At least get the execution right!
Noise and execution
I wrote a post about logo design where I suggested that crap logos tend to contain too much ‘noise’. (‘Noise’ being basically anything in the logo that isn’t necessary for it to do its job.) A logo that is well executed might not necessarily be a good logo but a badly executed logo announces its low quality at first glance.
Poor execution and noise seem to go together. This probably isn’t surprising. Theory and practice tend to be learned at the same time. However, the more elements a logo has, the more difficult is to combine them elegantly and the more things there are to go wrong.
A badly executed logo is an ugly logo. A logo that immediately creates a negative response is not something that most organisations would want. Yet, the world is full of them. Don’t ask me.
If I was writing here about chairs, the criticism should be similar to pointing out that they’re uncomfortable and not that white leather wouldn’t suit your living room. The problem is in the logo itself and not how it relates to the organisation it represents (that’s another topic).
Common logo problems
I’ve created my own bad examples based on actual logos, although some are so bad that the copy didn’t seem convincing (is the Furniture Hamlet cartoon below worse than one you’ve seen in the wild?). I didn’t want to slag off anyone in particular and it was a useful exercise: I ending up dropping a couple of faults that turned out not to be as bad as I’d thought.1
Some fonts are objectively crap. Above is an extreme example. It’s a free font. I’m hoping that its faults are obvious.2 But then I think that the faults of crap logos are obvious…
You might have seen those sort of articles where a design company tells you if you don’t pay a top professional to design your logo or website you’ll end up bankrupt and homeless. I’m not keen on that approach, but fonts are usually worth paying for.
I can see the motivation behind wanting an interesting font. You’re paying for a logo, you want it to look like a logo and you want something different. The same sort of literal thinking that leads to noisy logos leads to a noisy font: a cutting edge product, needs a ‘futuristic’ font, for example. But the further out of the mainstream you go the more difficult it is to make the right choice (like buying your auntie’s birthday present).
Messing with type
Altering letters can make a logo difficult to read (which isn’t always a problem but this shouldn’t be done by accident), lead to ambiguity and can easily be done badly.
Often it seems to be done just to do something. To turn a collection of letters into a logo. I’m suspicious of this but I’m not sure it’s necessarily a bad thing.3
Squashing and stretching
Squashing or stretching lettering is the work of the amateur and a good sign that you’re looking at the grubby end of graphic design. For that reason alone it should be avoided.
Bad letter substitution
Swapping a letter for a similar shaped image, or adjusting a letter so it looks like something else as well, can be effective. I don’t like it, though, when the legibility of the word is affected. The suggestion of an image is often enough. And some image/letter mash ups are just not going to work.
The above image is a mild example of the type. Does it say ‘RANGE’ or ‘ORANGE’? 4
Poor letter spacing
Letter spacing is known in the trade as ‘kerning’.
Badly spaced lettering often occurs because different fonts have been used for the initial and the rest of the text and no one has corrected the spacing. Just because the computer says its right doesn’t mean it is.
Not all fonts are spaced accurately. It’s worth checking the spacing on something that is going to be used or seen as often as a logo or sign. Sometimes incorrect spacing only becomes apparent on large lettering (usually letters have to be adjusted to sit closer together as the letter size increases).
There are many brilliant logos that use initials but it is tricky to get right. Often their use is so perfunctory you wonder why anyone bothered at all.
Attempted monograms – an arrangement of initials into a symbol – are common. Almost all of them are crap.
I can’t say what a bad illustration is. I’d like to say you’d know it when you see it, but this applies to crap logos in their entirety and therefore depends on who the ‘you’ is. If in doubt, leave it out.
This might be a bit pedantic but I keep seeing lumpy curves. At small sizes it can be unnoticeable but then the day comes when the logo is blown up and stuck on the side of a building.
Even by the standards of your average blog posts this one is futile. It’s never been easier or cheaper to have a reasonable logo designed. Yet, shit logos are everywhere. And given the direction the the world seems to be heading it feels ridiculous to even mention them. But the world turns and if you do think a non-crap (I guarantee that much) logo is worth having, do get in touch.
- I wish I could remember what they were.
- For starters you can have the spacing between the ‘a’ and ‘m’ is too wide, probably because the ‘tail’ of the ‘a’ is too long. And the ‘g’ looks like someone sat on it.
- Compare this with swooshes and squiggles in my noise post.
- On the other hand, it can be sometimes be a good idea for a logo not to be easily understood on first glance. That’s another topic…