Strategies for Letter-based Logo Design

By John McWade
Before & After Magazine

Dateline: October 7, 2005
More Graphic Design tips


Companies of every kind sign their names with linked letters called ligatures. Ligature means to tie. Ligatures make excellent business signatures. They’re handsome, simple and compact. And they’re fun, too—we all have initials! Some letters link in one typeface but not another. Others link in lowercase but not in upper. What follows are a variety of ways to get your letter pairs beautifully together. The logo typefaces and colors are listed at the end of the article.

Use Shared Strokes
Many letter pairs form natural links; they have identical parts or complementary shapes that fit like hand in glove. Let’s begin with the easiest letters to link—those that have identical adjacent strokes.

Almost-identical Strokes
Pairs like UR share not-quite identical strokes, yet often flow naturally together. To link neatly, you must usually sacrifice some parts; here, the R gave up a foot, the U a serif.

Angled to Vertical
Angled strokes often link well to vertical strokes. The easiest technique is simply to cut the angled letter in half.

If Your Letterstrokes Don’t Quite Match...

How to Design a Logo of Letters

Curved to Vertical
The more decorative the typeface, the more easily dissimilar strokes can be linked. Even a curving stroke can replace a vertical. You need gentle curves, though, circles won’t do (far right).

Uppercase-lowercase
Uppercase letters can often link to lowercase with excellent results. An uppercase I, though, won’t link to anything—its body just disappears! But a lowercase i has the advantage of its distinctive dot and can link with many letters.

Horizontal Crossbars
A few letter pairs share top crossbars, which are easy to link. Similarly, some typefaces have exaggerated serifs that can be linked.

Mid-letter Crossbars
Many letters, such as ABEFHPR, have mid-letter crossbars that can be connected with a little help—just cut the letter apart and s-t-r-e-t-c-h the bar!

Remove a Stroke
Here, a phantom stroke hints at what’s not there! This is particularly effective with Modern typestyles such as Bodoni and Didi that have extremely thin strokes.

Remove Part of a Stroke
Letters with angled and overhanging arms—FKTVWXYZ—benefit from this technique, which is especially attractive in serif typestyles. The illusion is that of a stencil; the line is interrupted, yet our eyes “fill in” the missing part!

Reverse the Field
Put negative space to positive use! Add a same-color field behind your letter, then reverse the second letter out of the field. Especially effective with three-character acronyms.

Crop!
Your intrigued reader will linger for valuable moments on this design! Crop away the bottoms of your letters, and the viewer’s eye must complete the image. Add a company name or other horizontal graphic to span the gap (far right).

Follow the White Line
Create the illusion of attachment! Rather than abut letters, leave a gap, then make a flowing centerline that draws the eye smoothly around.

Disconnect and Attach
An entertaining ligature unique to the T, disconnect one arm and attach it to its neighbor!

How to Design a Logo of Letters

Interlock
Circular letters flow most naturally into other circular letters. Interlocked here like wedding bands or Olympic rings, two complete letters function as one.

Overlay
A simple alternative to interlocking is to lay one letter atop the other, then “link” with a common fill or stroke. Here, a colorful gradient turns two letters into one object.

Build Bridges
This technique works when nothing else will! Abut your letters, then conceal the junction with a decorative graphic, line or a series of lines and shapes. Easy, fun and always engaging.

Use Transparency
Transparency softens. Create a gossamer effect on even the boldest ligature by lowering the opacity of one or more characters. Here, all three letters are set at 50%.

Color the Negative Spaces
Finally, some stubborn letters just won’t link physically. So try linking the background! Put the letters in a box, and color the negatives spaces; you can get all kinds of energetic results!




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Before & After has been sharing its practical approach to graphic design since 1990. Because our modern world has made designers of us all (ready or not), Before & After is dedicated to making graphic design understandable, useful and even fun for everyone. Copyright ©2005 Before & After magazine, ISSN 1049-0035. All rights reserved.