I often get asked to develop a small business’s logo as a symbol-only logo. But, for many small businesses, this isn’t the right choice for a couple of reasons:

Designing a symbol-only logo is a much more complicated (and often more expensive) process, because the symbol has to:

  • Carry a lot more meaning –there’s no text to carry any of the burden of explaining your business. It’s important that your logo have some meaning and a role in explaining your business – and, that’s a lot for a little symbol to do all by itself.
  • Be entirely unique all on its’ own.I don’t need to tell you that there’s a whole lot of logos out there. A lot of the basic shapes – and even some of the more complicated ones – are already “owned” by big corporations. But, you can still use variations or combinations of those shapes when they’re designed into a logo with your company name.
  • Communicate to your audience. The more obscure of a symbol design that you create, the less likely it is that your customers will understand its’ meaning. Or, they may interpret it incorrectly. Either way, your clients will feel alienated, and that’s never good.

If you do create a symbol-only logo, you’ll have a couple of challenges with your brand identity:

  • It will take a lot more time and effort to educate your target audience about your business.Think of all the symbol-only logos that are really memorable, like Nike or Apple. The reason that those are so memorable and well-known is that each of those companies has a very large advertising budget and can afford to dedicate people and time to getting the word out and building visibility and encouraging recognizability. Small businesses just don’t have those kinds of resources.
  • Trademark infringement can be more of a problem – from both sides of the fence.Try as your designer might to design a logo that won’t look like any other trademarked logo out there, it can be very difficult.
    • First of all, it’s hard for a designer to comprehensively research all of the other trademarked logos just to see what you’re up against. However, the Trademark Office has more thorough tools and methods of researching the other existing logos out there, and they might find one that you overlooked.
    • Secondly, logos and trademarks can be a bit subjective – just because you and your designer think that the design that you’ve created doesn’t infringe on other logos, the Trademark Office might reject your application based on their interpretation of “similarity”
    • And, you’re not just worrying about what the Trademark Office thinks. Any other business with an existing trademark could also challenge your application, or even ask you to cease-and-desist in using your logo after it has been trademarked if they held their trademark to a similar logo first. And, while surrendering might not seem like such a bad thing, keep in mind that you’d also have to destroy any existing printed collateral, forfeit your trademark (and the trademarking process isn’t inexpensive!) and redesign all of your materials. You’ll also lose the equity that you’ve built up in your logo in a case like that.
  • And, if you do manage to design and trademark a symbol-only logo, you’ll have to be extra-vigilant about making sure that other companies don’t design a mark that’s similar to yours. You are ultimately responsible for “policing” your own trademark, and you’ll have to stay up-to-date on trademark applications. Alternately, you could hire someone to keep an eye on new trademarks for you, but that can be expensive.

You can easily avoid all of these complications by designing a combination logo that includes both a symbol and your company name. Once you’ve designed your combination logo, you should always use the components together to avoid potential legal issues like those mentioned above.