Scott Stoll logo world traveler. A bicycle wheel and the globe symbolizes Scott's journey around the world on a bicycle.
apple logo changes by year
Apple logo through the ages.

What is a logo?

And why do I need a logo?

First, what a logo is not. A logo is not artwork. A logo is not an illustration. Nor is it a fancy font. So, what is a logo? A logo is an instantly recognizable symbol of your business. And, a logo is your most visible marketing tool.

Above you can see the Apple Computers logo. Since this article was originally written Apple has become the most successful business in the world and, ironically, their logo just keeps getting more simple. Apple has spent millions on these variations. So, what is the problem? Did the graphic designers not know what they were doing? We’ll discuss that question below. But, first, what is a logo?

  • First: A logo, like any form of visual communication, is primarily an idea, like paper clips or sticky notes or e=mc2 or the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt and not much different than an emoji.
  • Second: Like all good graphic design (visual communication) a logo must hook the eye of the consumer.
  • Third: It is not enough to catch the consumer’s eye, you have to keep their attention with an illustration that conveys an idea that is interesting and relevant to the viewer.
  • Fourth: A logo is a form of information and communication: the how, when, why, where and what of that idea. It is the call to action, the call to eat a hamburger when you see the golden arches miles away.
  • Fifth: A logo is your visual brand. The style, fonts and color will dictate the design of your company’s website, letterhead, sign, and everything else. Often a logo is the legal representation of a business, like the signature of an individual, or the stamp of a notary.


  • An Idea — Why does my old logo read as “bicycle” when half the letters are missing? In a more abstract manner, it conveys my passion for new creations, adventure and design. I hope it will invoke people to ask, “What is the connection between bicycling and graphic design?”
  • Eye-catching — Simple circular shapes and roughly complementary colors (cyan and gold) read quickly at a glance.
  • Attention-keeping — It is an elegant design that pleases the eye, and it is a curious puzzle.
  • Conveys information — It reads as “Blue Bicycle”. It gives the viewer the impression of adventure, design, elegance and simplicity. Also, it combines two familiar elements into something new, interesting and mysterious. These ideas or feelings are how I like to view my business and design philosophy, and the type of people who resonate with these ideas are the type of customers I like to attract.
Blue Bicycle Design logo short
A logo design from back when Scott was calling his freelance business “Blue Bicycle Design”. My favorite color and my favorite thing combined. Of course, now, I think using my name is the way to go.

What are the basic types of logos?

Some logo terminology.

“Logo” is a somewhat generic term for a corporate identity. Sometimes a logo is just type, sometimes it is a picture, and sometimes both.

1. Logotype:

A type treatment of a company’s name. Below is the history of the Sony logo. These may seem like finicky changes nowadays, but it took Sony from 1961-1962 to redesign the logo to better translate into a new medium — neon signs.

sony logo changes by year
Sony logo through the ages.

Google’s old logo uses a logotype with a decorative, customized font. Below is one of my favorite examples of how design has changed through the years. You’ll notice that the logo gets simpler and simpler. We go from a 3-dimensional logo to a logo that looks more like a relief sculpture with a drop shadow to a totally flat sans serif logo. The newest logo is the result of a new medium — mobile phones. Not only does the logo need to look good at small sizes (no more serifs) it also has to load fast (no more shading or shadows).

Google logo through the ages
Google logo through the ages.

Of course, they have now reached a level of market awareness where Google can have a lot of fun playing with their logo. They call it Google Doodles. I’d love to have that job. This doodle represents the Chinese New Lunar Year, the Year of the Dragon. Since this article was originally written Google Doodles has become even more popular, and the doodles have become even more elaborate. Sometimes they are mini arcade games you can play, like the Pac-Man Google Doodle.

Google Doodle Chinese Lunar New Year 2012
Google Doodle Chinese Lunar New Year 2012. Can you spot Google’s logo in this elaborate Doodle featuring the Chinese Lunar New Year?
Google Doodle Chinese Lunar New Year 2021
Google Doodle Chinese Lunar New Year 2021. The Google Doodles keep getting fancier. Can you see Google’s logo this time? There were actually 3 different doodles this year.
Google Doodle lunar new year 2021 mini doodle
Here is the mini Google Doodle of the Lunar New Year to get you to click through to the bigger one above.

On the other end of the spectrum, Google also holds my personal record for OCD logo redesign. There are more logo variations than the above. Can you spot the difference in extreme kerning below? At this size, it is only about 1 pixel difference. It’s such a small difference it was hard for me to line up. Which one do you prefer?

Googles logo comparison 2013 2015
Google’s logo comparison 2013 versus 2015

2. Icon, Mark, Brand or Dingbat:

McDonalds golden arches icon
Mcdonald’s golden arches icon

A mark evolved from the symbols potters used to identify themselves in ancient times. Now a mark is a pictogram used to represent what a person or company wants to convey in terms of information and feeling.

Here is an example so well branded that it doesn’t need an introduction; and that is the whole idea behind using an icon so that when you are miles away from being able to read the word “McDonald’s” or you just get a flash of the golden arches out of the corner of your eye, you start dreaming of hamburgers. This an abstract symbol, which reads fast and easy, but it could have been a drawing of a realistic hamburger, which is more difficult to discern, but if you’ve never heard of McDonald’s you’d get the idea.

This is the McDonald’s brand. The word ‘brand’ is literally derived from a cow brand. In the olden days, ranchers soon discovered it was a bad idea to brand their cows with something like, “This Here’s Old McDonald’s Cow,” so they invented brands or pictograms to represent themselves. It keeps the cows happy, but the drawback is that everyone has to be taught what the abstract brand means.

3. Icon and Logotype

nike logo
Nike logo

Here is another famous example. Nike has invested so much money into branding their image that they could use the word “Nike” or the “Swoosh”. Most companies, however, have to combine both because they can’t afford the brand recognition. Most people think that it is essential to brand their logotype; however, I think it is so eighties.

Another favorite example is seeing how Apple Computers’ logo evolved. The first decorative logo is barely readable. It features Newton under an apple tree. The second logo uses the word “apple” to take a bite out of the apple. By 1984 the company was so famous they dropped the logotype and now just use an icon, which keeps getting simpler over time. Part of the reason is that graphic design trends change. Another reason is that in our high-tech, high-speed society, we have little time to notice the details. If you’re driving 64 mph an hour, you have a fraction of a second to recognize a street sign. And, people give little more time to deciding whether to invest time into an advertisement.

apple logo changes by year
Apple logo through the ages.

4. Combination:

These are my favorites! I like to combine both the logotype and icon. It solves the problem of having to design three different logos and spending millions of dollars branding your company. Below is a logo I designed for a flotation spa, featuring sensory deprivation tanks. I think combining the type and icon adds aesthetic integrity and sophistication to the design. This logo both reads and feels “float” in one swoop.

Float logo decorative
Float logo decorative

That was just a quick introduction to the fun topic of logo design.

More articles in this series:

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Scott is still available for graphic design, information design, web design, branding and illustration. Profits support this website and our work with schools, not to mention Scott himself. Please contact Scott to discuss your project.

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