For starters, a logo isn’t just a name, icon or other visual signature on company letterhead or a billboard or other promotional venue anymore. Take that device out of your pocket or bag and swipe through the screens, as you probably do many times a day anyway. You now carry dozens of brand icons wherever you go. It makes sense that people are literally, physically interacting with those symbols in a way that they never have. For the Facebooks,  Airbnbs,  Snapchats and Ubers of the world, their customers are having an intimate sort of relationship not just with those brands, but with the symbols that represent the brands.

Digital culture has heightened both the challenges and opportunities of crafting a distinct corporate identity, even (or perhaps especially) one that involves an abstract like symbol.  On the one hand, it’s easier to train a consumer to recognize a wordmark that includes a company name; on the other, a longer name or complex logo may be hard to recognize or even discern when it’s crunched all the way down to a three-eighths-inch square on an app or a social media avatar. Perfecting this is a difficult task at best but if done correctly, has distinct payoffs for large scale or global businesses. For instance, Starbucks’ most recent redesign, in 2011, dropped all words from its logo in favour of a more stylized version of its long-standing mermaid figure. The thought process was that it frees the markup to work more easily anywhere in the world—customers don’t need to be able to read Western letters—with associations no longer limited to coffee.

Whichever route you take, the symbols that telegraph a movement, that bring people together who share values, vision and mission are all logos and that’s all branding. Perhaps we should view it like hearing another language so frequently that you start to pick it up by osmosis.  One such branding genius said in conclusion, “whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a consequence of our times.”

To read more, explore Fortunes logo essay here.

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Elle Toms

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