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What is the difference between a logo, a symbol, and an icon?

Logo versus Symbol versus Icon

People often get confused between a logo, a symbol, and an icon. Each serves a specific purpose. And although they may seem the same, the aim for each is quite different. When you start to dig in and pull them apart, you notice the nuances and characteristics that make each a unique entity. Today we’re breaking them down for you! So sit back and enjoy while we explain the difference between a logo, a symbol, and an icon.

What is a logo?

A  logo is one of the most recognizable items a company or organization has to its name. It represents the company, and in most cases is backed by intellectual property laws. The Nike swoosh, FedEx blue and orange text, and Apple’s apple are all logos. No other company may use them in their communications. All logos are symbols, but not all symbols are logos. 

What is a symbol?

A symbol is something that represents something else. It can be a mark or character and is recognizable upon being seen. Take for instance a registered trademark (®). The symbol is comprised of an R inside a circle.

What is an icon?

An icon is a symbol that is universally recognized that represents something else. Think of a play button, a pin drop on a map, or a calendar image. These all visually represent something else whether it is a function or something else. An icon may also be an individual or an object. John Lennon is a pop icon. And an eagle represents American freedom.


When you are building your brand you will need to consider each of these and how they will interact with each other and the larger ecosystem. When in doubt always lean on a trusted graphic designer to help lead the way. When you get a chance, read what you can expect from your graphic designer. In it, I lay out what comprises a great designer and what to look for in your next one.