Custom typography and letterforms for logo design

I am obsessed with letterforms — the distinctive characteristics of a letter within a typeface (it can also refer to calligraphy but that is not my rabbit hole). When I cannot fall asleep I even draw serif letters in my mind instead of counting sheep. I dream of curves, nooks, and crannies, the details that make letters unique — typography is my jam.

What is typography?

Typography is the art of using letters, while letterforms are the specific shapes and styles of the letters themselves. And, typefaces are the artistic design of the lettering styles that share a common design, such as Helvetica or Comic Sans (oh my), or Times Roman, while fonts are the variations of a typeface such as bold, regular, italic, etc. Each variation of a typeface is a font. 

This poster lives on my wall. See all the components of a letter? This is my playground.

The anatomy of a letterform is what makes creating letters for wordmarks and logos so fun! And, it also makes choosing the right font for an annual report, ad, brochure, or even a presentation so tedious but worthwhile. Arranging letters to create a visual message is where design gets its power — the right letters express attitude and emotion.

How letterforms impact logos

When it comes to logos, letterforms refer to the specific design and shape of the letters used in the logo. Letterforms can greatly impact the overall look and feel of the logo, as well as the message it conveys. They can help to convey the brand’s personality and values. For example, a modern and minimalist brand might use sans-serif letterforms to convey a sleek and simple aesthetic, while a luxury brand might use serif or script letterforms to convey elegance and sophistication.

Letterforms can also be customized to create a unique and memorable logo which will help effectively communicate the brand’s message and personality. 

Small wonder that type on food packages is often hand-lettered because standard typefaces don’t seem to be able to express this vast range of tastes and promises. These days, hand lettering sometimes means using software programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, that combine design and artwork at a level unimaginable only a few years ago. Anything a graphic designer can think of can be produced in amazing quality. 

—  Erik Spiekermann, Stealing Sheep, 4th edition

How will your design be perceived? It depends on your typography.

Much like color, the typeface used in a design has a significant impact on the way a user perceives that design. I like to refer to what I do — making custom letters for logo designs — as crafted typography.

7 reasons why typography is important

Typography plays a vital role in producing the first impression, creating a general atmosphere, and conveying a message. It can:

  • establish a strong visual hierarchy
  • guide and inform your users
  • optimize readability
  • improve accessibility
  • enhance the website’s personality
  • build brand recognition
  • carry your brand forward

Boost your brand identity with a unique typeface

When it comes to bringing a unique letterform to life, there are type designers, or people like me who take existing letterforms and change them to make unique wordmarks or logos so that brands can be truly connective and original. 

# Letterform, custom logo design, examples

The Zaff Architecture icon was an immediate choice by our client, Andrea. Ruzow created an alphabet for the client and word marks that just said ZAFF and ZAFF ARCHITECTURE. The lettering is simple and scales well.

The Epilepsy Foundation used two lettering styles to emphasize who the materials were for (bold) and what the activity was (Roman).

The USi Power company came to my client Edith Hahn of Harrison Communications (HC) for a new logo. By adding the lowercase i, simply customizing the dot, and kerning the letters close together, the logo became unique and evergreen.

Dflash is a cultural communications agency and a fellow certified women-owned business. They needed two aspects of their brand that could each stand on their own. I created a moving df for the icon, and then a narrow sans-serif typeface for the wordmark. 

For Tim’s Kitchen the logo needed to be approachable and warm. I chose a handwritten typeface and created the I as a drawn kitchen spoon (you know the wooden ones) that even has the wood grain embedded in the shape. You will note that the I in Kitchen is dotted by the hole that is common in wooden spoons.

Mark Moran wanted a sleek design for his multitude of businesses that all fall under Mark Moran Solutions. I made the icon out of using an extended letter M that then is a thinner version of the name Mark Moran.
Buzz engagement marketing wanted a sleek bee icon and fun, lettering for the name. Both can stand alone. Can you see the buzz of the bee with the staggered letters,? And, find the extended stem of the B that also shows movement. Like all logos Ruzow Graphics creates, we provide the logo in multiple formats.
The agency Chrein and I partnered on many projects including this logo for his client, the New York Affordable Housing Management Association. He was designing the website and tapped me to design the logo. This wordmark is serious and sleek with a light outline of the letters that they are known for.
O’Brien and Levine branding was part of a larger project for a website design, and a full-out rebrand. I customized the ampersand (&) and gave them an icon as well as a wordmark, both of which could stand alone. Custom letterforms made this very unique in their industry.

Custom event logos are essential to planning and marketing. 

For the Builders Beyond Borders Peru logo, I redrew the geoglyphs (Nazca lines) spaced out the letters, and used the geoglyphs as part of the crossbar in the E. The geoglyph can stand alone on branded materials for the event.
I design many event logos for Play With Your Food. The Seasons Readings logo would be an ongoing program that would happen around holidays. I designed customized letters that were made to look like holiday cards but really represented an event for play (theatre) readings. 
For about 9 years I was the outsourced designer for the New York Building Congress. Along with ads and various reports, I also did work for their events. For the event logos, I combined typography and customized letters so that each event had a unique look. You’ll notice that the dots of the i with parts from other letters in the event, such as with the y in Industry and the O in recognition. Even this simple manipulation makes the event logo designs unique.

Another technique to customize logos is to replace a letter with a similar shape that represents the concept. For this golf event (used for many years), the unique L was drawn with a golf club to anchor the logo.

Example of client pushback on logo design

These two logos were failures by the client’s standards — but I loved them and garnered some national design awards.

The first one, Game Parts Inc., was created many years ago and was meant to be fun and childlike to reflect on the game parts that are used in most children’s games. The sketch was the same all along and they loved it — until I delivered it. They wanted clean serif lettering and never let me take it any further. They ended up typing their name and sticking dice on top.
The second one was a new logo that the client thought was sexy and sleek — her original logo was just SP and she wanted to add an E to their current logo. She was such an alluring person that I immediately showed her a few designs but knew this one was IT! She loved it too — until she didn’t she decided it looked like Snoopy’s scarf when he is flying on his doghouse. This is the logo we ended up with.

Transform the use of your letterforms and typography to make your brand stand out

When it’s time for your brand to be truly unique (or if you can’t sleep at night), look to your letters. If you need help employing the power of letterforms, revamping your logo, or getting updated (or your first) brand guidelines, Let’s talk.

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