When is Just Type Just Right for my Logo?

I’ll try not to dance around the answer on this one. Not all logos require some form of graphic in addition to the type. Plenty of brands have succeeded in using text only for their logo.

That may sound like good news to you—all you have to do is find the right typeface, plunk in your name in you’re good to go! Well, not quite.

Take a look at the American Apparel logo.

American Apparel Logo
Exhibit A – Helvetica

What information do you glean from it? Do you find it particularly memorable or interesting? Do you find it arresting, captivating, mouth-wateringly irresistible? Imagine you're starting a restaurant and want to use the same treatment as American Apparel. Why doesn’t it work?

American Apparel uses probably the World’s most famous “designer” typeface known to man: Helvetica. If you’ve used Arial you might find it very familiar as Arial is basically the President’s Choice version. To put this in perspective, the No Name brand logo by Loblaws actually does use Helvetica. It is stunningly generic.

No Name brand logo
Exhibit B – Also Helvetica…

Helvetica is a bit of a rabbit hole to discuss though. With much fanfare it is widely celebrated. A documentary has even been produced. It is in fact a very well designed typeface but with anything good, it is far over used and now seen as pedestrian.

So bad news bears if that’s the direction you were hoping to go.

Typographic logos can work. Despite everything I just said, people have even made Helvetica work and be memorable. But how?

Google Logo, Coca-Cola Logo, FedEx Logo, IBM Logo
Four of the biggest brand there is using nothing but text.

All four of these logos have become cultural icons. Holy jeez, do you realize that Google is now 20 years old? (Of course, I had to Google it just to find out). All four are nearly as ubiquitous as say Apple, or Nike. A graphic isn’t always necessary.

Where do these logos succeed where American Apparel has failed (aside from filing for bankruptcy twice)? American Apparel has been around for 27 years. It is also very firmly planted in our cultural and yet their logo is…forgettable.

Google recently changed their logo. Did you notice? Last year they dropped the serifs (think along the lines of Times New Roman). The new logo utilizes a completely custom designed typeface for Google. So while being seemingly completely different they still seem just as memorable.

It’s unlikely you go a day without seeing a Coca-Cola logo. These days the logo looks completely unique and nothing like what we most often see. Actually, when it was created in 1885 it was drawn up by using the de facto writing style of the time, Spencerian Script. Basically it was the Helvetica of that century. Yet, it has stood the test of time and as it ages that 19th century charm keeps aging like a fine wine, getting more and more distinct.

I would say FedEx is among the top five logos that designers like to reference for any sort of logo round up post. This is because we are enamoured by the hidden arrow in the negative space between the E and the X. Now, FedEx doesn’t exactly use Helvetica, though perhaps to the untrained eye it might seem that way. Lindon Leader created the logo by manipulating a combination of two sans-serif fonts to form the arrow. (We talk about what sans-serif means in If Your Type is So-So, Your Logo is a No-Go

Since 1972 the IBM logo has been going on strong. Paul Rand, genius that he is, took the previous iteration from 1956 and rendered it with lines. The lines represent speed and movement and all the great things a technology company should be. It seems like a minor difference from the ‘56 solid version to the ‘72 blue stripe one—and yet, it has stuck for nearly 45 years.

There are a few common threads to why all of these logos come up Aces. The first most obvious one is that these are among the largest, most successful corporations on the planet. Clearly that success is going to rub off on the logo. Logos convey the business promise of the company and represent it. It’s just like if you had Tom Hanks sign your shoe. That shoe has just become one of the most valuable things you own. His signature is imbued with his success.

The second reason, the one we’re actually here to talk about today, is that they are memorable. They’ve become memorable because not one of them is simply an off the shelf font with their name typed out.

Google’s new logo is created from a 100% custom typeface for the company. Even before last year, they didn’t rely on any old font typed out in black. They chose a unique serif and primary colours. In terms of actual execution I honestly think it was a terrible logo, but the one thing it definitely had (and this is the most important thing to have), is distinction.

Coca-Cola, while being a very common written style at the time, was completely hand-written and unique. It is simple and yet sophisticated. They didn’t try to cram too many ideas into one logo design and instead relied on the charm of the human hand and a bold red.

FedEx is one of the finest examples of logo design because it relies on a concept. Lindon could see the possibilities of an arrow but it was never going to happen with typing the name out in Helvetica. It took combining two separate fonts and manipulating them just so. The result for FedEx is one of the strongest logos there is.

IBM could have tried to continue on with the solid 1956 version of the logo—the one that was basically just three letters typed out in an interesting typeface. They understood that it was not unique enough. When Paul Rand drafted his version he didn’t completely reimagine the logo, he took it and made it unique. He came up with a concept and transformed what existed for IBM into something we’ll never forget.

The underlying point here is that anyone can take a font and type out a name. I’ve read articles on how to create a logo in 5 minutes proposing this as the method.

That is the equivalent of making a box of KD and calling it your signature dish. It’s not until you swap in extra old cheddar and chuck in the caramelized onions before it starts to become yours.

It’s the extra effort that allows your logo to go the extra mile.

November 28, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

I’ll try not to dance around the answer on this one. Not all logos require some form of graphic in addition to the type. Plenty of brands have succeeded in using text only for their logo.

That may sound like good news to you—all you have to do is find the right typeface, plunk in your name in you’re good to go! Well, not quite.

Take a look at the American Apparel logo.

American Apparel Logo
Exhibit A – Helvetica

What information do you glean from it? Do you find it particularly memorable or interesting? Do you find it arresting, captivating, mouth-wateringly irresistible? Imagine you're starting a restaurant and want to use the same treatment as American Apparel. Why doesn’t it work?

American Apparel uses probably the World’s most famous “designer” typeface known to man: Helvetica. If you’ve used Arial you might find it very familiar as Arial is basically the President’s Choice version. To put this in perspective, the No Name brand logo by Loblaws actually does use Helvetica. It is stunningly generic.

No Name brand logo
Exhibit B – Also Helvetica…

Helvetica is a bit of a rabbit hole to discuss though. With much fanfare it is widely celebrated. A documentary has even been produced. It is in fact a very well designed typeface but with anything good, it is far over used and now seen as pedestrian.

So bad news bears if that’s the direction you were hoping to go.

Typographic logos can work. Despite everything I just said, people have even made Helvetica work and be memorable. But how?

Google Logo, Coca-Cola Logo, FedEx Logo, IBM Logo
Four of the biggest brand there is using nothing but text.

All four of these logos have become cultural icons. Holy jeez, do you realize that Google is now 20 years old? (Of course, I had to Google it just to find out). All four are nearly as ubiquitous as say Apple, or Nike. A graphic isn’t always necessary.

Where do these logos succeed where American Apparel has failed (aside from filing for bankruptcy twice)? American Apparel has been around for 27 years. It is also very firmly planted in our cultural and yet their logo is…forgettable.

Google recently changed their logo. Did you notice? Last year they dropped the serifs (think along the lines of Times New Roman). The new logo utilizes a completely custom designed typeface for Google. So while being seemingly completely different they still seem just as memorable.

It’s unlikely you go a day without seeing a Coca-Cola logo. These days the logo looks completely unique and nothing like what we most often see. Actually, when it was created in 1885 it was drawn up by using the de facto writing style of the time, Spencerian Script. Basically it was the Helvetica of that century. Yet, it has stood the test of time and as it ages that 19th century charm keeps aging like a fine wine, getting more and more distinct.

I would say FedEx is among the top five logos that designers like to reference for any sort of logo round up post. This is because we are enamoured by the hidden arrow in the negative space between the E and the X. Now, FedEx doesn’t exactly use Helvetica, though perhaps to the untrained eye it might seem that way. Lindon Leader created the logo by manipulating a combination of two sans-serif fonts to form the arrow. (We talk about what sans-serif means in If Your Type is So-So, Your Logo is a No-Go

Since 1972 the IBM logo has been going on strong. Paul Rand, genius that he is, took the previous iteration from 1956 and rendered it with lines. The lines represent speed and movement and all the great things a technology company should be. It seems like a minor difference from the ‘56 solid version to the ‘72 blue stripe one—and yet, it has stuck for nearly 45 years.

There are a few common threads to why all of these logos come up Aces. The first most obvious one is that these are among the largest, most successful corporations on the planet. Clearly that success is going to rub off on the logo. Logos convey the business promise of the company and represent it. It’s just like if you had Tom Hanks sign your shoe. That shoe has just become one of the most valuable things you own. His signature is imbued with his success.

The second reason, the one we’re actually here to talk about today, is that they are memorable. They’ve become memorable because not one of them is simply an off the shelf font with their name typed out.

Google’s new logo is created from a 100% custom typeface for the company. Even before last year, they didn’t rely on any old font typed out in black. They chose a unique serif and primary colours. In terms of actual execution I honestly think it was a terrible logo, but the one thing it definitely had (and this is the most important thing to have), is distinction.

Coca-Cola, while being a very common written style at the time, was completely hand-written and unique. It is simple and yet sophisticated. They didn’t try to cram too many ideas into one logo design and instead relied on the charm of the human hand and a bold red.

FedEx is one of the finest examples of logo design because it relies on a concept. Lindon could see the possibilities of an arrow but it was never going to happen with typing the name out in Helvetica. It took combining two separate fonts and manipulating them just so. The result for FedEx is one of the strongest logos there is.

IBM could have tried to continue on with the solid 1956 version of the logo—the one that was basically just three letters typed out in an interesting typeface. They understood that it was not unique enough. When Paul Rand drafted his version he didn’t completely reimagine the logo, he took it and made it unique. He came up with a concept and transformed what existed for IBM into something we’ll never forget.

The underlying point here is that anyone can take a font and type out a name. I’ve read articles on how to create a logo in 5 minutes proposing this as the method.

That is the equivalent of making a box of KD and calling it your signature dish. It’s not until you swap in extra old cheddar and chuck in the caramelized onions before it starts to become yours.

It’s the extra effort that allows your logo to go the extra mile.

November 28, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

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