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noun [countable]

a particular design for a written name which is used to identify a specific company, organisation or product

'The logo and wordmark … is a strong, modern symbol of quality, energy, and stability serving as the visual centerpiece of our brand … Individual unit wordmarks are available in the Guide, and should not be altered in any way.'

Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas at Austin 2009

You're a managing director of a new company and have to make an important decision: what's the best way to promote the company's name and/or products so that they're instantly recognised? You could go for an eye-catching symbol, a logo, or in 21st century-speak, a specially designed wordmark.

unlike other kinds of logo or trademark, wordmarks usually contain text only

Wordmark is a term now used to refer to a specific design for the written name of an organisation, company or product, intended to aid recognition and provide what is often described as a graphic identity (i.e. the word(s) as a visual symbol of the organisation or product). Unlike other kinds of logo or trademark, wordmarks usually contain text only. They adhere to very detailed specifications concerning colour, font type and size, and arrangement of lettering. For a classic example of a wordmark, you need look no further than breakfast – Kellogg's is a wordmark embedded in most people's consciousness (think of a bowl of cornflakes and you can probably conjure up an image in your mind pretty instantly … did you get the colour right?). A couple of other well-known examples are Federal Express, the worldwide courier, and of course the ubiquitous Microsoft.

Though wordmark is mainly used in American English, the concept it represents has been very topical in the UK during recent months amidst discussions about the proposed logo for the London 2012 Olympics. At a cost of £400,000, a design agency produced a logo which, when unveiled by organisers, evoked widespread public criticism and an online petition calling for it to be scrapped. The petition attracted almost 50,000 signatures and thousands of comments. Those defending the choice claim that the design was an attempt to produce something enduring (still five years to go), appealing to young people, and 'dynamic' (the logo will also appear in animated form and in a range of colours). Critics of the controversial approach have argued in favour of clever but more conventional designs closer to the concept of a wordmark. (Check out the BBC News website for some popular alternatives, including the favourite.)

Background – wordmark

The expression wordmark is, of course, a blend of word and trademark. Though there is plenty of evidence of use since the late nineties, particularly in the US and Canada, the term has so far only very limited coverage in dictionaries. The word logo, a 1930s abbreviation of logogram or logotype, has its origins in the Greek term logos meaning 'word'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 30th July 2007.

Open Dictionary

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