I’ve always felt an emotional attachment to logotypes. As a kid, I much preferred being inside a Lucky grocery store over Albertson’s or Vons’ simply because the logotype was way better. I played Fender guitars, wore Vans shoes, and obviously preferred Coke over Pepsi simply because all those logotypes were winners in my book. Decades later, my taste hasn’t really changed, but I try to drink less soda.
A good logotype can convey more than just quality. If there is a single chunk of language that is perfectly considered and impeccably spaced, our brains can relax. We can actively delight in the fact that some designer somewhere poured their heart into creating something beautiful and perfect. Or we can passively feel that air of consideration on a subconscious level.
While logotypes can be simply typeset, it often makes sense to put another level of care and attention into how letters exist within their unchanging context. Type design is a compromise. Decisions are made about the structure of a drawing to excel best in the greatest possible number of contexts. This changes a lot for logotypes. When words are drawn as a single image, opportunities arise to get a little more own-able, without worrying about the letters jumbling up again. The furthest extent of this is a purely hand-lettered logotype (a term I don’t love, because pretty much everyone does pretty much everything with their hands), but you can get quite far with simple customizations of existing fonts.
Death to the randomly rounded corners
There is no logotype customization more common than the Randomly Rounded Corners on Helvetica School of Branding. If I had to guess, I would say that designers sell this to clients by saying, “Look at Helvetica, so cold, so sterile. Now if we simply take an X-acto blade to a few random corners, voila! Humanity achieved!”
Not only is this approach lazy, at this point it’s been done so many times that it doesn’t mean anything. I think if you want something softer, or maybe more kid-friendly, just round all the corners, rather than creating a perplexing layer of inconsistent logic for which corners get rounded, and which don’t.
The typeface Noe really caught me off guard when it came out. It felt so incredibly fresh and contemporary, despite the underlying structure being based on hundreds of years of tradition. The salient design choice: wedge serifs.
Simply changing serifs can have such a substantial impact on a word, and the shape of serifs can be surprisingly friendly to edit.
Logotypes rarely appear as delicate, wispy objects with loose spacing, and long extenders. More often, they are typographic bricks that work well as a sturdy, singular image. For this reason, it can often work to tighten the spacing, and shrink ascenders and descenders to absurdly short proportions. It’s amazing how short they can become without hurting the legibility.
Scrolling through a list of script fonts, it becomes clear how many different versions of capitals can be easily read. Capital F alone has infinite forms, and our amazing brains—desperate to make sense out of chaos—can decipher pretty much all of them.
Somewhere along the line, I learned a £ could be rotated 180° for a nice script form of F. It might not work in every typeface, but it’s worth a shot if you’re feeling frisky.
IVI can make and interesting M. Using an upside-down V gives a nice blank canvas for a DIY crossbar on A. Using a P with an l can make a swash R. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get your hands dirty. It might make some designers cringe to Frankenstein letters in this way, but rules were made to be broken, and you might learn something in the process.
I am not the biggest fan of the distracting ligature. You know, the sort of, “Hey look at me! I’m a ligature! Did you notice me? Look how clever I am!” It’s cooler to have the ligature simply be in service of consistent spacing, often to minimize large pockets of distracting whitespace. This customization requires a bit more bezier handling, but can be a really fun challenge.
Those are just a few of the infinite options, but the idea is the same: type is not clip art. It’s so much more useful than that. At it’s best, type is a raw material just like paint or clay that can be endlessly tweaked, remixed, and improved to elegantly sing the virtues of whatever organization it represents. A good logotype can give you the fleeting feeling, that just for a moment, all is right with the world. And just maybe, you’ll inspire some weird kid to pursue a career in it.
Don’t be afraid of ⌘+shift+O! There is fun to be had.