Logo vs Icon: Key Differences and Benefits of Each

Design Strategy: 5 Steps To Create Your Own

A logo and an icon may sound like the same thing to many. However, there are nuanced differences and uses for each visual asset.

This article will dive into significant differences between a logo and an icon, including how design teams scope out projects for each differently.

What Is a Logo?

A logo is a symbol that is closely associated with a company’s brand identity. Brand managers carefully select colors, shapes, symbols, and logotype for logos so they accurately reflect their company’s services.

There are several parts of a logo, which are often broken up during strategic logo design projects. A logo can consist of any one or several of the following elements:

A company doesn’t need to incorporate all three parts for its logo to be valid. Businesses can pick and choose which parts to include in their designs to make the end result most applicable to their services and appealing to customers.

Due to their close tie to the company’s identity, logos are commonly displayed on packaging, promotional materials, and products. Once established, logos become a key visual branding asset for companies.

What Is an Icon?

The definition of an icon is a bit more general than the definition of a logo. In fact, logos fall within the definition of an icon.

An icon is an image that represents an action, file, or specific web page. Online, icons are graphical user interface (GUI) components that facilitate processes when users interact with them. Essentially, icons are images that users interact with online to trigger an action.

This means that logos can be icons. For instance, when scanning the toolbar on an Apple computer, the iconic Apple logo is used as an icon that allows users to log off, force quit, or access system preferences.

Apple Icon used for computer selections

Icons like these can be activated with a click or double-click. Icons are a key part of a site’s UI/UX, vastly improving a user experience on a platform.

Logo vs Icon: Different Use Cases

Logos and icons are both visual elements employed by brands to provide optimal services to customers. However, each component has very different ideal use cases that result from their key benefits.

For instance, a logo is primarily created for the purpose of brand recognition, marketing, and awareness. This is why logo design professionals strategically match a company’s identity to different parts of a logo.

For instance, the color blue is often carefully selected as a logo or brand color in the tech industry because studies have shown that the color is desirable and creates a feeling of trust between brand and consumer.

Blue logo examples
Source: Logo Maker

These strategic selections lead to tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Venmo all choosing blue logos.

The parts of a logo contribute to the overall brand identity and create brand characteristics for a company, driving an audience’s perception of a business.

Alternatively, the primary use for icons is not innately marketing-first. Rather, icons are meant to elevate and ease user experience.

Including icons on platforms is extremely important to companies. According to a 2018 study, 88% of users avoid websites after a bad user experience.

To retain and satisfy all types of customers, icons are meant to be simple and as universally recognizable as possible. They’re not meant to stand out or be especially unique like a company logo. The goal is that users recognize what the icon does without needing a textual explanation.

While both visuals, logos are key for branding purposes while icons focus more on improving UX.

Logo vs Icon: Different Scopes of Work

Logos and icons also require different design processes, despite often appearing visually similar. This means that professional design teams will undertake different scopes of work when engaging with your company on projects.

For instance, the logo design process typically requires a discovery phase. This phase involves the designer learning about the company’s goals for the design as well as the established brand.

Clients will provide information on target audiences, design inspiration, and existing branding materials at this point of the project. This allows the designers to create a logo that will fit seamlessly into the brand suite.

Icon design, on the other hand, is handled as part of the UX design process. A UX design team will develop screens and wireframes depicting various pages of a platform with explanations on how users will travel from one page to the next. Icons are key elements in the creation of user flows and can more directly visualize a user’s navigation.

Logo vs Icon: Different Specialists

Because both logo design and icon creation require different scopes of work and contribute to differing brand goals, it’s likely that different specialists handle these design tasks at agencies.

There are plenty of agencies specializing in logo design that wouldn’t necessarily be equipped to create icons or graphics for your site’s UX. Similarly, companies focusing on UX may not be your first choice to dive into a logo design project.

When selecting a company to work with, consider the differences between a logo and an icon.

Critical Differences Exist Between Logo vs Icon

Logos and icons are regularly conflated because of their long list of similarities. However, there are key differences in the end goal and required scoping of each design element.

Companies looking for a team to design either a logo or icon should ensure they’re aware of the differences between the two in order to work toward their desired end product.