5 Tips for a Successful Typographic Logo
Every designer knows that a strong brand identity is essential for a company that wants to embed itself in the minds of its customers. And when it comes to impact, there’s nothing stronger than a typographic logo.
In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the typographic logo approach, explain why they’re such a strong option, and deliver some tips for designing a typographic logo that works.
What is a Typographic Logo
Firstly, let’s define what a typographic logo is. Simply put, a typographic logo is a logo that consists solely (or at least principally) of elements of type — words or letters.
Typically, a typographic logo consists of the company’s name or an acronym. It will make use of a carefully selected typeface to make it stand out. Frequently a designer will take an existing typeface and redraw individual elements — such as increasing the x-height or decorating terminals — to create something unique.
Occasionally typographic logos incorporate symbols. Commonly punctuation is employed to add character or enhance a message. It’s also common for negative space to form shapes that add to the design. However, for a logo to qualify as typographic, the primary focus must be on the text.
The Benefits of a Typographic Logo
With so many options for creating a logo, why would anyone restrict themselves to just type? Well, there are numerous benefits to a typographic logo:
Recognition — if you want people to know the name of your company, it helps to tell them what it is. Sure, the Nike swoosh is cool, Apple’s apple is iconic, and WWF’s panda is cute, but you need to be a household name to use a logo like that.
Timelessness — design trends come and go, but good typography is eternal (or at least long-lasting). Typographic logos can age gracefully; occasional tweaks to the design can keep them fresh for decades.
Simplicity — good design is really about removing everything unnecessary. The only thing that’s actually necessary in a logo is the company name, i.e., the typographic part.
5 Tips for Designing Typographic Logos
Whenever I work on a branding project, the first thing I try is to reduce the identity down to a typographic logo; more often than not, it’s the solution the client will be happy with.
Tip 1: Find the Right Approach
This might sound obvious, but the first step in creating an effective typographic logo is finding the right approach. Like a mountaineer considering which side of a mountain to scale, it’s important that you look at every angle of approach.
For example, sometimes you get lucky, and the letters combine in a particularly pleasing manner or can be tracked to create interesting shapes. On the other hand, some letter combinations don’t work well at all. In my experience, similar shaped letters work, and dissimilar shapes can work if the shapes are balanced. If the shapes are unbalanced (for example, lots of straight strokes on the left and round bowls on the right), then the logo will feel unbalanced.
If you’re unlucky and the company name isn’t graphically pleasing, then find a way to adjust the characters until it is because that’s the foundation of your design.
The V&A’s logo is a perfect example of a designer (Alan Fletcher) leaning into the existing shape.
Tip 2: Use a Single Case
Take a font, any well-made font, and zoom in so it’s huge. Now overlay some lowercase letters on the uppercase. You’ll notice that the strokes on the uppercase letters are slightly thicker — they’ve been optically adjusted to account for the fact that the characters themselves are larger.
Caps that have been adjusted are fine in text, especially large blocks of text — they’d look too thin if they weren’t adjusted. However, in single words, it can be distracting (particularly if the type designer over-egged the adjustments a little).
The simplest solution is to choose a single case: uppercase or lowercase, whichever suits your design, creates consistent shapes, or solves some other problem (or, more likely, fails to introduce a new problem).
If you opt for lowercase and your client decides to be helpful by insisting that proper nouns start with a capital letter, consider utilizing small caps to satisfy both requirements.
Canon’s logo uses a small-cap C to balance a word with no ascenders or descenders.
Tip 3: Cropping is Your Friend
Cropping is a particularly powerful way of adding tension and drama to a simple design. You can crop to imply depth, to create more pleasing shapes, to create a sense of motion, or to emphasize a concept.
However, cropping, if not executed carefully, can result in illegible text. Given that one of the main strengths of a typographic logo is that it can be read, this is to be avoided.
There is something about the way the human brain interprets shapes and translates them into words that we tend to see the top of a word, not the bottom. (Go ahead, test this: take a piece of paper and lay it over a line of text to hide the top half of the letters; you’ll struggle to read what it says. Now repeat this but instead of hiding the top of the text, hide the bottom; you’ll find that you can still read the words.)
When you crop, crop the bottom of words.
Base’s design for Gillion Construction crops letters to perfection.
Tip 4: A Thing is a Hole in a Thing It is Not
There has been artistic debate about the nature of negative space for centuries. The quote, “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.” is attributed to Carl Andre, but similar quotes have been attributed to Henry Moore. Perhaps the most compelling proponent of the idea is Rachel Whiteread. What they’re all getting at is that negative space is at least as important as the objects that frame it.
When you look at a word shape, try to look at it in reverse (i.e., imagine the holes as the solid forms and the letters as holes). One tip that can often help with this is to design in negative, white on black, rather than black on white, to trick your mind into seeing the holes more prominently.
We’re all familiar with the arrow in the FedEx logo, but negative space doesn’t have to be a trick or gimmick; the shapes can be expressive simply as shapes.
The Gillette logo doesn’t sneak an image of a razor in there, but check out the sharp cut in the G and i.
Tip 5: There are More Than Two Dimensions
Text tends to inhabit two dimensions: width and height. There are some very fine logos that exist in a flat plane. But, moving beyond the two basic dimensions can yield dramatic results.
Adding a third dimension to a logo can add drama and dynamism not just to the logo itself but to any design it is used in. Just be careful to avoid tired effects — Bevel & Emboss is not your friend.
Occasionally a designer creates a logo that adds the fourth dimension: time, by designing with motion. The results can be mesmerizing.
I’ll leave you with the simple brilliance of Landor & Fitch’s logo for the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano.
Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.