Designing a logo has always been a tricky business – every element needs to come together perfectly to generate an accurate and instantly recognisable visual representation of the brand. However, things inevitably got more complicated over time. In the digital age, there are more occasions where space might be limited or where the logo itself will need to react to the screen size and behave accordingly. A brand’s identity is contained within their logo, but should that logo be more important than how the user interacts with it?

The problem occurs when a logo needs to be turned into an icon, such as a favicon or an app button. These are the modern applications of logos and are a large part of how customers will interact with the brand. These icons appear very small and if your logo is comprised of text (logotype) or is particularly complex, the image will be very difficult to interpret. Your brand is more than a picture or the letters that make up your title, however; you have an entire visual identity that can be used for favicons or app icons.

Let’s take a critical look – controversially – at the FedEx logo. FedEx has been praised for their design on many occasions, and for good reason. The font and colours are immediately synonymous with the brand and they’ve included an arrow in the negative space to imply moving forward. FedEx haven’t needed to drastically change their iconic logo for a long time, which may explain their reluctance to develop a screen-friendly favicon or app icon. Go to the FedEx website and check out what they have as their favicon – it’s a very small white box with ‘FedEx’ written inside, barely recognisable. The same can be said of the app icon, which at least inverts the white and purple colour to better define the icon and make the brand colours more prominent, but still uses the entire logotype. Other brands that also make indeterminate app icons include Sky Go, eBay and BBC iPlayer, the last of which even has a logo within its logo that would do the job just fine on an app icon (they even use it for the Twitter page).

Compare that to Yahoo, who also use a logotype. Their favicon is simply an uppercase Y in an icon of their brand colours. It’s enough to identify the brand and while their app icons usually have ‘Yahoo’ written on them, they are easily identified by the brand colours (purple, white and blue).

So, as a designer, is it worth redesigning your logo to better fit with the digital age? Deutsche Bank redesigned their logo from complex imagery to a simple square with a line inside. This works very well for them because they can use it more freely for abstract design, such as this book. Not every brand can manage this, however; Deutsche Bank has already established their brand and therefore don’t need to offer much brand information in their design. There’s also your brand equity to consider – would changing your logo make your brand less recognisable to your existing audience?

There is an answer to providing better UX without having to redesign your brand logo. If your brand has equity, then why not use that to your advantage? Take the Netflix logo design update, which features a red ribbon-looking ‘N’ in their recognisable red against black. It’s minimalistic, identifiable (even in small icons) and instantly associated with Netflix. The ambiguity of the Netflix design allows viewers to interpret the design as they see fit – perhaps it is a ribbon, or maybe a red carpet at a premiere? Maybe it’s a film reel? Whatever it is, it’s Netflix.

What’s important about a logo representing your brand is that the elements that come together to make it are recognisable. A logo should identify a brand with merely a glance. For Yahoo, this meant the brand colour and recognisable ‘Y’ in the brand font. For Netflix, it was about the colour and the subliminal association with movies. Both of those brands created shorthand versions of their logo to fit where their established brand logo didn’t.

It’s not like established brands can simply remake their logos for the purpose of favicons and app icons, but a new icon closely resembling their existing one will make life easier for users to identify businesses on a small screen. A company ID needs to be flexible in order to keep up with developing technological expectations – to rely more closely on what makes their brand recognisable, rather than what makes it legible. Having your logo as a long logotype doesn’t work well for icon design, so companies should consider long and shorthand versions of their logos – one that can be used specifically for icons and favicons.

Just don’t choose a white, upper-case ‘D’ next to a full stop inside an orange square. That’s taken.