Lately I’ve been receiving emails from designer’s and students asking for my personal critique on an identity design project they’re working on. Many of the emails are typically based around the question: “What font looks better?” or “Do you think a heavy typeface or light typeface would better fit the mark?”
The posed questions had me rethink the way I work and make choices — more specifically, why I make certain font choices when pairing a typeface with a logo mark or symbol. Continue reading for a few tips and methods to help choose more relevant and suitable typefaces for a logo mark and overall improve your typography decisions.
*Note: the below can also be translated into all elements of typography
Know your history
Choosing a suitable and relevant font for a logo mark/symbol starts with a base understanding of history (that is too often under acknowledged).
A [good] type designer create typefaces not simply to just “look pretty.” Quality typefaces were designed to fit a particular era or style in history and suited for a specific medium. Instead of dedicating this article to type history, here are a few articles and books for further explanation and study:
- A Brief History of Type by I Love Typography
- The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
- Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann & E.M. Ginger
Not to say that you need to know everything there is about each typeface, but doing some history homework will take you a long way when selecting the best font solution for your logo.
Get a feel for the curves and shapes
Next time you choose a font, try zooming in close and analyzing the curves and shapes of the letter forms.
Let’s compare the lowercase A’s in FF Absara and Bienetresocial (free font): Absara’s A has much sharper and straight curves in comparison to Bienetresocial’s rounded curves. Absara’s letterforms appears to be chiseled, while Bienetresocial’s appears more fluid and smooth.
So what does the above have to do with pairing a logo mark with a typeface? Well, a mark that has drastic angles or points might look better with Absara because it closely mimics some of the characteristics of the typefaces, while a mark with rounded corners might look better with Bienetresocial.
Also, many designers will custom design or modify an existing typeface to help it better fit a mark and feel.
Just like a persons wardrobe or car, it must fit your personality, right? Let’s take a look at the font Public Gothic (free font). As the designer states its personality is “a little industrial and a little vintage.” Now let’s take a look at Public Gothic in good use (not logo related but for the sake of example):
The typeface and design elements in their website compliment each other very well. The “industrial, vintage” personality of Public Gothic goes well with the textured background and circuit board-like lines used through the website. A winning combination for the overall superb website.
Think about the look/feel of your clients market and the overall impression you are trying to give off with your logo and pair it with a personality type (pun intended). If you cannot state a few keywords that are similar between the market, mark/symbol, and/or typeface then somewhere something needs to be adjusted, removed or modified.
Contrast is important in design. It allows for visual differences and emphasis where needed. Try pairing thicker, more prominent marks or shapes with a thinner typeface to add atmosphere, space and/or tension.
For example, the new identity for Armani Exchange (A|X) uses a combination of thick, bold and dense boxes with a typeface that has a nice contrast of light lines to add contrast to the dense boxes and thicker lines to add relationship to the black boxes.
This is also a good example of paying attention to shape and form, as the straight, long, horizontal serifs sit perpendicular with the lines of the box. Which brings us to our next point of similarity.
In contrast (again, pun intended) to the above, try balancing the weight of the mark to the weight of the selected typeface to create a stronger relationship.
Let’s look at the example of the Exact identity below. The lines of the equal (=) symbol are the same thickness of the letter form thickness of the words ‘exact.’ This creates a balance and relationship of the two separate elements and works to bring them together. Instead of tension we now have uniformity of elements.
When designing for any medium or subject, you should never let style get in the way of design. More importantly: style should not hinder the usability, and in our case, the readability of the typeface.
Choose a logo that works not only well at large sizes, but small sizes. Sure it might look perfectly fine at a 18-point font size on your monitor, but remember a logo will most likely appear in small corners or on business cards so it needs to be readable at very small sizes.
When testing typefaces, don’t forget to shrink them down on screen in addition to printing them out at small sizes. If it’s hard to read, it’s most likely not the best solution.
Final two thoughts
Contrary to the above, a logo does not have to accompany a mark/symbol. Many of the most successful brands have beautiful, memorable logotypes that display a typeface or custom type design. Get a feel for your clients market and brainstorm what would work best.
Secondly, the above on font pairing does not only relate to logos and marks. Many of the above tips can be used for all forms of typography — for determining a headline for an article on, for example, technology to determining a hierarchy for a book on birds.
Not to say you should start designing typefaces or know how to identity every typeface on the market, but having a strong grasp on typography, rules and history will take you and your designs a long way.