Along with the creation of an icon or graphic, there’s the typography. Even for cases where a company uses only a mark to identify their business, there’s usually a typeface involved somewhere, and that needs to be chosen. Let’s look at how I go about it.
John McWade, publisher of Before & After, has said that “type is the visible voice.” He’s exactly right. You know the lady who does the Kaiser-Permanente radio commercials, the ones that want you to “live well, and thrive”? (I think it’s Allison Janney, but I could be wrong.) Imagine her doing a commercial for a monster truck rally; how bad would that be? Typography is the same way. What font would you use for a WWE poster? Would you use the same one for a wedding invitation?
Typefaces have unique qualities. Not just the obvious things like stroke thickness and the presence or absence of serifs. (I’m going to assume for a moment that you know what a font is, what a serif is, and are at least a little bit familiar with a few different typefaces; after all, you know how to read, right?) Seemingly slight changes like the size of lower-case letters relative to their capitals, the length of the ascenders and descenders, the size and shape of letters like p and m, the placement of the crossbar on the A, The overall lightness or darkness of a block of text, all of these things matter in creating the “voice” of a particular typeface.
When creating a new logo, the first thing I do is go through my fonts and pick out a couple dozen or so that I think have the right tone. I will set the name in each of these faces, in both all caps and upper & lower, and see which ones I like. For the first pass, I was looking for something that would go well with the cartoon knight that was my first pass at a logo.
I was looking for something that felt kind of old fashioned but modern, basically the Disney version of medieval; something that related to knights but also had a cartoonish, humorous flavor. I ended up choosing the third one on the left, Xtreme Script from A&S Studio.
And that would be that, except then I decided to start over and come up with a different logo. The change in art required a change in typeface, a different tone of voice. So I set up another sheet of sample text and tried again. This time I went for something a little more classic and timeless, a little less Disney.
Three things to remember while you try the different fonts:
1) be sure to look at both the capitals and lowercase letters;
2) look at some fonts that don’t necessarily fit in the category you’re thinking of;
3) don’t be fooled by the font names, they aren’t always accurate.
Wading through this collection of faces, I picked out about a dozen to give a second look, placing them each next to the new icon:
Narrowing it down further, we decided that the ones we liked best were the middle one on the top row, the right-hand one on the second row, and the right-hand one on the bottom row. Everything else was too informal, too retro or too precious. Ultimately, it was the last one that won the day, primarily because of the crossbar on the A and the dropping tail on the R. The font is Caeldera, which I probably picked up at DaFont.com
A word about fonts: Be very careful with fonts. A font is a tiny program, and like any program, if it’s written badly it can crash your computer. A lot of would-be typographers do not understand as much as they think they do. I’ve run across fonts that produce postscript errors and cause a file to crash, not print, or fail to render a PDF. I’m willing to risk it with this font because I’m converting it to outlines before I do anything else with it. If you’re using fonts as fonts in a document, use good ones. MyFonts.com is the best source; Nick’s Fonts, FontDiner and Typodermic all do a good job producing reasonably inexpensive fonts.