Spot The Difference: Company Logo Designs and Icons

Netflix is the world’s leading Internet television network with over 81 million members in over 190 countries, and we binge on more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day. So, unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, the chances are you’ll have noticed the Netflix rebrand that launched in June. The streaming giants changed their app icon much to the disappointment of thousands who took to the internet to document their disapproval.

Their reaction may seem extreme, but we as consumers hold a brand’s identify close to our hearts. We personally adopt brands we like and when the face of the brand changes we panic that the brand is also changing. Now, Netflix assured us that in fact they are not changing the face on the company and are merely adding a secondary icon to supplement their logo. So, with all the confusion over the jargon used to define the face of a brand; what exactly is the difference between a logo and an icon?

What is a logo?

On the surface, a logo looks to be an aesthetically pleasing design that serves no purpose other than to look rather nice. Of course, branding experts know there is far more to it than that. A logo is an expertly considered design used to influence the audience that views it. As logo design expert Saul Bass explains:

“Logos are a graphic extension of the internal realities of a company”

Everything your brand stands for should be expressed in your logo, and this is then used to connect emotionally with your customers. Would Nike customers parade through the streets emblazoned with the infamous “swoosh” if they did not want to be associated with what the brand represents?

Great Logo Design Today

Where better to start than at number 1 on Forbes Most Successful List? Apple’s logo is extremely simple but therein lies the beauty. The design can be scaled onto till receipts or billboards all without becoming distorted. The logo inspires a connection with customers thanks to the humorous idiosyncrasy of using an apple rather than a computer for their logo. This goes to show you do not have to use a generic industry image as Apple is synonymous with luxury technology, and not apples. Company logo design experts Repeat Logo explain the success of simple logos:

“Think about the logos you can easily bring to mind; they all take very basic forms don’t they? – they stick in our minds for a reason and are deceptively simple.”

What is an Icon?

Icons have been used in as far back in recorded human history as we can go. Though, thanks to the rise of user experience and web development, icons today are associated with this industry. An icon’s intention is to be a visual representation of information that is understandable to all. They’re used on user interfaces to describe what the application does in an instant.

Icons are commonly seen in end user software applications as a graphical representation of a program or file. They help the user identify the program associated with the icon and are used with Graphical User Interface operating systems such as Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS. The icons are used to navigate the user to the program they wish to open.

Icons can also be used on web pages as an addition to text; they work by showcasing visually what a company’s unique selling points are. They are used to help the user navigate the site since humans react excellently to visual stimulus. In fact, studies show that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

Icon Design Dos and Don’ts

  • Icons are designed to simplify an action, do not make them hard to differentiate as this will confuse the user.
  • Don’t use text, it’s almost impossible to read and makes the point of a visual guide redundant.
  • The simpler the icon the better, there’s no need to add a number of objects to one icon. If the size of the icon will make it difficult to understand.

Great Icon Design Today

Staying with the Apple theme, let’s look at the icons the brand use successfully. Their Itunes icon can be recognised instantly as being related to music thanks to the double quaver. There is no need for words; the application’s purpose is made clear through succinct visual information.


The Differences

  • A logo communicates a brand’s message
  • An icon communicates information and direction
  • An icon accompanies a brand’s logo and promotes action
  • Logos can be scaled to any size and transcend platforms
  • Icons are pixel based and can become distorted when scales
  • Icons are used to simplify user experience

Of course, if only it was always this easy. The lines are being blurred thanks to the rise of digital technology and there’s always an exception to the rule; Instagram and Twitter’s logos are also their icons! However, Netflix ensures us their logo is not changing and have taken to the internet to solidify this:

“Not a new logo! The N is an icon and a new creative element to live with our logo. The current Netflix logo is here to stay”.

Logos and icons have a different purpose, if you are confused about what one is right for your purpose, ask, is this image being used to simplify an action? If so, use an icon. If the brand is being represented visually then opt for a logo.

Logos prove that things are not always what they seem to be at first glance. Check out DesignHill‘s article Hidden Messages in Logos and get ready to have your mind blown with these hidden meaning in the most famous logos. 

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