Logo Design: Start at the Font

Logo design is becoming easier and easier these days. You can get a website to spit a logo out in a few seconds, you can buy one pre-made, or you can just use one of millions of icons available online.

But ease does not necessarily mean quality. And for every template-based, simplified action, you can usually find a reaction of more interest in the methodical approach to a process. If you want to give logo design a go, or if you just want to understand some of the high-level aspects of it, the first place to start is with type.

“Font,” “type,” and “typeface” have become interchangeable in popular usage. Similarly, the phrases “letter mark,” “combination mark,” “word mark,” “symbol,” and “emblem” are now usually lumped under “logo.” I’m not going to cover the pendatry surrounding this and will stick to popular usage.

Fonts for Logo Design

Most logos these days use sans-serif fonts. You’ll find fonts grouped into anywhere from three to around twenty classifications, but sans-serif is always one of these. For this post, I’m going to stick to this one category.

Sans-Serifs

Sans-serif fonts are characterized primarily by their lack of decorative accents (e.g., “feet” or “hooks”). The most well-known sans-serif fonts are probably Helvetica and Arial. Again, opinions vary, but this category can be divided into four subcategories:

  • Grotesque San-Serifs
  • Neo-Grotesque San-Serifs
  • Geometric San-Serifs
  • Humanistic San-Serifs

With each category, I’m going to give you an example of a typeface and how it’s used in a logo. Hopefully this can provide some inspiration when you sit down to pick your font

Grotesque Sans-Serifs

Grotesques are the earliest sans-serifs. They usually have more idiosyncrasies and stroke contrast than the generation of fonts they inspired. Monotype Grotesque and Franklin Gothic are both grotesque sans-serifs.

Example: Akzidenz Grotesque

Akzidenz was designed in 1896 and was used as a model for the typeface Neue Haas Grotesk in 1957. (Neue Haas Grotesk was renamed “Helvetica” in 1960.) The American Red Cross uses Akzidenz Grotesque in their logo.

Akzidenz Sample & American Red Cross Logo

Neo-Grotesque Sans-Serifs

Neo-grotesque sans-serifs are probably the most popular category of fonts these days. They are the more refined children of grotesques and are cleaner with less stroke contrast. This group contains a fairly broad spectrum of fonts now. Popular examples include Univers and Helvetica.

Example: FF DIN

A derivative of DIN 1451 (the German government standard), FF DIN became immensely popular since it was designed in 1995 by Albert-Jan Pool. In 2011, FF Din was added to the MoMA Architecture and Design Collection. The New York Ballet uses FF DIN for its logo’s typeface.

FF DIN Sample & New York City Ballet Logo

Geometric Sans-Serifs

Geometric sans-serifs are inspired by, as the name suggests, geometric shapes. They are usually a combination of rectangles and circular bowls. Popular geometric fonts include Futura and Gotham.

Example: ITC Avant Garde Gothic

The ITC Avant Garde Gothic font family was released over the 1970s. The original design was by Herb Lubalin and was based on the logo font used in the Avant Garde magazine. Adidas uses Avant Garde in their logo.

ITC Avant Garde Gothic Sample & Adidas Logo

Humanist Sans-Serifs

Humanist sans-serifs, like humanist serifs, are influenced by writing and calligraphy. This means a return to line width variation and a less rigid look to the type. Humanist fonts are generally the most readable sans-serifs, especially as body copy. Examples include Verdana, Optima, and Lucide Grande.

Example: Gill Sans

Gill Sans took its inspiration from Edward Johnston’s Johnston typeface for the London Underground signage. Eric Gill created Gill Sans in 1926 by drawing from Johnston’s classic style and giving it a modern, cleaner look. The BBC’s logo uses Gill Sans.

Gill Sans Sample & BBC Logo

To learn how to choose the font that’s right for your logo design, Smashing Magazine (Dan Mayer) and I Love Typography have excellent articles on the subject.