What is a Logo (Symbol)?

Glossary

social media logos
Social media logos. (Ibrahim.ID/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

A logo is a name, mark, or symbol that represents an idea, organization, publication, or product.

Typically, logos (such as the Nike "swoosh" and Apple Inc.'s apple with a bite missing) are uniquely designed for easy recognition.

Don't confuse the plural form of logo (logos) with the rhetorical term logos.

Etymology

An abbreviation of logotype, which was "originally a printers' term for a piece of type with two or more separate elements" (John Ayto, A Century of New Words, 2007).

Examples and Observations

"The logo is a sign which is commonly used to represent different entities such as organizations (e.g., The Red Cross), companies (e.g., Renault, Danone, Air France), brands (e.g., Kit Kat), countries (e.g., Spain), etc. The growing importance of these particular signs in our daily environment is partly due to the fact that companies spend increasing amounts of energy and effort in visual identity programs. A citizen is, for instance, said to be exposed to approximately 1,000 to 1,500 logos a day on average. This phenomenon often referred to as 'semiological pollution' is linked to the natural limit of information processing and retention of the human mind. It illustrates the crucial necessity for organizations to establish signs which are striking, simple, and identifying, that is, in marketing terminology, signs which are distinctive, easily recognizable, memorable and associated with the right kinds of images." (Benoît Heilbrunn, "Representation and Legitimacy: A Semiotic Approach to the Logo." Semiotics of the Media: State of the Art, Projects, and Perspectives, ed.

by Winfried Nöth. Walter de Gruyter, 1997)

The AT&T Logo

"The AT&T logo has the English letters 'A,' 'T,' and 'T,' a symbolic sign, and also a circle with lines crossing it. Perhaps the circle represents the world, and the lines represent electronic communication lines. These may be indexical signs, associations with the international electronic business of this corporation." (Grover Hudson, Essential Introductory Linguistics. Blackwell, 2000)

The Apple Logo

"In advertising, logos are often designed to evoke mythic themes or symbols. For instance, the logo of the apple suggests the story of Adam and Eve in the Western Bible. Its biblical symbolism as 'forbidden knowledge' resonates latently, for example, in the 'Apple' computer company's logo. The 'golden arches' of McDonald's also resonate with biblical paradisiacal symbolism." (Marcel Danesi, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications. Univ. of Toronto Press, 2000)

Logo Inflation

"[G]radually, the logo was transformed from an ostentatious affectation to an active fashion accessory. Most significantly, the logo itself was growing in size, ballooning from a three-quarter-inch emblem into a chest-sized marquee. This process of logo inflation is still progressing, and none is more bloated than Tommy Hilfiger, who has managed to pioneer a clothing style that transforms its faithful adherents into walking, talking, life-sized Tommy dolls, mummified in fully branded Tommy worlds.

"This scaling-up of the logo's role has been so dramatic that it has become a change in substance. Over the past decade and a half, logos have grown so dominant that they have essentially transformed the clothing on which they appear into empty carriers for the brands they represent. The metaphorical alligator, in other words, has risen up and swallowed the literal shirt." (Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Picador, 2000)

Interpreting Logos

"Ideally, a logo should be recognized immediately. As with signposts or other road or rail warning signs, it is also essential that the logo should be understood correctly. If for some reason it is not, the result can be a--commercial--catastrophe. Take, for example, the logo of the Dutch airline KLM . . .: at one stage, the light and dark stripes forming the background to the stylized crown and KLM acronym had to be changed from a diagonal to a horizontal configuration. Market research had shown that the public, partly unconsciously, distrusted the diagonal stripes which seemed to suggest the idea of a sudden descent, clearly a disastrous association for an image promoting air travel!" (David Scott, Poetics of the Poster: The Rhetoric of Image-Text. Liverpool Univ. Press, 2010)

The Origin of Logos

"In the Middle Ages each knight carried the heraldic device of his family on his shield to identify him in battle. Inns and public houses had similar traditional picture signs, such as 'The Red Lion.' Many present-day organisations have taken up this idea and have designed a modern logo to show their name as a single graphic sign. These logos often include the name of the organisation, or its initials, printed in a special format." (Edward Carney, English Spelling. Routledge, 1997)

Logos and Self-Definition

"As we buy, wear, and eat logos, we become the henchmen and admen of the corporations, defining ourselves with respect to the social standing of the various corporations. Some would say that this is a new form of tribalism, that in sporting corporate logos we ritualize and humanize them, we redefine the cultural capital of the corporations in human social terms. I would say that a state where culture is indistinguishable from logo and where the practice of culture risks infringement of private property is a state that values the corporate over the human." (Susan Willis, Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World. Duke Univ. Press, 1995)

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