Printing and Design Tips: December 2019, Issue #221

Developing a Logo: A Case Study

One of my design clients is incorporating her writing business, so she is developing a new logo and corporate identity materials. She has asked me to help. I have written a bit about the initial approaches in recent PIE Blog articles.

My client wants her logo to reflect the tone, or ethos, of Vogue and other similar fashion magazines. Initially, she had sent me an image of a flower, and had asked me to typeset her name and other contact information below the image, so she would have temporary letterhead blanks to use. I had set her name in initial caps and small caps to reflect a stately presence.

I had assumed this would be a temporary logo treatment, as it was. However, it has also become a stepping stone into the logo development process.

The Sample Magazines

Ever since I was an art director and production manager, I have advised the designers I have worked with to first look at what others in the field have done. I have suggested that they identify what they like and then articulate why this works for them (in terms of concrete design principles). Moreover, I have encouraged designers to describe in writing the subjective qualities and feelings a logo and accompanying collateral must convey.

In my own client’s case I started with a handful of adjectives she provided describing her business and the focus of her writing, and I also asked for samples of what she liked. So my client sent me a copy of Vogue, WSJ, Vanity Fair, and a few other magazines that focus on fashion. Independently, my client and I wrote down such words as stylish, upscale, knowing, sophisticated, glamorous, savvy. These became the target attributes that had to be conveyed to anyone who saw her logo, business card, website—any image connected with her business.

Now graphic design, as any other creative discipline (such as sculpture, theater, and fashion design) has building blocks with which to craft what is ostensibly a subjective mood or feeling. And to infuse a logo with these qualities (goals, attributes, corporate values), the best way I have found to start is by studying the competition. So I went to school on the magazines. I studied every page, paying particular attention to the logos of the masters: Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, Versace, Neiman Marcus, and such.

Deconstructing the Logos

Anything you can deconstruct, you can understand. You make it your own by articulating the goal and then determining how the graphic designer achieved that goal.

Here’s what I saw and learned:

1. Most of the logos I found were based on a name, not an image. Even if there was an accompanying logo image, like a drawing or photo (perhaps a stylized photo), the name was the dominant element.

2. The tone of sophistication reflected in the logotype came from the typeface and overall type treatment. For instance, the nameplate of the magazine (the Vogue "flag" on the front cover) is set in an uppercase Modern typeface. There is an element of grace in the dramatic contrast between the (very) thick and (very) thin stokes of each letterform. There is also drama in the pronounced curves of the serifs. Moreover, the fact that the magazine name, Vogue, is set in all caps gives it more importance and dignity than an initial cap and subsequent lowercase letter treatment. Granted, the size of the logo on the front cover and its stark nature in bold white, knocked out of the background photo, adds to this feel, as does the precise, tight kerning. Each letter nestles snugly into the next: V O G U E. (This is just one example.)

3. Other logos took a different approach. Michael Kors, for instance, is set in all uppercase letters, like Vogue, but in a simple, bold sans serif typeface. In this particular issue of Vogue, Michael Kors Wonderlust is showcased in one section. The word "Wonderlust" is slightly smaller than Michael Kors, but it is also set in a slightly less bold version of the same typeface. If you look closely, you see that the designer of the logo also spread out (letterspaced) the word "Wonderlust," in contrast to the more tightly spaced letters in the Michael Kors part of the logo. The difference is interesting, but it is not so dramatic that it impedes readability (i.e., enough to be obvious but not so much space as to break the word "Wonderlust" into a handful of separate letters). The letters still read as one understandable word.

4. I also found a logo for Nikos Koulis that incorporated a drawing, a name, and a tagline into a single mark. The overall look of the logo is light and dramatic. The words "Nikos Koulis" are set in a thin sans serif typeface in all caps. Like the other logos, for me this reflects a serious, stately nature. There is slightly more letterspacing in the two words of the name than in some of the other logos. This gives the look a lighter, more airy feel. The tagline in this case is the word "Jewels," which is set in a smaller size in an italic version of a serif typeface. The contrast between the sans serif logo and the more conservative serif type of the tagline creates a sense of intrigue, perhaps a balance between opposites. And the logomark above the two centered lines of type is a thin vertical line with a few other angled lines attached to a single point near the top of the vertical line. If you look closely, you see that the entire mark makes the letters "N" and "K" (for Nikos Koulis). The model in the photo over which this logo has been superimposed has a long, pendulous earring, and this echos the long, thin nature of the Nikos Koulis logomark.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Information or data is not the same as knowledge, and knowledge is not the same as wisdom. So what can we do with the information gleaned from careful study of other people’s logos, and how can we incorporate this into knowledge, and then make the shift into the wisdom needed to apply this information towards creating something new?

Here are some thoughts:

1. Think about typefaces. Consider the appropriateness of Old Style, Transitional, or Modern faces. (Look these up on Google, and study the differences.)

2. Think about the nuances of type design (the curves and serifs of the letterforms as well as the contrast between thick strokes and thin strokes).

3. Consider the spacing of the letterforms: tight vs. loose.

4. Consider the use of capital letters, lowercase letters, and small caps.

5. Consider the contrast between roman, bold, and italic treatment of typefaces.

6. Look for the nuances of the various weights of type within a single type family (light, demi-bold, bold, and heavy).

7. Consider the use of regular vs. condensed type. (Condensed type can be enlarged to take up more vertical space, perhaps creating a more majestic look.)

8. Consider the use of thin rule lines above and below words in the logo. Can you use these for emphasis or to group visual information?

9. Consider the size, placement, and treatment of any logo mark (whatever is not type). Perhaps a symmetrical, classical look is what you want, with everything centered under a focal logo mark. Or, maybe your logo mark should be on the left, followed by the type.

10. Try everything at different sizes. Remember that the same logo needs to be immediately understandable on a business card and (potentially) on a large sign.

11. Above all else, remember that this is a process. It will take time, and ideally it will grow organically as you see ways to improve the logo and as colleagues and clients express their preferences and suggestions.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]