Logos Are Type Too
Logos consisting mainly of letters may not always read like text, but that doesn’t mean that their designers can stomp willy-nilly on the rules of good typography. In other words, a logo is more than just a graphic entity, and how it looks depends in large part on how well its characters are placed.
I got to thinking about this after reading of a new European directive that requires herbal medicines to be tested for purity and efficacy in return for the right to bear the “seal of approval” shown on Figure 1. Even a quick glance at that logo set the alarm bells ringing.
Figure 1. The Traditional Herbal Registration logo is a classic example of bad kerning. The spaces between the three characters are exactly the same, but the feel of the overall spacing is clearly wrong.
These three letters as set form a very uncomfortable ménage à trois. The H and R are on the most intimate terms, but the T is only in fingertip contact. There’s no need for this, as there’s plenty of room to use more natural spacing. Figure 2 shows the “before” and my edited “after.”
Figure 2. On the left, the original logo is crowded on the right-hand side. In the altered version on the right, moving the herb stalk slightly and re-kerning the HR combination has created more natural spacing without resizing the boundary rule or any of the type.
I don’t mind second-guessing the European Union in such cases, as these are the people who mandated the use in package labeling of two of the more unattractive glyphs I know of: those for the liter and “approximately” (or “estimated,” for imprecise content quantities), as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. The European Union’s typographic credentials were not exactly boosted by these awkward symbols for the liter (left) and “approximately” (right).
Quirky spacing is a hallmark of contemporary logo design, although unlike in the THR bug, it’s usually applied in an attempt to be eye-catching. Squeezing out spaces and creating ligatures has become such a cliché that it borders on being a tic among logo designers. Take, for example, the Home Box Office logo in Figure 4. There’s no reason—neither visual nor literary—for the BO combination to touch, leaving us to conclude that it was done just to be cute. I’m not necessarily against cute, but again, I think my “after” is an improvement.
Figure 4. On the top, the HBO logo designer seems to have felt that eliding the B and O would make the whole look more logo-ish. Perhaps. On the bottom, undoing that ligature creates a logo that reads better, is more balanced graphically, and does nothing to diminish the distinctiveness of the logo.
Not that all such ligaturizations (to coin a term) are bad. Figure 5 shows a couple of examples that pull it off rather well. In one case, the ligature formalizes what would have been a collision between characters in any case, due to tight spacing. In the second, the ligature not only binds the logo together but also acts as a pronunciation aid for a weirdly named book and media store.
Figure 5. The kerning of the Fidelity logo on the left is impeccable, but the tight spacing was going to make the ty combination awkwardly snug. The solution: Extend the crossbar of the t to create an intentional ligature. On the right, the unusual fn ligature informs the viewer that this French media outlet is indeed pronounced “fnac.”
I have one more example for you, in which tight and loose spacing combine in a single logo to create a remarkable distraction. Daedalus is the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and it has chosen to use the ae diphthong in its masthead, an archaism once seen in words such as encyclopedia and pedagogy. Its logo appears in Figure 6.
Figure 6. The one tight character pair in this logo—the diphthong—jumps out at you. It’s the typographic equivalent of a sore thumb.
Using the diphthong is arguably an affectation, but using it amid very loosely spaced type is a mistake. The ae diphthong is not a single character—it is the marriage through ligature of an a and an e, and as such needs to be considered as two characters. Two very closely spaced characters. By having them so tightly spaced and all the other characters around them so loosely spaced is a distraction that draws the eye directly to the dark knot they create.
The old kerning axiom that the character pair with the most intractable spacing problem must key the spacing for the surrounding text applies here. The very use of the diphthong argues for tighter rather than looser overall spacing. Figure 7 shows my fix.
Figure 7. There’s no way that the spacing of the logo can be tightened to match that of the ae diphthong, but tighter tracking reduces the glaring contrast seen in the original and imparts more even color.
You could argue that the eye-catching effects I’ve found noisome here are in fact effective gimmicks to make a logo more distinctive and memorable. They caught my eye, after all. To that I would answer that ugly is always eye-catching, and even though these are small uglinesses in the scheme of things, they are—assuming they’re intentional—at best cheap and unnecessary tricks. We suffer enough visual discordance every day, and in that environment, pretty things should be eye-catching too.
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