumer). Apple is an interesting example, because on the one hand, the logo is very literal, it is just an apple. On the other hand, the brand name and by extension, the logo, has no visual connection to the product. One could argue that the stylized design looks very digital which is, in a way, a connection to technology or computers, but this argument falls flat when exploring the brand’s history and other brands.

Has Apple been affected negatively by having a brand name and logo that aren’t very literal? Apple being one of the world’s most recognized brands, it’s safe to say it hasn’t. It could be said that the opposite is true.

Think of some of the most famous brands, are they literal?

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Does Starbucks sell sirens? Does Windows sell windows? Not really, though that might be interesting. Clearly there is an argument to be made about brands that are not very literal, and why those brands stand out. These brands stand out because they are unique. They don’t rely on being literal, so this opens them up to a universe of possibilities. Not too long ago, in Let’s Talk About Creating a Logo, we mentioned the following:

A logo has one job, and one job only. Whatever happens after that is just icing on the cake. But what is that job? Simply put, a logo’s job is to visually differentiate a particular brand from others and help people identify the brand at a glance.

This being said, you would have to ask yourself: Is this logo being differentiated from competitors by being literal? Are there other brands that may offer a similar service or product which have a similar logo? No matter how small, any similarity will play against you, so it is best to avoid them completely. What better way to do this than going with the most nonliteral design?

Keep in mind that while some logos can have similarities, the simpler and more literal a design is, the easier it is to have a logo that is too similar.

Now, there are many brands that sport logos that are, to varying degrees, literal. Let’s look at different examples of brands that are in similar industries, one is literal, the other isn’t.

dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design

dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design

dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design

You probably have noticed by now that both columns have brands that are widely recognized and successful, so it’s not imperative that the logo be literal or otherwise.

When should we choose literal? When should we avoid it? Well, questions with an easy answer are no fun at all, and this is a very interesting line of questioning. Let’s dive into it!

Literal logos can be used effectively when creating a design for a brand that specializes in a singular type of product. For example: burgers. This is not to say that you are limited from selling other products, but the main staple of your brand is this particular product. Like Burger King (BK), you could sell sodas, fries, chicken strips, and other things, but the main staple of this chain is the burger.

A key aspect of using the product or service as part of the logo is that the elements of the product or service used in the design must be easily recognizable by the target audience. An audience which may not be well versed in the ins and outs of the product or service may not understand the design if the element in question is something that is not easily recognized or difficult to understand. In this case, it is probably best to avoid a literal logo altogether.

A great example of this would be a brand that offers a service that is very technical, for example, graphic design. An agency could make a logo that includes elements taken from the software used for graphic design and incorporate these elements into the logo. While this may be a very interesting concept for other designers, this is something that will make little to no sense to potential clients who are not familiar with these programs. Having a thorough understanding of the brand’s audience is pivotal when creating a logo that is literal.

Another great opening for designs that border on the literal is when a brand is the first to market. Being first to market, there is no competition that could possibly use any aspect of the product or service as part of the design (because there are no other brands in that field). In fact, it is even possible that this is beneficial. Any logo, no matter how abstract it may be, runs a risk of sharing similarities with any number of designs out of the over 300 million brands that populate the market.

Being first to market is very rare and unlikely, however. How can we create a logo that is literal when competing in a market that is already established with multiple competitors? One possibility is a compromise with abstraction or minimalism. An excellent example of this would be National Geographic. The yellow rectangle is an abstraction of the product (magazine), playing on the brand’s long-standing history.

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What about a new brand with no established brand history? A solution to this could be thinking abstractly to perform literally. Let’s explain this further. Think for example of a brand that sells markers, pencils, and other art supplies. In this scenario, a literal logo could be done by using these supplies with a freehand style and look. On the other hand, looking at the product from unusual angles or zoomed in can provide a different perspective that is still literal, with a touch of abstraction.

strado, dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design
strado, dieresis, logo, branding agency, let's talk about, logo design

Both approaches are valid and are actually loosely related to two big brands. Namely, Sharpie and BIC.

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Which one should be used? It depends on many factors, since both are perfectly valid options, taking two very different paths to the same destination. When selecting any of the two, there are several things to consider, for example: What is the brand’s (planned or existing) visual identity? Who is the target audience? What is the brand’s tone and voice? Among other things.

Which one would you choose? Let us know!

Want to learn more about abstract logos? Check out Let’s Talk About Logo Inspiration

Are you interested in learning more about our Branding services? Visit: Branding.

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Sep 12, 2022

Love this concept, keep it up!


Sep 02, 2022



Aug 31, 2022



Aug 31, 2022

Great information




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