Corporate Identity Components

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Four Identity Components

Before we try to generate concepts, let us stop to remember that there are four different kinds of corporate-identity design components. They are:
1) Signatures
2) Wordmarks
3) Monograms
4) Logos

As the name implies, a signature is simply a unique way of writing a name. Similarly, brand signatures are corporate names written in a specific font. They have no distinguishing or unique design element added; they are just the corporate name set in a particular font or style of lettering.

Signatures are best suited for brand-name consumer products and the corporations that produce them. Examples are: Alka-Seltzer, Sony, Epson, Daewoo, Clinique, Nintendo and Gillette. This is the most basic form of value-added design, and signatures alone are generally not well suited for identities for other kinds of businesses or corporations.

Originally, the term “signature” meant a personal, handwritten name with natural distinctive characteristics. Interestingly, a signature that is truly distinctive, with a deliberate and individual treatment of letters or a unique design element, is no longer properly called a signature, but a wordmark.

Recently, some companies, even in the consumer product category, that formerly had only signatures for their products have added something unique, such as a hand-lettered wordmark or a logo accompanying their established signature.


Signatures are often just a particular font used to spell the functional name of the company. Sometimes the type is hand rendered but it is not obvious and comes across as if all the letters were just a given type font. They are the least value-added in corporate identity design and are most often used for consumer products.

Wordmarks are sometimes also called logotypes. But some people erroneously say logotypes or wordmarks when they mean signatures or logos. Therefore, because of misuse, the term logotype might well be avoided altogether. For our purposes, plain type “right off the keyboard” (with proper kerning, of course) is not a wordmark; that’s just a signature. A wordmark, by contrast, must have some unique design element embedded in the word, perhaps just a type ligature.

The only drawback with wordmarks is that they have just one single format, whereas both monograms and logos, because they are separate from their signatures, can be arranged in different configurations for varying layout needs.

Even so, wordmarks are, and will continue to be, very useful for corporate identity.


What distinguishes a wordmark from a signature is some unique design element or being hand-drawn. Sometimes it is subtle like the tail of the “g” in Ogilvy becoming the dot of the “i.” It might be a missing crossbar in the A like in Samsung or the wedges taken out of certain letters in Bridgestone. Other times it can be more obvious like the arched baseline in Netflix or the arrows on Subway.

Monograms are a kind of logo that includes or resembles the initial(s) of the company’s functional name. Monograms are most often used with an accompanying signature but sometimes appear alone (without the full corporate name contained in a signature), as in the case of IBM or HBO, where the initials have become the functional corporate name and not the words they originally stood for (Interantional Business Machines or Home Box Office). In these cases, the monogram becomes a coined word or acronym.

Monograms usually contain the first letter or letters of the corporate name rendered in a unique graphic way. The signature spells out the corporate name (Motorola and Hilton). Note that the signature font either contrasts in style with the monogram font (Motorola and Kawasaki) or matches it exactly (Chanel).

Similar but non-matching fonts don’t work well. This is the principle of “coincide or contrast” that we have already addressed. Avoid making the monogram the first letter in the signature, as this often interferes with easy reading.


Monograms typically use the first initial(s) in the functional name and are most often accompanied by a signature. Sometimes the monogram letters become the functional name for the company as in the case of IBM and HBO.

Logos are unique design elements that do not resemble letters. They are separate from, but usually used in conjunction with, a signature, type “right off the keyboard” (with proper kerning, of course), which usually has no distinctive design elements of its own. As with monograms, avoid using the logo in place of any letter in the signature as it usually impedes easy reading of the name. In this context the logo and the signature together constitute the corporate identity.


Logos are almost always accompanied by a signature. A logo and signature together become the identity.

Why This Book’s Name?
Even though, for the purposes of this book, I assign separate terms for wordmarks, monograms and logos, the population at large associates the word “logo” with anything that is functions as a corporate identity. It is in that context that the title Logo Design Theory was given to this book, so that it may be understood by the layperson as well as the professional.

Functional Name versus Legal Name
In identity design, the full legal name is not used. Words such as “corporation,” “company” or “Inc.” are almost never included. Instead, a shorter name, often just one word, is the functional name used in either a signature or wordmark.

Furthermore, there are some celebrated examples of using the popular name of a company over the formal name. As in so many areas of design, when it comes to the words that must be designed, less is more.

Functional Name vs. Formal Name

Whenever possible, it is best to use the simplest name for a company for the Functional Name.

Recognizing that there are only four possible components serves to help a designer cover all bases when developing ideas or concepts, which we’ll cover next.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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