When trying to find out what makes a design great by reading up on it, you’ll often come across the statement that a good design must contain symbolism in order to be effective. But why? In this post we’ll explore symbolism in logo design; why it’s important, how to recognize it and how to implement it in your own work.
Why is symbolism in design important? If you want to understand the importance of symbolism, you can use a simple analogy. A logo is, in a lot of ways, like a photograph. Both have to be visually interesting and memorable in order to be good, but that’s not enough. The best photographs are not just an image. They’re a moment, a memory that was captured so it can never be forgotten. A good photograph carries a story within. This could be a story of how the photographer got himself/herself into a certain location or situation, it could be the story of why the photographer thought the subject was interesting. It could be a lot of things, but whatever it is, it should be present. This is what differentiates a simple selfie from something like a portrait of a woman in a war zone. The latter would (if done right) carry the emotion and the grief of the woman. The photograph would not just be interesting and visually engaging because the composition, lighting, etc. are great. It would be so captivating because of the emotion it shows us and the story that it tells the viewer. The same thing applies to a logo, albeit in a different way. A logo doesn’t necessarily have to tell a story, but it should represent what’s behind it. It shouldn’t be a completely random combination of shapes and colours. it should be representative of the company or brand it was designed for. A good logo sends a certain message that makes it stand out to the target audience. This is why symbolism in logo design is important and is essential to create an effective logo.
The different forms of symbolism
In order to recognize or use symbolism in design, it’s important to understand in which forms it can come. There are two different aspects of a design in which you can implement symbolism: shape and colour. However, a lot of graphic designers will use both, in order to create a strong, meaningful design.
Shape often contains the most obvious form of symbolism; a direct reference to the subject of the design. Take the Instagram logo for example. Using very simple shapes, the logo creates a very recognizable and simplistic image of a camera.
This makes a lot of sense, because it’s a logo for a platform centered all around images like photos and illustrations. And while this isn’t a must-use technique, it is an extremely effective method for conveying a strong message that can be understood by almost everyone. For example: if a coffee brand implements something like a coffee bean or an illustration of a cup of coffee in its logo, audiences will immediately understand which product the logo represents. This is extremely useful to attract your target audience’s attention, while also making your design memorable. Shape can also be used to implement a deeper meaning into your design, like we see in the Adidas logo for example:
The three slanted lines we see in the design represent a mountain. The mountain stands for the challenges and obstacles people face. By implementing this mountain in the logo, it can tell audiences that the company provides the things you need to overcome those challenges. In some cases you can even get both an obvious and deeper form of symbolism into the same design. A prime example of this would be the FedEx logo:
The arrow you see between the letters “E” and “X” stands for two things. The more obvious one is, again, a direct reference to what the company offers. FedEx is a delivery service that ships things from point A to point B, just like an arrow points from point A to point B. The deeper, hidden meaning of this arrow is that it’s supposed to illustrate the progressive nature of the company.
(sidenote: If you haven’t already, I suggest you do some research on the FedEx logo. You can learn a lot from studying this truly brilliant logo.)
With shape covered, we can move on to the next big aspect of symbolism in design: colour. The meaning of certain colours in design is pretty universal, which is why we’ll go over this a bit quicker. Colour is mostly used to tell audiences what feelings they should associate with the design and consequently with the company or brand that the design represents. For example: the colour blue is often associated with trust, security, confidence and stability. This is why you’ll often find the colour blue in logo’s for security agencies, antivirus software, banks and insurance companies. If you’re not sure what every colour means, there are a lot of articles and books that already cover this subject, which is why I won’t go into detail. Personally, I recommend the following websites:
However, one thing you shouldn’t forget is that there are no real rules when it comes to assigning meaning to a colour. Sometimes it’s best to trust your instinct about what colours you should use.
I hope this post was helpful and you now have a better understanding of symbolism in logo design and the importance of it.
Thanks for reading!