Corporate design: some useful definitions
John Lloyd, 2009
A lot of familiar terms are used rather loosely in the world of branding and identity; here are my preferred definitions.
The word logotype was first used in printing as a term meaning a word or group of letters cast in metal as one piece. It was derived from logos, the Greek for word, plus type, being a piece of wood or metal with raised letters for printing. Today, logotype is used rather loosely to mean any mark or identification device used by an organisation. I prefer a tighter definition. Strictly speaking, a logotype, or logo in its short form, is an organisation’s signature formed from letters only, visualised in a distinctive way. Wordmark and signature are alternative terms for logotype. I also extend the use of the term logotype to mean a wordmark or signature in combination with an abstract or pictorial device. FedEx and ebay are logotypes formed from letters only. Toyota and Pepsi are logotypes formed from a wordmark and visual device in combination.
A symbol is something that, over time and by common consent, comes to typify, represent or recall something else, by possessing analogous qualities or through association. Green represents the environment, the cross represents Christianity, the owl represents wisdom. Symbols can be abstract or pictorial. The Nike swoosh and the Apple device are examples of symbols.
The word mark can refer to a logotype, a symbol, or a combination of the two. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mark in this context as a sign or seal used for distinction or identification. The French term marque means the brand of a product or service, but especially the brand of a motor car. A marque may be a logotype, a symbol, or a combination of the two.
The value of names, logotypes and symbols in the commercial world has created a need for legal protection. Trade mark is a legal term. The UK Intellectual Property Office defines a trade mark as ‘a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of other traders. A sign includes, for example, words, logos, pictures or a combination of these.’ Once a mark is registered in the relevant classes of goods and services, the trade mark owner has rights to the exclusive use of the mark in relation to those classes.
This term is widely used as a useful all-encompassing term covering the entire subject area. There is a tighter definition. An organisation’s corporate identity is what constitutes the organisation and what makes it genuinely individual. As with a person, an organisation’s true identity is based on reality, not perceptions. It is made up of beliefs, principles, what the subject does and how it behaves. An organisation’s true corporate identity is not always clearly communicated or perceived.
A corporate image is how an organisation is regarded; corporate image is created by more than simply how an organisation appears. As with a person, an image may be quite different from the true identity. An excellent organisation may be misunderstood and undervalued and have a weaker image than a lesser organisation.
This is how an organisation presents itself visually and how it uses corporate design to impress its audiences. Visual identity includes the logotype or symbol, colours and typefaces, and the design of printed and online communications, products, workwear, signs, livery and premises.
An original meaning of the term brand was to burn a mark into something with a hot iron to show ownership or quality. A corporate brand represents an organisation as a whole, whereas a product brand represents a product or service. Today, the term corporate branding has been widened to cover the process of building a strong corporate image that is rooted in an organisation’s true corporate identity. Visual identity is a key component of brand building but a corporate brand is made up of much more; it is everything that determines how you feel about an organisation. In other words, a corporate brand is the sum total of all the perceptions, knowledge, and experience that people have of an organisation.