Chapter 7: What About the Letters in Your Logo?

You’ve chosen your colors. Now, it’s time to get into the details of logo design. Let’s talk about letters.

Typography, as any professional designer knows, is a key part of any type of graphic design. It doesn’t just allow you to add some text, but actually adds design elements to the larger logo as well. Of course, it can only do that if you choose right.

Do you want to leverage serif or sans serif fonts? What about italics, weight, and kerning? And do you even need text on your logo to begin with? This chapter will discuss all of these and more to help you build the best possible text for your logo.

Do You Even Need Text?

It’s tempting to answer yes to that question. But then you look at a brand like Under Armour or Starbucks, and you start to question yourself. Are letters actually necessary to build a brand image and distinguish yourself from your competition?

The short answer is no, but the longer answer gets to the heart of the question. Text is not necessary. But especially for smaller brands who haven’t quite accomplished the recognition of Nike or Adidas, they can be very helpful. The name itself can help build initial brand awareness. Once that awareness exist, you can use the same logo without a name for similar recognition.

It doesn’t have to end there. Have you considered simply turning your brand name into the logo? While that’s a bit more complex, and works only in some courses, it can be effective. Coca Cola and Disney are perhaps the best examples of how a fancy script can turn a name into a logo.

Going Beyond Text, and to Typography

Once you’ve decided to include letters in your logo, it’s time to take the next step. You probably don’t want to type in your company name in Times New Roman font. You have to get more creative and graphical, which is where we introduce the concept of typography.

As defined by the dictionary, typography simply describes the “style and appearance of printed matter.” We’d take it a bit further than that. It’s the intersection between text and graphic design, or what happens to text when a designer gets their hands on it. It’s making the letters attractive enough to actually stand on their own.

That sounds simple, but can actually be quite difficult to accomplish. You’re not starting from scratch here, but have to work with a defined set of letters you probably can’t change. All of the sections below help you build an understanding of how you can do that.

Font Basics: Serif vs. Sans Serif

You’ve probably heard about the terms. Most fonts, even in their names, are denoted as either serif or sans serif. That market is the most basic difference between different types of fonts.

Serif fonts have little markers that ‘hang’ off the edges of each letter. Times New Roman is the best example. They add natural design elements to otherwise simple letters, and are relatively formal. Be careful: if you make letters with these fonts too small, they become difficult to read.

Sans serif is French for without serif, so they’re naturally the opposite of the above. Think Arial or Calibri. They’re simple, with no extra tags on letters. Sans serif fonts are easy to read, even on small font sizes. However, they can be informal, making them less ideal for brands in industries like finance.

What About Those Tempting Script Fonts?

Everyone with any type of design background has, at some point, been tempted by those cursive fonts that look suspiciously close to handwriting. These script fonts are tempting for novice designers precisely because, in many ways, they’re already designed; no further action needed.

Used correctly, script fonts work. Again you’re probably familiar with the Coca Cola logo. Unfortunately, they’re too often used incorrectly. The more letters you add, the more difficult they become to read. The more words in a slogan, the more the words begin to blend into each other.

Remember our discussion above about the possibility of a logo consisting only of the stylized brand name? Script fonts can be great for that type of goal. For anything more, and especially if you want to get more than just your name across, stay away if possible.

Kerning, Tracking, and Leading, Oh My!

With the right font in tow, it’s time to think about the specific. This we’ll start with a heads-up: the intricacies of typography go far enough to warrant their own eBook. We won’t be able to discuss them all here, but want to provide a short lexicon of important terms you might want to learn more about:

  • Tracking: The amount of spacing between each letters in a section of text
  • Kerning: The amount of horizontal space between two consecutive characters
  • Leading: The vertical space between multiple lines of text
  • Italic: Letters are slanted to the right
  • Small Caps: Capitalized letter, but the size of a lower-case letter

Each of these can influence the way that text looks in your logo. Further research can help you make sure that you exactly how each of them will influence your look. But ultimately, it comes down to testing: the text in your logo just has to ‘look right’ in order for it to work well within your design.

Building Your Logo, With or Without the Letters

With these basics in mind, you know enough about typography to be dangerous. Now, it’s time to start thinking about the actual logo design. Make sure you’ve picked out your font, and at least experimented with choices like the above before that step. That way, you know exactly where you stand as you move into the all-important final phase.

That final phase will be complex. It will likely require multiple iterations, and maybe even some testing. The key, though, is that you’ve already laid the groundwork in all of the chapters above. Whether or not you’ve decided to build in wording according to these specifications, that maximizes your chances for a successful brand logo.

Austin Terrill

Austin is the founder and CEO of Print Peppermint. He loves art, graphic design, printing, music, recording gear, synthesizers, and ice cream. He lives in Berlin with his wife and two children.

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