Elevating wordmarks with the power of a custom font

Alex Bigman

It’s the perennial question for logo designers tasked with creating a wordmark: to create the type from scratch, or to simply modify an existing typeface?

As we previously discussed, there is no shame in sprucing up an existing typeface – indeed, some of the world’s most famous companies have done it! At the same time, creating an entirely custom font can really take branding to the next level.

If you’ve got the chops to do it, perhaps you should. Consider the following:

Coca-Cola

cocacola

Coca-Cola’s logo, certainly one of the most well-known in the world, is based on Edwardian script – a style that was popular for handwriting in the late 19th century, but would not have worked very well as a printing typeface because of the way letters need to connect and because of limited legibility at smaller sizes.

If the founders of Coca-Cola had relied on an existing typeface, they probably would have wound up with something a lot blockier, and less memorable, than the version we know and love today.

IBM

IBM

For the IBM logo, Paul Rand did not simply take an existing typeface and slice it into bars. Rather, he created custom letters that are integrally composed of the separated horizontals. In the above image, Himanshu Khanna shows what the IBM logo might have looked like, had Rand taken the easy way out and simply chosen an existing font like Rockwell Bold (actual logo left; Rockwell Bold version right).

Many companies and organizations today are fully embracing the power of typeface to distinguish a brand, and not only requesting custom letters for their logos, but commissioning full, proprietary typefaces that can be used across all branding elements, from communications to packaging to advertisements.

Prada

prada

Prada is one example. Designer Gareth Hague of Alias took the distinctive forms of the fashion house’s existing logo and developed them into a full custom font set of letters, numbers and symbols.

Intel

intel

Intel logo: Design Week

Intel recently commissioned a proprietary typeface for use across all of its communications, designed by Red Peak Branding. It does not directly borrow letterforms from the Intel logo, but it is made to complement them in a pleasing way.

London 2012 Olympics

olympics

The London 2012 Olympics did not have a wordmark logo per se, but it did create a proprietary typeface for use throughout the games (also designed by Mr. Hague), linking the various sports and media activities under one unified brand umbrella.

Chatype: A typeface for Chattanooga

post-cards

And why should brands be the only entities to reap the benefits of custom typefaces? When the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee decided to implement a “rebrand” of sorts, it commissioned a typeface it could call its own.

“A custom typeface reflects character, extends excitement, and becomes a rally point for suffering projects,” write the creators of Chatype. The custom font is now used across local civic entities and public institutions like this one:

chattanooga

Then there’s the other, perhaps more obvious reason to consider making a custom typeface: fun! Why shackle your work to someone else’s forms when you can make something that is entirely, top-to-bottom your own?

Plenty of designers are embracing the wordmark as an opportunity to release their full creativity, no holds barred. Just check out these inspiring examples:

dirty-water
fabule-process

Fabule: Sean McCabe

bkln

BKLN: Michael Spitz

discourage

Discourage Records: Damian King

wigwam

The Wigwam Cabins: Jennifer Lucey-Bzoza

thundersnow

Thundersnow: Mae Mirkin

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.56.53 PM

Tarra: Midgar

dough

Get Dough: Nick Slater

When do you think it’s important to use custom fonts in typography? Share in the comments!

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