The Hidden Craft of Logotype Design

By Chase Turberville

One thing I'm frequently asked by designers and clients alike: What font are you using for that logotype?

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And the answer is, well, it depends. There are many factors to weigh when making a custom logotype for a company or client. Some lend themselves to making something completely from scratch. Others may need a slightly nuanced treatment to an existing typeface.

Turn back time to when I was 13, sitting at my Gateway 2000 with a buck and some change of GhZ. Even less RAM than my collection of AOL floppy disks. I used to love to recreate logos and logotypes on MS Paint. I would type out the American Airlines logo in Helvetica, and sit back and marvel, like I was a designer or something. I was also in a high school band called Swindle King, and we used to make gig posters that imitated that old Bodoni 'cK One' lockup using the letters 'sK'. Yeah, real cool, Chase.

This started to inform my thinking while I grew as a designer. I graduated from MS Paint (yay!), and started to do some independent thinking and design instead of mimicking what I saw. Why would you ever create something for a client that could be typed out on any computer? I'm not saying you have to reinvent the wheel every time, by any means. Even altering an existing typeface can give a brand some sort of ownability.

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So, the scenario in which a typeface alteration may be the best solution comes when you are trying to evoke some sort of brand characteristic within the type. As a client, maybe you want your brand to convey certain attributes. And, let's say the typeface Futura fits these brand attributes so perfectly, that it would be silly to construct a new typeface or logotype. I'd venture to guess Paul Renner (Futura creator) probably has more experience in typeface design than most of us designers will ever achieve in our life, but I digress. Why not use a perfectly balanced alphabet and make small tweaks to make it your own? This is a perfect solution for the time sensitive, or those lacking experience in typeface design.

That's one point of view. Of course, there's another that I tend to sway heavily towards. Anything that can add uniqueness for our clients, that's the road I want to venture down. I love the challenge, and the end result is something completely ownable. And those brand attributes I spoke about earlier, you can bake those straight into the logotype from the beginning, as opposed to infusing them into existing letterforms.

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Both approaches are valid. The key is to inform the client of how much work and thought goes into each. When done well, a great logotype can look effortless. Sketches, process shots, and evolution are all things we document and include in our deliverables for clients. It's a great way to educate, and to let them peek behind the curtain of a very tedious, but ultimately rewarding process.