Since the earliest times, people have been using symbols as a way of expressing ideas. Quite often, the ideas become more significant than the symbols themselves, seeming to develop a life of their own. Today, logos are the symbols we’re most likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis, and they’re more important to us than we may realize.

A glance at a logo consisting of a couple of letters or a simple symbol conveys a range of ideas – some of which are part of the symbol’s cultural associations, and some of which relate to personal experiences. For example, if you were to spot people wearing USMC hoodies, your first thought could be that they’re veterans. You might also associate USMC iconography with toughness, patriotism, physical fitness, or with specific people you know who were in the Marine Corps at one time or another.

The wearers, on the other hand, may not have been marines at all. Instead, they want to associate themselves with the values of the Marine Corps, have an ambition to join them at some point in their lives, or are simply demonstrating their support for US marines.

In short, there are a lot of reasons why logos are important and why we might choose to display them. Here’s a quick summary.

1. Logos Represent Ideas

As a simple exercise, look at logos and try to interpret what they were meant to symbolize. Sometimes, it’s very easy to see. For example, interlinked design elements may symbolize unity, while design elements enclosing a core feature could be meant to show security or protection. When symbols are used, associations are often instant. A White cross on a coloured background indicates a medical context, a raised fist symbolizes resistance, a pair of scales represents justice, and so on.

2. Logos Create Associations

Certain well-known logos will have personal associations too. Coca Cola is so sure that your memories of its fizzy drink will bring back memories of fun with friends, cooling refreshment, and enjoyment, that it hasn’t deviated much from its original format over the decades. As for the Nike logo, your first thought is likely to reflect the company’s iconic “Just do it!” slogan even though the words themselves are nowhere to be seen.

3. Logos Promote a Sense of Identity and Belonging

Just as knights of old asserted their identity through a coat of arms, we are drawn to logos that we feel reflect our identity or the identity of a group to which we belong. Associating ourselves with these logos makes us part of a “tribe” of like-minded people that reflect key elements of the brand identity represented by the logo. Have you ever heard someone saying they’re a “Gucci girl?” To her, it’s likely to be much more than just expressing a brand preference: she’s giving information about her lifestyle in general.

Does it Matter?

When people choose to wear logos, they may be giving us important cues about their values, the ideas with which they want to be associated, or the impression they want to create. It’s the reason why people are willing to pay high prices for goods that display logos so prominently that they could be seen as free advertising for brands. So, next time you see someone sporting a logo, try making a few assumptions based on it and, if you’re in a position to get to know them, see how accurate those assumptions were. Chances are, you won’t be far off the mark!