A Study of 597 Logos: Discovering the Power of Descriptive Design

Imagine you’re launching a brand called Noxu, which specializes in jigsaw puzzles. Your CEO sends you an email asking you to choose between two logos. The logo you pick will determine the success of the launch. So, which one should you choose? The one on the left or the one on the right?

Logo Options

Both logos have their merits. If you lean towards the left one, perhaps you believe that simpler designs appeal more to your customers. On the other hand, if you prefer the right one, maybe you think that the puzzle piece outline provides important information about the product.

Our latest research aimed to help managers like you make this choice. We conducted seven experimental studies to explore whether brands benefit more from descriptive or nondescriptive logos. Analyzing the effect of logo design on brand equity for 597 companies, we discovered that the logo on the right, which we consider descriptive, had a significant impact compared to the nondescriptive logo on the left.

Do Logos Really Matter?

Some might consider logo design choices inconsequential. However, getting the design right is crucial for several reasons. A well-designed logo can bring substantial benefits to brands. It can pique consumer interest, differentiate brands from competitors, facilitate brand recognition, influence investment decisions, and convey the essence of a brand. Logos also serve as ubiquitous communication tools, appearing on products, websites, annual reports, entryways, and even business cards. Stakeholders, particularly consumers, frequently encounter these brand elements.

READ  The Power of Logo Marks: Amplifying Your Brand Identity

Moreover, the design characteristics of logos can significantly influence consumer behavior and brand performance. Previous studies have shown that simplicity or complexity in logos can impact investment decisions and that symmetry or asymmetry can enhance brand equity.

What Is a Descriptive Logo?

A descriptive logo includes textual or visual elements, or a combination of both, that clearly communicate the type of product or service a brand offers. For example, the logos of Burger King and the New York Islanders (a sports franchise) are descriptive. Burger King’s logo features the word “burger” and two hamburger buns, while the New York Islanders’ logo displays an ice hockey stick and a puck. On the other hand, logos like McDonald’s and the Minnesota Wild (another sports franchise) are nondescriptive, as their design elements do not indicate the type of product or service they represent.


The question of whether to use a descriptive or nondescriptive logo often arises during design meetings. In recent years, some brands have modified their logos to become more descriptive, while others have chosen to become more nondescriptive. Dunkin’, for instance, removed the word “donuts” and the coffee cup from its logo to make it nondescriptive. On the other hand, Animal Planet made its logo more descriptive by adding an elephant to the design. In our analysis, we found that about 60% of companies use a nondescriptive logo, while 40% use a descriptive logo.

However, our research demonstrates that descriptive logos have a more favorable impact on consumers’ brand perceptions and are more likely to improve brand performance.

What Power Does a Descriptive Logo Have?

Our studies and analyses show that it is easier for consumers to visually process descriptive logos and understand what a brand offers as a result. Compared to nondescriptive logos, descriptive logos:

  • Make brands appear more authentic in consumers’ eyes.
  • Have a more positive impact on consumers’ brand evaluations.
  • Increase consumers’ willingness to buy from brands to a greater degree.
  • Boost brands’ net sales more effectively.
READ  What Makes the MasterCard Symbol Iconic?

For example, in one study, participants were assigned to two groups. One group saw a descriptive version of a sushi restaurant’s logo, while the other saw a nondescriptive version of the same logo. Both groups read the same short description of the restaurant. Afterwards, they rated the authenticity and likability of the brand. Participants in the group exposed to the descriptive logo found the brand more authentic and likable than participants in the other group.

In another study, we analyzed a data set on 423 business-to-consumer brands. We collected financial information, logo data, and coded various design characteristics. The analysis revealed that having a descriptive logo had a greater positive effect on sales compared to a nondescriptive one.

These findings held true when we tested them on 174 early-stage startups. The association between descriptive logos and a higher willingness to buy was consistently observed.

Is the Power of a Descriptive Logo Absolute?

The benefits of a descriptive logo are not experienced equally by every brand. We compared the effects for both familiar and unfamiliar brands. While a descriptive logo positively impacted brand equity for both types, the effect was smaller for familiar brands. This is because familiarity leads consumers to have more knowledge about the brand, making them less influenced by the logo design.

We also found that descriptive logos had a negative effect on brands associated with sad or unpleasant things, such as palm oil, funeral homes, and bug repellents. For such products or services, the design elements in a descriptive logo may evoke negative concepts that some consumers associate with them.

READ  How to Create a Stunning Logo in Photoshop: Beginner's Guide

What Can Companies Learn?

If you’re considering creating or modifying a logo, our findings suggest including at least one textual and/or visual design element that indicates the type of product or service your company offers. For example, a coffee shop should consider a logo featuring a coffee cup with rising steam. A bookstore should feature a book in its logo. And for Noxu, the jigsaw puzzle brand mentioned earlier, the logo on the right is the way to go.

However, for brands associated with products or services that can easily bring negative concepts to mind, a nondescriptive logo may be more suitable. We also suspect that nondescriptive logos work better for companies operating in unrelated business segments, such as Uber, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company. For these brands, a logo that hints at their diverse offerings might be unappealing and confusing. Additionally, brands that don’t want to be strongly associated with a specific product should avoid descriptive logos. For example, Dunkin’ changed its logo to reduce the focus on donuts and extend its association to other products like bagels.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that a descriptive logo guarantees the successful launch of a brand, nor that the logo is the most important brand element to consider. However, underestimating the importance of logo design and the power of descriptive design elements can be a costly mistake.

Now that you understand the impact of descriptive logos, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your brand’s goals. Choose wisely and watch your brand’s success soar!

Related Posts