Wordmarks, Logos, and the Importance of White Space

Getting the balance just right

Mark Jamra is someone who understands the importance of letters. He is not only a typeface designer with impressive language support experience (see his typeface Phoreus created for the Native American Cherokee language), he is also a graphic designer and educator with an understanding of what makes letterforms work together to form a distinctive word mark.

A wordmark has different typographic needs than a typeface, and Jamra will lead a two-day Wordmarks Workshop on Tuesday–Wednesday, June 14–15, to help other designers understand what those needs are.

The terms “logo” and “wordmark” are often thrown around as the same thing, but Jamra says “a logo is more of a symbol, whereas a wordmark is more of a readable configuration of letters. Unlike the Nike swoosh, which is a logo in itself, wordmarks are most often language-dependent”. Jamra sees a distinct difference and advantage in creating a custom wordmark rather than simply relying on a stock typeface for a logo. “There is a right way and a wrong way to modify existing fonts. Anyone can make a wordmark by setting a word in a font, but there are things that can be done to make the wordmark unique”.

This word mark created for Sunday River Ski Resort was adapted from Kinesis Pro. An R-i ligature was created and most of the serifs were changed so that the word mark would “lock up” more effectively. (© Boyne Resorts, CNL Lifestyle Company LLC)

Jamra says wordmarks have their own “typographic DNA” that shows how every element speaks to the other elements of the whole. With a wordmark, it is important to find the commonality of the elements. Setting a wordmark in a stock font can give you part of what you need, but there is much more possible if you start from scratch. “If done right, you have shapes, moments, and gestures that speak to each other across the wordmark. You sense that there is something in each letterform that is addressing the other forms and making a better whole.”

The lettering in this logo for a photo processing company is designed to work optically on two arcs. The concept suggests the rotational movements in film processing and alludes to the old sign-painted letters on the Portland Color building. (© Designtex)

To make a good custom wordmark, Jamra says it is far more than simply sketching up a few letters on paper or on screen. “It’s not just making the letters — it is also about the space around the letters. It is the white and black working together. It is yin and yang. We tend to see the object and not the background — but it is the background that helps make the object”.

Jamra makes a strong distinction between creating letters for a wordmark verses letters for a typeface. With a custom wordmark, you have the flexibility to modify letters without having to worry about how those shapes would work in a full typeface. For example, a designer can create unusual ligatures, make a letter taller to bring a “bounce” into the word, or even remove the dot of a lowercase “i” to make the wordmark more unique. “There is a sort of chemistry with making wordmarks because they only have to live with the other letters in a lock up and not as a full typeface”. This ability to modify a wordmark allows it to be unique and stand apart which is more important than ever in a visually-competitive marketplace.

Learn how to fine-tune a brand name with Mark Jamra’s two-day Wordmarks Workshop.

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