Design a Name

By John McWade
Before & After Magazine

Dateline: October 30, 2003
Volume 1, Number 1

Here's how to create a good look out of nothing – just a name on a shape – but there's a secret.

Who needs fancy artwork? Good design is the happy result of words, shapes, colors and other basic elements in harmony. Simple shapes – rectangles, ovals, polygons – have real, expressive presence. A rectangle, sharp-edged and pointy-cornered, says something that a circle, round and soft, does not. So it's easy to create a good look out of nothing – or at least what seems like nothing: Set a word, add a shape behind it, then color! Or start with the shape. Or the color. The secret is to get all three elements saying the same thing. Here's how:

Rectangles. A rectangle is the most stable shape – flat, firmly on the ground, motionless. A rectangle is the shape of structure – the walls of a building or monument, for example. Dark, substantial colors are full of black, and feel solid, connected, dependable. Uppercase type is stately. The overlap adds a light counterpoint appropriate for a restaurant.

Typeface Wade Sans Light

Circles. Light, delicate pastel colors are full of white, and convey fragility and vulnerability, even infancy. Pointy-cornered (ouch!) rectangles won't do here; what's needed are oval shapes that are gentle. The type, too, should whisper – lowercase, ultra light, and white, which recedes.

Typeface Helvetica Neue Ultra Light

Triangles. Party down! Angles are the most exciting lines, full of energy, motion, and totally unstable, which is why you see them on skateboards not on corporate stationery. Amp up the volume with an angular typeface. Riotous colors – bright secondaries, mainly – are seen in nature in flowers and tropical birds.

Typefaces Cogito: Roxy. Workshop and date: Atlas

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This article is excerpted from Before & After, How to design cool stuff, Issue 32, January 2003, and is reprinted here by permission. Copyright ©2003, Before & After magazine, all rights reserved.

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