Logos vs. Branding

My rant last week about library logos arose from a discussion I had with a co-worker about branding libraries.

Too often, people seem to think that their logo is their branding. Or that coming up with a good logo is the most important first step in creating their brand. The conflation of logos with branding is such a universal issue that there’s a whole school of thought dedicated to correcting this misunderstanding. Google “branding is not a logo,” or “brand vs logo,” and survey the results.

Whenever I discuss library logos, someone always brings up the New York Public Library’s lion as an example of how effective a logo can be. But the reason the lion works so well as a logo is because it was already an iconic image of a library with a deeply rooted history in the community. It’s specific to the NYPL and encapsulates the reputation and history the library already has.

The purpose of a logo is simply to reference the larger identity of an organization.

That larger identity—not your logo—is your true brand. Your brand grows out of the interactions you have with your patrons and the role your library fulfills in its community.

I’m not opposed to library logos—just meaningless generic ones. The last couple of decades have proven the need for libraries to market themselves. We need compelling promotional materials and visually engaging websites. Logos can be useful but they need to be well-designed, meaningful, and specific.

That being said, it’s entirely possible to create a strong visual brand without a logo at all.

My favorite example of this right now is the Garfield County Libraries in Colorado:


Yes, they have a logo but it’s a generic book one (and yes, I called them out on it in my post last week). Honestly, my eyes slide right over their logo, I hardly even notice it.

Despite their ignorable logo, their website has a huge amount of personality. There are all sorts of little graphic touches throughout that convey the character of this library—the custom “Contact Us,” “About Us,” and “Give Back” icons in the footer, the graphic designs of some of their slideshow images, the color palette, the whitespace and easy-to-read fonts, etc.

My personal favorite graphic touches, though, are on the Kids pages:


I adore this section of their site. I think it’s wonderful. I love the hatchling bird they use for the different age ranges. The animal graphics they have for the different topics are fun, as well.

I’ve never been to any of the Garfield County Libraries but I already know that I love them because their website is so delightful.

The Garfield County Libraries website has tons of personality and establishes a strong visual brand—and their logo has nothing to do with it. You could get rid of their logo entirely and the site would be no less effective.

I think it serves libraries better to do more, and more interesting things, with their overall visual designs than to rely on a logo. If you’re going to use a logo, it should be the last thing you put in place. It should be specific, meaningful, and it should grow organically out your brand and overall visual design.

4 thoughts on “Logos vs. Branding

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