How Much Meaning Should a Logo Have?

The answer may surprise you...

Read time: 2.5 minutes

A logo’s job is not to tell a story.

A logo’s job is to identify a business. That’s it.

Trying to cram more meaning into a logo will not strengthen it. It will make it less recognizable and less memorable.

How Much Meaning Does a Logo Need?

A logo can succeed without any meaning at all (surprising as this may sound). People just need to recognize it and see it as relevant to them.

Let’s look at some examples of famous logos.

Uber doesn’t have any meaning in its logo. It’s simply the company’s name in a modern font.

Sometimes a logo has meaning, but it isn’t known to anyone outside of the company.

The four rings of the Audi logo symbolize the four companies that merged to become Audi, but nobody knows that unless they look it up.

Some logos include symbolism that may not even be noticed.

FedEx has a hidden arrow in the negative space between the “E” and “x”. It is said to represent the company’s speed and precision.

Did you know the arrow was there?

We see something similar in the Gillette logo. There is an angled cut across the ‘G’ and ‘i’ that makes it look as if the letters were cut by a sharp razor — subtle yet effective.

Of course, other logos display more obvious symbolism.

The Beats logo creates a minimal headphone shape… not much more to say about that 🤷‍♂️


Simplicity and Subtlety Win

The best logos of the world are simple marks that do their job well. Just look at Apple, Nike, Adidas, Lego, IBM, McDonald’s, Mastercard, Mercedes, Rolex, and Amazon.

… even Batman!

These logos are not only simple, but the meanings are often subtle. We see only one concept in each:

  • FedEx has a hidden arrow for speed and precision.

  • Gillette’s letters are seemingly cut by a sharp razor.

  • Amazon’s arrow is a smile that points from A to Z.

  • Mercedes has three points to symbolize land, sea, and air.

What we don’t see in these great logos are multiple ideas mashed together to try to paint a complex picture of what the company does.

What the Bad Logos Look Like

Unfortunately, too many logos done by DIYers and inexperienced designers end up missing the mark by including too much.

Here’s a small selection of undesirable logos from a random “logo design” site. Logos like these will not:

  • Be noticed or remembered.

  • Attract their target market well.

  • Stand out from stronger competition.

  • Grow with the company and last a lifetime.

What about Successful Complex Logos?

Ok, you got me… I’m biased. I love simplicity, and the logos I design are nearly all minimalist.

Complex logos aren’t inherently bad. There are certainly complex logos that work well, It’s just that they’re the exception, not the rule.

Here are a couple examples…

Unilever has a more complex logo than most big brands have. It consists of twenty five icons woven together to form a U. Each icon represents a different aspect of the business. It is both interesting and pleasing to the eye.

Gorilla Glue also has a detailed and unconventional logo design, yet the concept is still clear and simple — it shows a gorilla holding a sign that says Gorilla!

The brand also leans heavily into their orange product labels to increase recognition.

Remember to Keep it Relevant

Whether or not a logo has meaning, it still needs to reflect the company’s personality and intended audience. Otherwise, it will confuse people.

There’s a reason we don’t see law firms using Comic Sans. It wouldn’t make any sense! Imagine the world’s largest law firm with this logo design 🤪

Where Your Brand Story Can Shine

There are more effective places to tell the story of your brand — your tagline, website content, social posts, blog articles, promos and events, and even the rest of your visual identity.

Better to let the logo do its job.

Want some feedback on your logo or identity?

My mission is to rid the world of bad brand design… and I’d love to help you out.

Just reply to any of my emails or contact me on this page — I’ll give you my honest thoughts.

🤖 Robert

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