Design of the week: Symbols, meet text


A logo design has at most two components: there’s the text and there’s the symbol. While most designs keep the two separate, designers love to combine them when possible. Harnessing the biomorphic nature of letter forms or the negative space they create to craft something symbolic, a la FedEx or Tour de France, is a fun way to put conceptual design chops to work.

The FedEx logo famously uses negative space to create an arrow between the E and x

With the simple addition of two dots and a circle, the Tour de France logo turns the “our” in “tour” into a cyclist

However, while FedEx and Tour de France are successful with this strategy, it is often difficult to pull off, as it tends to degrade legibility and make for a cluttered design. Don’t discount the approach altogether, but don’t let yourself be taken in by cleverness of concept when a design is, in fact, impractical. Ask: how much memorability does this design really gain by merging text and symbol, and might it detract from the look of the design in any way?

A 99designs case in point

Ricky Asmanis‘ design combines text and symbol to create a goldfish 

Here’s an example of a design by 99designs design community member Ricky Asmanis, for Goldfish, that actually does the symbol/text conjunction pretty flawlessly, using the “d” and horizontal cross of the “f” in goldfish to depict an abstract fish. The symbol is clear and the “eye” in middle of the “d” does not detract from the letter’s legibility.

Vencislav‘s design for the same client keeps symbol and text separate, for a cleaner effect 

At the same time, consider this alternative design by fellow 99designs designer Vencislav that keeps text and symbolism almost completely separate (with the exception of a bubble-like dot on the i). The design is undeniably cleaner and more readable, and what it lacks in visual acrobatics it makes up for with a fun font and more fleshed out goldfish design.

This one’s a toss up, for sure. What’s your preference? 


Alex Bigman is liaison to 99designs' awesome community of graphic designers. He is a recent grad of UC Berkeley, where he studied history of art and cognitive science.

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