A common thing to hear at the start of a logo design project is, “I just want a picture of a [insert object here] to be my logo.” The object could be a hammer, a car, a golf club, a spine, a pile of books, a map—you name it. This object may or may not have a direct relationship with the business that the logo will be representing. For example, I’ve been asked to draw a sea horse logo for a financial planner, and recently, a client requested that I work a cat into the logo for her exercise company.

There are two major issues inherent with designing a logo with a picture of an object in it. The first is that your logo instantly becomes a “representational logo,” and you’ll want to evaluate whether this form of logo serves your business best. The second issue is that before committing to using that object as the face of your business, you’ll have to carefully consider the type of object that you’re including in the logo and all of its’ possible meanings to the viewer.

So, let’s tackle the issues with the first one first: The fact that your logo will be a representational logo.

What is a representational logo? And is it the right choice for my business?

“Representational logo” simply means that the icon of the logo has a picture in it that looks like a recognizable object. A representational logo is often most appropriate for a company that’s on the smaller side, or one that provides business-to-consumer, or personal services (think dog walking, house painting, carpentry).

You rarely see representational logos for successful professional services companies (think accountants, lawyers, engineers), unless those companies are very small. So make sure that having a representational logo matches to the level of sophistication that you’d like your company to reach. You can evaluate the level of sophistication in terms of the object you choose to use as your logo and how the object is drawn. For example, a cartoon of a pile of money may not convey the right visual message for an investment specialist.

It is true that some big companies do have representational logos—the apple for Apple Computers, for example. But they’ve already made their business name a little abstract by combining words that don’t go together conceptually, so having a representational logo in this case can help to make their incongruous name more memorable.

Choose your object wisely

If you commit to a representational logo, you should choose an item that makes sense in some way with your business—either based on your business name, what you sell, or if there’s a more complicated story that you’ll wind up having to explain to prospects. Also remember that you’re signing up for your company to always have some sort of link to the item in the logo—so you may not want to start out with a picture of a product that you sell.

For example, say you operate a foods company making chips out of carrots, and you decide to go with a carrot in the logo. Then your company decides a short while later to change directions and start manufacturing chips made of corn instead. Suddenly, the carrot logo is less appropriate for your business; and unless you find some way that it does integrate into your new business direction, you might run into trouble.

You’ll also want to think about the meaning of the item that you choose as your logo. Some items already have a traditional symbolic meaning—for example, a butterfly is often used to symbolize change or transition because it goes through a metamorphosis. Research your item so that you can become sure that you’re not missing any of its’ potential meanings. And in this way, you can make sure that your item doesn’t have any unintended negative connotations as well.

A representational logo isn’t right for every business. But if you decide that a representational logo is the right choice for your business, then making sure that you choose your object wisely can help you to ensure that your logo will be a good fit for your business and that it will support the growth of your brand.