Symbols are rampant in society, whether we consciously recognize them or not. Virtually every logo that uses a mark has an element of symbolism. And some symbols are much more common than others.
Taking into account symbolism in your logo design can have a positive impact on how your brand is perceived in the eyes of your clients. And putting a new spin on an old idea can lead to a logo that feels comfortable for your prospective customers, but also sets your business apart from others in your industry.
There are a number of common symbols used in logo designs around the world. Some are common within particular industries, while others can be found almost anywhere. Using common symbols has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to logo design, which will be discussed in the next sections.
Shields and Crests
Shields and crests are incredibly popular for sports teams, but are seen in other industries as well. They’re often associated with tradition and sometimes the aristocracy or knighthood.
Virtually any animal under the sun has been used for one logo design or another. The meaning of these logos will depend on the animal used, and the context in which it’s used. For example, a cartoonish elephant will convey a much different meaning than a realistic-looking fish. Invertebrates, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles are all commonly used in addition to mammals.
Simple Geometric Shapes
Squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles are all commonly seen in logos, along with other polygons like stars. Each shape will convey a different meaning. Shapes are often combined to create more complex images, too.
Arrows give a sense of movement and momentum to a logo. Generally in logo design an arrow will either be shown pointing forward or up, though occasionally downward-facing arrows are seen.
Globes are a popular logo element for a number of industries. They’re usually used to give the sense that a company covers international markets or has offices around the world.
Hearts are popular in the human services and medical industries, as they convey a sense of caring and compassion. They’re seen elsewhere, too, though.
Wings aren’t as common as some of the common symbols here, but they are seen often enough to be mentioned. Wings can give a feeling of movement, as well as one of progress.
Trees are popular in logos for nature-related businesses. They give an impression of strength and longevity, as well as of being environmentally-friendly.
The Benefits of Using Common Symbols
There are a lot of benefits to using common symbols in your logo design. Recognizable meaning is one of the best reasons. When people see certain images, they automatically associate it with certain feelings and principles. A well-designed logo can use these preconceptions to reinforce a brand’s values.
Common symbols can also be comforting to potential customers. They may be used to seeing a certain symbol associated with an industry, and may subconsciously look for those symbols when looking for a brand to do business with. If your business doesn’t incorporate a commonly recognized symbol in its logo, consumers may favor competitors who do use that symbol.
Commonly used symbols can also give a hint as to what a business does, if the name doesn’t make it apparent. For example, using a coffee cup will instantly let someone know a business is a cafe, even if the name doesn’t offer that.
The Drawbacks of Common Symbols
One of the biggest drawbacks to using common symbols is that it can be difficult to set your brand apart from others. It’s important for a logo to be immediately recognizable and associated with your brand. If everyone in your industry uses a globe, for instance, you might want to consider using something different to stand out. Just remember that customers might be looking specifically for that commonly-used symbol and make adjustments accordingly.
Common symbols can also sometimes appear generic. Your logo might not look custom-designed if it uses a symbol that’s nearly identical to logos others are using, whether they’re in your industry or not. Make sure there’s something about your logo that sets it apart from others who use similar symbols.
Using Other Symbols
Just because you don’t want to use a common symbol in your logo design doesn’t mean you should disregard symbolism all together. There are thousands of symbolic shapes and images out there. Surely there’s one that can be used for your logo that isn’t widely used.
One way to come up with possible symbols is through word association. Write down some keywords related to your business and industry and then think of objects or things that represent those words to you or are somehow associated. For a travel agency, for example, you might associate obvious things like suitcases, airplanes, trains, etc., as well as less obvious things like motion lines. What has meaning for you likely has meaning for your customers, too.
Another creative way to look for symbols that might work for your business is to look through dream dictionaries that list what different items in dreams mean. These meanings are taken from subconscious ideas about different ideas and objects, and those ideas will transfer over to your own logo.
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