Logo vs. icon: What is the difference?

Often used interchangeably, the branding terms “logo” and “icon” are not synonymous. They vary in appearance and purpose, but business owners might embark on their venture believing that a logo can do an icon's job. We want to clear up any confusion once and for all. Let’s take a minute to understand the logo vs. icon conundrum and explore some popular examples so you can give your brand exactly what it needs. 

What's the difference between a logo and an icon?

A logo is a visual representation of your brand or business. It’s not the entirety of your brand identity, but it’s the face of your brand. An icon, on the other hand, is a symbol of that brand, used to trigger an action or forge identity when a full logo won’t fit.

Think about how a logo is used versus how an icon is used. Icons are important in user experience (UX) design, so they’re frequently implemented in apps, on social media, on the web, and in other spaces to instantly make a connection with viewers without needing to implement the full logo. They’re also useful when you can’t display a full logo due to space constraints. 

The full logo, on the other hand, will likely pop up on formal communications, on the brand’s website, on brochures and company literature, and in other places where it may be necessary to utilize a more direct representation of your brand.

Let’s take the internet browser Firefox from Mozilla as a practical example of the difference between a logo and an icon. Well known for the fox in its logo, the Firefox icon consists of just that brand mark. When you see the Firefox logo on your desktop, you know to click it to access the internet. You also see the standalone fox icon used as the favicon on the website and on social media. However, the full logo is the same fox icon with the wordmark Firefox next to it. This logo is used in full on the company’s website, among other places.

Keep in mind, though, that there’s a lot of interchanging between a logo and an icon. In some cases, an icon becomes so, well, iconic, that it becomes the main logo representing a product or service. Consider the Pinterest “P,” the Facebook “F,” the Twitter bird — while these icons are not the full, formal logos of these social media platforms, their icons are internationally recognized as such, and oftentimes, a full logo may not even be necessary.

7 examples of logos and icons

Let’s look at a few famous brands and their separate use of logos and icons. This will help give you a clearer picture of how each one can be used effectively.  

  1. Pinterest. The social media platform has a widely recognizable P “badge” that it uses as its icon throughout the site. In fact, Pinterest recommends that the icon be used in lieu of its full wordmark in its official brand guidelines.
  2. Google. The primary-colored wordmark logo is a classic. Google uses the full wordmark when it comes to its logo and the multicolored singular “G” in the same font for its icon. 
  3. Shell. Shell is another one where the icon represents the logo on a smaller scale. In some cases, the full logo has the wordmark and the shell or just the shell, but the red and yellow seashell is the brand’s icon identifier. Either way, you know the symbol stands for a gas station up ahead.
  4. Target. Like most brands that have been around the block, Target has played around with its logo design. Its current logo is the target symbol with its wordmark underneath. And for the icon, you guessed it — it’s simply that signature red bullseye. 
  5. Beats by Dre. The headphone supplier has made their lowercase “b” very recognizable thanks to the unique font and the resemblance to headphones viewed in profile on someone’s head, so the letter itself is often used as the logo and icon. However, the full logo has the wordmark as well. 
  6. LinkedIn. The business networking site’s logo is a wordmark style, and its distinct icon comes at the end with its boxed in “in.” This again shows that though they are different design elements, the content or action in question is clearly associated with the platform.
  7. Dropbox. An open blue box is the file hosting service’s icon, which comes at the beginning of their wordmark logo. 

Spot the design differences 

Even though the confusion between logos and icons is understandable, especially in today’s day and age where icon use is on the rise, they are still separate terms. They have different uses in design and different size and shape specifications. Ideally, every business with an online presence should develop a stunning logo that comes with a built-in icon.

And with Namecheap’s Visual suite of tools, you can take the complexity out of creating a logo with Logo Maker. Quickly select your preferred styles and the software will generate free logos based on what you like. Export that logo to our other tools like Site Maker, Business Card Maker, and Stencil for Visual to bring your entrepreneurial dreams to life in an instant.


Nick Allen

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is a writer, photographer, and content marketer. He’s also the founder of BrainBoost Media, a boutique content and operations studio. With a wide range of interests, he enjoys reading and writing about sports, entrepreneurship, and start-ups.
More articles written by Nick.

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