You may not know what a wordmark is, however I bet you could easily recognise 10 famous ones straight off the bat. They are all around us and we interact and are influenced by them on a daily basis.

In this blog we are going to look at wordmarks and discuss if it’s better to create a completely unique typeface or use/adapt an existing font. So first of all let’s clarify what a wordmark actually is? A Wordmark or logotype, is a term used to refer to a specific design for the written name of an organisation, company or product. A very common wordmark you all will recognise is the coca-cola logo. Instead of using a font the coca-cola logo was original hand-written in a Spencerian Script, a style popular in the late 1880’s when the product was iniially released. It has since seen several revisions yet maintains it’s established and well-recognised appearance.

Logos can be wordmarks like coca-colas or they can be Lettermarks such as HBO, IBM, HP, CNN ect, Pictorial Marks which are images or symbols (think Apple’s bitten apple logo or the red & blue Pepsi globe) or in many instances a combination of these styles together.

In this blog we are going to look specifically at wordmarks and how some are created using very common fonts as opposed to hand-crafted original lettering and try to decide, which is best?

This question is important for many reasons. Firstly for designers, it is important to realise that not every logo needs to be uniquely hand-drawn and meticulously crafted, and from the clients point of view, they need to know that they are not paying for somebody to just type out their logo, select the first font they see and charge them a few hundred quid or more for it.

The truth is this is a difficult and complicated question. It is fair to imagine that most of us would initially want a logo that is completely unique and isn’t just a font that can be downloaded by anyone with an internet connection. But is this always the best approach? One advantage of having a custom font or lettering is that hopefully it is unique enough to stand out from the crowd. It may also help to become more recognisable once the logo is established. Famous wordmarks in this vein include companies such as Kellogs, Disney, Virgin and Ray-Ban. All of these are very unique and stick in our minds so we can generally re-call how they look in our minds-eye fairly accurately when compared to trying to recall a logo with a plainer serif or sans font. One draw back of having a custom font is that we can’t predict how people will react or engage with it. It can also increase the cost for a client and the time it takes for the designer to create it. A prime example of these issues effecting a logo design happened famously in 2011 when the LONDON 2012 Olympics and Paralympics logo was released. Organisers faced an overwhelming public backlash against the logo which had 2012 written in a loose graffiti inspired style. The logo which cost £400,000 to create was not well received and highlights one of the potential issues of using custom lettering.

So are we better to use a common font in our logo designs? If we look at Helvetica for instance. This is one of the most accessible and common fonts available. It is a relatively plain and simple sans-serif font which almost everyone will recognise. It may seem like a lazy choice on the designers part if they were to just type the log in Helvetica however some of the most successful companies in the world have done just that. Despite it being plain and widley used big brands still gravitate towards its usage. In many cases even leading competitiors within an industry share this popular font. Examples of this include airlines Lufthansa and American Airlines, clothing brands American Apparel and The North Face and electronic manufacturers Panasonic and Blaupunkt. These giants of industry all use variations of Helvetica and don’t seem concerned with having a stand-out unique wordmark. But why?

Well one thing that using an established font does is create a feeling of trust. People naturally feel more comfortable with something that they are familiar with and thus more likely to trust and engage with that company. From a budget point of view a wordmark created using an accessible font will generally mean less creative time and therefore lower costs to the client. The downsides or considerations to using a typeface is that you don’t want it to look like ‘just a font’ or want it to be so similar to another brand that it can be mistaken as being part of a group or organisation. A good designer or agency should be able to  give a common font just enough tweaks to make it unique and functional for the client and should also be able to bring it in at a price that suites both parties.

Below you can see two of today’s most famous logos side-by-side with their original font. At first glance it is difficult to see how they differ from each other at all. However each has been subtly crafted and with the addition of some brand colours they are instantly recognisable as the logos we are familiar with.



Facebook used the Klavika font but made several small alterations. The designer has merged two parts of the “k” and the cross bars of the “f” and “a” meet at a parallel slant. The “c” has also been widened slightly. With the brand colours even the ‘‘f’’ by itself is easily recognisable as belonging to facebook.


Google’s logo is based on the font, Catull BQ. The alterations on their logo were minimal. It is only the cross bar on the “e” that has changed so that it no longer tapers at the end. The use of colour is what really gives this logo it’s distinctive look.

Conclusion

So which method is best. Creatively crafting a wordmark from scratch or adapting a ready-made font? Well like most other things in the creative process, it is down to the designers preference, the expectations of the client and the requirement of the brief (and budget).

What we can know for sure is that although a well-crafted, original one-off wordmark can look and work amazingly well, sometimes a simple adaptation of an established font can look and feel just as fantastic.

See below two examples of wordmarks which we have created.



This logo actually mixed both approaches. The Main focal point ‘Chefs’ was hand-drawn and then created as a clean vector. The other words were then typed out in a nice clean typeface. The logo is really dynamic and unique and looks absolutly fantastic.


For the Airvault logo the primary font was slightly adapted and the clean sans  DIN Light was used for the secondary font. The adpated A and V letters represent an up and down movement which works as a visual element within the wordmark. This is a subtle yet very clever design. The A and V letters were then used throughout the brand as a pictorial mark.