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Wordmark, Logo, Lockup: Why Type Matters In Design And Life

by Michael Stinson
art & design, featured

typography logo mark design
To master anything in life, one has to master the fundamentals. Once we master the skills, then we can truly learn how to find our own style—performing the fundamentals becomes second nature. We have to know the rules in order to break them, and its same in typography. We are just continuing a long, consistent history of typographic process that evolved to respond to how humans read.

As our practice advances, we adapt, but the fundamentals of typography stay the same. The way we used to handle type, 20 years ago, was for print, ink on paper. And although the medium is constantly changes, those basics have gone unchanged. For example, we’re now working in a digital world, and handling the characters on a backlit surface. Typographers are still establishing best practices for handling type for reading on screen. But the basic rules haven’t changed.

Why Type Matters
After running Ramp Creative for ten years, I noticed that typography was not being taught to college interns the way I learned it. And I ended up having to teach them from the ground up. During my school days, we created mechanicals (camera-ready layouts) and overlays with Rubylith masking film and dry-transfer type. Yes, we designed by hand. On my first job, I learned how to specify and send type out for galleys for annual report mechanicals of up to 48 pages. A few years later, I was able to transition to using the computer for production development. And the way we calculated and handled type, stayed the same both off and on the computer.

Communicating my own experience to our interns and designers has helped to create the curriculum we use at TypeEd. I now teach to help bridge the gap in typography education between the end of school and entering in to the professional world. I enjoy teaching, because I like to help designers become better typesetters. After all, design is rooted in type. Typography is the foundation of graphic design.

Brands Need More Than Names — They Need Personality
The recognition of a company or brand name is most effective when it involves personality. Sometimes, that means the name needs to be communicated visually, as humans connect their memory to visuals first. The design approach requires a lot of research, planning and testing.

why type matters

When designing a wordmark, considerations that I have in the back of my mind are about sizing and reproduction across mediums. For example, if the company requires to be printed on newsprint, seen on a television or embroidered on a hat. Requirements will effect the wordmark’s character spacing, weight, negative space, and how how visuals intertwine with the characters if they are connected, and more. I have to consider if the word is placed on a curved, slanted or straight baseline. And I really look at the length of the word, its symmetry, number of characters, repeated characters, and the natural placement of the ascenders and descenders, before making any design decisions.

There’s lots of little adjustments a designer has to make based on how the wordmark will be seen. The final application for the product influences the final solution. And letterforms should be taken into consideration around the concept of the personality.

Make Every Letter Memorable
A wordmark is more challenging to design than a symbol. Wordmarks involve the understanding of how classic and contemporary typefaces function and how those letterforms reflect the brand, product or service of a company. The company’s voice is like a human’s. The letterforms must be unique to be memorable, which can take the mastering of three components.

— The first component I teach students is how to customize characters to create a rare logotype. We, as designers, need to connect the essence of a brand direction for a company to its visuals. By adding more personality to the characters, we help to establish a unique identity and distinct message.

— The second component is how to combine type with an existing symbol in a combination logo. We get project request in our studio a lot, as companies want to refresh their look and show evolution over time without doing a complete overhaul of their corporate identity. I show students how to look for similar characteristics between type and how to modify to make appropriate for the symbol.

— The third component I teach is how to choose typefaces, appropriate for the role. I discuss how to go about type casting; casting typefaces in a role that they will be acting appropriately for the overall brand message. Inexperienced designers typically choose typefaces based on their own personal preferences or follow trends, rather than trying to reflect a company’s position in the market. One really has to know their typefaces and classifications to choose wisely so they last a long time.

In a time of constantly changing communication styles, channels and platforms, consistency will stand out as a unique value proposition for brands. More and more designers will be tasked with maintaining this brand consistency across all platforms and mediums. Understanding how to design wordmarks is just the first step.

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Michael Stinson

Michael Stinson is a partner and creative director at Ramp Creative and the lead instructor at TypeEd. After 19 years in the design field he has decided to teach type to students, interns, designers and his own competitors, to keep help fend off the villains of bad typography. Check out his class, Logo Design: Wordmarks.