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Logo vs. Symbol


What is the difference between a logo and a symbol? When does a logo become a symbol? According to Simon Sinek, author of the book, “Start With Why,” logos primarily serve as icons to identify a company or organization and its products or services. Symbols, on the other hand, stand for something in which people can believe – something people can support. It is when a logo identifies much more than a company product or service – when it identifies a belief and embodies an entire value set, that the logo then becomes a symbol.

For a logo to become a symbol people must be inspired to use that logo to say something about who they are. In his book, Sinek uses the example of Harley Davidson, stating -- “There are people who walk around with Harley Davidson tattoos on their body. Some don’t even own a Harley Davidson. Why? After years of being crystal clear about what they believe, disciplined about a set of values and guiding principles, and being doggedly consistent about everything they say and do, their logo has become a symbol. It no longer simply identifies a company and its products; it indentifies a belief. The symbol is no longer about Harley Davidson it’s about them. The symbol embodies an entire value set – their own.”

I personally know individuals who, like the Harley Davidson people mentioned above, have had Bruce Lee’s JKD emblem tattooed on their body. And it is usually for the same reason. They are people who love what JKD is all about are using what JKD does to demonstrate their own personal identity. These individuals are not so much living the “JKD lifestyle” but rather have integrated the principles of JKD into the style of their lives.

Sinek goes on to say, “The only reason symbols have meaning is because we infuse them with meaning. That meaning lives in our mind, not in the item itself…” and furthermore, “It is not the organization that decides what its symbol means, it is the people outside in the world, the marketplace, etc., who decide. If, based on the things they see and hear, the outsiders can clearly and consistently report what the organization believes, then, and only then, can a symbol start to take on meaning.”

I know what the emblem Bruce Lee created to represent the art of Jeet Kune Do means to me. It is much more than simply another logo. It is a symbol – a symbol that embodies an entire set of core values and guiding principles. Values and principles that I use every day not only in martial arts but in all facets of my life.

What does the symbol mean to other martial arts groups using it? Does it serve as a symbol or is it simply a logo? I don’t know, nor would I presume to say. For some it may be a symbol while for others it may be simply a logo. What does it mean to you?

Sources “Start With Why” Sinek, Simon © 2009, The Penguin Group

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