Rob Marsh

What Should Your Logo Say?

Every day we speak with dozens of small business owners who are looking for the right “look” for their business. Whether they need business cards, a website, a brochure, a presentation folder for a conference, or even a vehicle wrap, they want to make sure that the design they get communicates the right message.

As we talk, we often hear that a customer wants their logo to represent ALL of their services. A business owner who provides outsourced technical support, upon seeing her initial concepts, might say, “Well, sure, they’re great logos for a tech support company. But I also provide programming services. This logo doesn’t show any of that. And I sell computer components. Can we show some of those too? I want to make sure my customers know I can help them in more ways than one.” A bakery owner wants to show donuts, muffins, breadsticks, turn-overs, brownies, sandwiches and drinks, all in addition to a loaf of bread—just to make sure people know they can get more than bread at that location.

But “everything and the kitchen sink” is the wrong approach to logo design. Here’s why:

Think about the logos of successful companies. In most cases, their logos don’t picture their products (in fact, most don’t include any icon at all). They likely don’t even have a tag line in them. The Coca-cola logo doesn’t show a soft drink. The Barnes & Noble logo doesn’t show a book (or games, or movies, or CDs). The Starbucks logo does not feature a cup of coffee. The McDonald’s logo does not feature any food. But over time, these logos have come to represent all of these things, just by being associated with them.

There are exceptions to the rule. The Fox Broadcasting logo includes a search light—a holdover from the movie studio days. But note that they don’t include a television, a DVD, a movie screen, and a book—all products that Fox creates and sells. One icon is enough to represent all of the company’s products. The old UPS logo included a package, representing the major business that UPS is in. But it doesn’t include all the package sizes the company delivers. It didn’t represent all of the locations around the world the company delivers to. And it didn’t include all the ways UPS could deliver your package (by truck, by plane, etc.).

When you consider what you want for your logo, think about one simple idea that can be associated with the things you do. It may be an icon (like the Nike swoosh), or a letter (like the golden arches: M), or it may simply be a unique type treatment (like Virgin). Rather than asking your design team to include everything your company represents, ask them to focus on a single idea that will come to represent your company as it grows in the coming years.


  1. web design

    Well said! Recently I have been seeing all these cheap logos done by armatures. The logo should be simple, and represent the company/business. All I see is complicated drawings done by so called professionals.

  2. Umair

    Nice post since I was looking for the basics of logo design. Thanks for sharing such useful stuff.

  3. Thanushka

    Nice post. I agree with your point, but I should also add that McDonald’s logo does have a food. The famouse m is a French fry.

  4. Shorsh


    don’t you think that the McDonald’s logo may represent a couple of bended chips?

    And about Starbucks logo, can the lady’s hair be understood as the hot coffee’s smoke?

    Note: no, I don’t use drugs… lol!


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