On font pairing in logo design

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:

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.

close-up

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.

Personality

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 below, new beautiful website Happy Cog’aoke designed by Happy Cog, uses Public Gothic in their masthead “Happy Cog’aoke.”

happy cog'aoke

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.

Contrasts

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-10-at-24230-pm

Similarities

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.

exact

Readability

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.



Discussion and Comments

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  2. Chad Engle says:

    Nice work Brian! Knowing your history is so important. So man people just rush into design with out knowing the mechanics & where it shows is in typography. Another great point is readability which is key. Because if you cant read it, there is no point in writing it.
    Cheers,

  3. A good way to check is to use Helvetica. Seriously, throw Helvetica in there and see if the logo works, or what happens. If you say to yourself “we need something softer, more organic” then you’ve answered your own question.

    Another good way to test is to flip the whole logo. By removing readability from the equation, you’re forced to examine the letter forms simply as symbols. This will often reveal weak points in kerning, as well as which curves, points look off.’

  4. Nice blog…thanks for sharing

  5. Chris says:

    I love the examples. The Armani Exchange logo seems like a great identity for that brand.

  6. Joe Malleck says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for the quality posts on this site!
    @Prescott
    Good tips. I’ll have to try them out on my next project.

  7. Excellent article Brian. Everyone who designs logos should read this to get a better understanding of using the right typeface with their mark.

    I tried to think of another factor to consider but it seems to me that you have already done an excellent job of covering the bases. I learned a lot of things from this post. Keep up the great work Brian.

  8. Sneh Roy says:

    Awesome read Brian! So true about type modifications in a logo. Very seldom do you end up using type just as it is. A logo invariably calls for type modifications to bring it together … symphony of the mark and type :)

  9. hardik says:

    it’s really nice information.

    few years back i read the tutorial one of my first logo tutorial stated know the typeface you are using in logo’s. it’s the best way to create awesome logo.

    but today’s client’s are so awesome they want web 2.0 look in there classy vintage logo and don’t want to loose charm of the logo by not loosing vintage fonts :)

  10. Xpirt Design says:

    Great logo tips.I like the similarity example you used.

  11. Shekhar Sahu says:

    Thank you for the nice tips, this will really help me.

  12. James Costa says:

    Hey Brian! Nice article here. Definitely agree – and I would have liked to see a section on balance. A lot of logos have thick lines and call for a font beside it that matches it’s weight as well – what do you think?

  13. Brian says:

    Prescott,
    Great addition to the above. The “turning upside down” technique has been around for awhile and still a trick I use very often to double check my kerning. I love the Helvetica recommendation as well.

    Everyone,
    Thanks for the kind remarks and comments. I’m glad this has helped and informed you all. :)

  14. jamie leung says:

    Nice article,

    From a students point of view extremely useful.

    I have worked on a few logo designs for clients and now working for another client and this article will allow me to further my knowledge of logo design.

    Thanks,
    Jamie leung

  15. Brian says:

    James,

    The weight of the (=) symbol in the Exact logo is an example of balance as well. The thickness of the mark mimics the line thickness in the custom typeface.

  16. excellent article – thanks for sharing :)

  17. [...] On font pairing in logo design [...]

  18. Mike says:

    Great post, Brian! Too many people don’t appreciate how important font pairing is and undervalue the work that should go into logo design.

  19. Great stuff, I find it especially difficult pairing fonts to work well with body text on the web. With a limited range of web-safe fonts, it becomes a challenge to find fonts that will work well with the rest of your site as well as your main copy text. (unless you typekit or a similar service)

  20. Sam says:

    Brian, good article, I particularly liked your comments on similarities between the logo and the font.

  21. Daniel says:

    This has been very helpful even to a beginning designer like myself who isn’t doing logo designs, yet. There have been some very helpful comments as well. Thanks for the great article.

  22. Design ideas says:

    Really useful tips. Thanks

  23. sushi lshirbhate says:

    Thank you for the nice tips, this will really help me.

  24. Jeff Rikhotso says:

    Really helpful tips, thanks a lot.

  25. Great tips. Loved how you stress the importance of knowing the history of the fonts, and typography in general.

    Glad to see people still turn the logo upside down to check the spacing of the type lol.

    Great work B.

  26. Readability of a typeface is very important. Otherwise, that would be useless cause you can’t read it clearly. There are so many fonts created today that lack this readability factor. Great that you discuss the history of marks/symbols/logos. Not all of us are aware of it.

  27. Excellent background and explanation. Beautiful design, like beautiful art, is conceptual not just beautiful, and your post got me thinking about the concepts behind the beauty. Thanks.

  28. Finding the right font to use can be a tedious job. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the same fonts over and over because they work. It really does pay to spend the extra time to find the right font even if the differences are subtle. This article is spot on, very good advice for any logo designer.

    @JustinRob – Big Click

  29. Aleksandar says:

    Very nice. Thank you.

  30. Indeed I agree with this post. I’m glad you pointed out those things that makes up a logo design or the fonts. Thanks!

  31. As you’ve said Brian font choice is so important it sets the tone of voice for the whole design.

    Ah! The old ““turning upside down” technique has been around for awhile and still a trick I use very often to double check my kerning.”

    I’m glad these things get passed on from designer to designer.

  32. I find that a lot of the blogs that have free fonts list (yours, Smashing Mag etc, etc…) which are done by up and coming fontographers are amazingly suitable for logo’s, especially as some of them are in web 2.0 style which is new. I have a link on my website for a lot of free fonts here http://www.design-intellect.co.uk/free_design_resources_list.html Cheers, Matt.

  33. dresses says:

    As you’ve said Brian font choice is so important it sets the tone of voice for the whole design.

    Ah! The old ““turning upside down” technique has been around for awhile and still a trick I use very often to double check my kerning.”

    I’m glad these things get passed on from designer to designer.

  34. Asnake Gizachew says:

    very … very helpful tips …thax a lot

  35. earrings says:

    This has been very helpful even to a beginning designer.Simple and Very nice.

  36. Manik says:

    Great post with brilliant explanation. Readability is very important for any logo. I am glad that here this point has been discusses by you.
    Thanks for the useful tips.

  37. I am little bit confuse that while we selecting the font. Should we based upon the matching or not

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello:


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