It's tough enough to create an effective and memorable logo design, let alone restrict oneself to using typography alone. But often getting down to the bare essentials is where the most remarkable solutions and brilliant ideas emerge. Sometimes it's a beautifully thought out ligature that nails it, or an imaginative use of letters. At other times it's clever use of colour, scaling or re-arranging of letters or even subtly removing something from the logotype that gives it a twist of brilliance.
Dan Cassaro aptly summed up this potential of a purely type-based identity when he said that "Letters sit squarely between information and meaning so what we choose to do with them is very important and exciting" (p8, Little Book of Lettering by Emily Gregory). These examples from across the globe show the way.
Take a look, and you should emerge freshly inspired and challenged to look at typography in a new way...
Probably the mark that Pentagram is most renowned for, the late Alan Fletcher's identity for the V&A Museum, designed in 1988 is breathtakingly simple and brilliant. The V and A mirror each other in form and the ampersand simply creates the crossbar of the A, ridding the need for any further detail on it. Brilliant.
A worldwide design consultancy with work spanning five decades and offices in London, Austin, New York, San Francisco and Berlin, Pentagram offers a full design service across the fields of architecture, interiors, identity design, publication design, packaging design, websites and digital installations. Renowned for brilliant partners such as Paula Scher, Michael Bierut and Harry Pearce, they live by their belief that "great design cannot happen without passion, intelligence and personal commitment".
British indie magazine NME (short for New Musical Express) is a music industry institution, and its current logo design - launched in October 2013 - simplified its well-known typographic logo further. The confident use of simplified, all-caps type, set in Sharp Sans, a sans-serif font by Lucas Sharp, assert the title's sense of authority wonderfully.
03. Plum by 400
Sometimes just applying a certain shade to a logotype can give it new depth and meaning. The colours 400 used in this logotype for telecoms and media consultancy Plum are very appropriate, as they remind one of different varieties of plums or plums having a varying degree of ripeness. The letterforms, particularly the 'u' and 'm' link together effortlessly.
400 is a London-based design studio with an especially strong branding portfolio and passionate about finding the best possible solutions to the most challenging problems.
The power of subtraction - sometimes removing a piece of a letter from the logotype can give the logo new meaning.
Effektive is a Glasgow-based design firm that closely follows Dieter Rams' motto of good design as being as "little design as possible". Their work spans across the business sectors, including the arts, culture, corporate and retail, with a specialization in identity design, digital design and environmental design.
Sometimes simply underlining and striking through letterforms can also convey an enormous amount. In this case, by underlining one section of the logotype and striking through the rest, it highlights the positive, ie. being able to hear and taking action, while the strikethrough eliminates the negative ie.loss of hearing and transforms the logotype into an inspiring call to action.
Often arriving effortlessly at brilliant, simple solutions, enthusiastic London-based Hat Trick Design studio have done a wealth of work for a number of top profile clients, namely Royal Mail, the Natural History Museum and the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
MadeThought captures the essence of The Cutting Room's editing suite by contrasting two very different typefaces next to each other. The result is an elegant solution that is superbly executed across their website and packaging design. The identity is especially masterfully executed on the carrier bags, having been chosen to make full use of the corner of the bag. Brilliant.
Based in London, MadeThought is a multi-disciplinary agency with a focus on well-crafted and well thought out, considered solutions. They have a diverse body of work that spans brand identity, art direction, packaging and interactive design.
07. 24 Heures du Mans
Negative space is everywhere in design right now, and that goes for logo design as much as anything else. And the 2014 logo for the legendary Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, conjured up by sport-oriented design agency Leroy Tremblot, makes good use of the trend.
08. Absolut vodka
Another recently redesigned logo, again making use of bold capitals, popular Swedish vodka brand Absolut also offers a rare example of punctuation in a modern logo. The full point shows the supreme confidence of the brand; conveying a message along the lines of: 'This is the brand for you - period.'
Based in Amsterdam, Mark Sloan is an incredible designer with a sharp eye for typography, which can be seen in his excellent body of identity design. His identity for The Silver Brown Dance Co masterfully mixes script and sans serif type in a way that they work cohesively together as a unit.
10. Edge Board
Edge Board is handmade chopping board with a unique feature - an edge you can use to gather and slide chopped food, preventing it from spilling on the floor. Here, the product's initials happily coincide and demonstrate the Edge Board's feature in a simple but effective fashion.
The logo was created by Hampus Jageland, a Swedish graphic designer, art director and creative thinker currently working at Sid Lee in Paris. Jageland has worked for top agencies Saatchi & Saatchi (Sweden), Blue Marlin BD (Sydney and London), The Creative Method (Sydney) and Maud (Sydney). His areas of expertise include identity design, packaging design, publication and information graphics.
This custom liquid-like identity for CityHint, an easy way to find and book spa and salon appointments, has a beautiful sense of flow and is a great example of letters working interlinking together effectively. In both cases the letter 't' adds detail to other letters in the logotype.
It was created by Deividas Bielskis, a Lithuanian graphic designer specializing in logo and identity design who has worldwide clients and over 5 years' industry experience under his belt.
The subtle rotation of a single letter can convey a huge amount. Here just a small shift in direction captures the moment just before equilibrium (a state of rest or balance) is reached.
This logo was created by Noeeko, a Polish multi-disciplinary design studio founded by art and creative director Michal Sycz, which works across the fields of identity design, editorial design, packaging design and web design.
A beautiful use of playful, yet classic ligatures in this logo for a Budapest night club. Here the 'r' and 'f' in the logotype complete the letter next to them.
It was designed by Miklós Kiss, a Hungarian graphic designer highly skilled in typography and identity design. His fields of expertise include logo identity design and packaging design.
The handwritten logo for popular email newsletter platform MailChimp reflects its informal and friendly nature, and along with its simian monkey mascot, forms a central part of the brand's appeal. Typography guru Jessica Hische was recently asked to tackle a logo redesign; she lightened the weight of the logo overall and improved the vector drawing, with the letterforms revised for legibility, especially at small sizes. The end result, as shown above, is a more refined, refreshed look whilst still portraying MailChimp's playful ethos.
MNML is a publication that informs readers about minimalist architecture and design, aimed at 20-35 year old art lovers. It uses a minimalist design and colour palette to portray the topic, and this logo design by its creator, graphic designer Cassandra Cappello, is a brilliant use of typography and negative space.
16. News Corp
Rupert Murdoch's megacorporation News International recently split into two parts, and the publishing arm News Corp's handwritten logotype clearly evokes the concept of writing, which is the core of the business. The script is based on the writing of Murdoch and his father.
Masterfully combined flowing signature-like typography with an accompanying simple sans serif descriptor. Beautifully executed.
Anagrama, who describe themselves as "creative juggernauts", are a brand development and positioning agency from Mexico with an astounding body of smart, polished work in the fields of packaging design and corporate branding.
Here Jakarta-based Zaky Arifin has created a fun, organism-like logotype through altering a single letter and has created an imaginative variety of different lock-ups for different collateral.
Arifin is well known for creating skillful typographic and custom hand lettered works (including constructing his own custom typefaces), as well as creating memorable identities.
Asylum's design for chocolate store Chocolate Research Facility makes great use of positive and negative space, through only using the counter spaces of the 'o' in the logotype.
Tipped as being the best design agency in Singapore by ICON UK, Asylum is defined as being" an unconventional maverick in the creative world". Asylum has worked on big brands like Johnnie Walker, nabbed over 100 international awards and has been featured in over 50 international magazines worldwide.
Another great example of using the positive and negative shapes of letters in a logotype can be seen in this strong brand identity by Fabian Parra. The encircling 'B' could also be used as a stand-alone icon for the brand.
Fabian Parra is a Colombian designer highly adept in typographic work and identity design.
A simple but brilliant and well executed logo for Parla, a communications magazine by Diego Hodgson. In this logotype, ligatures are replaced by commas and apostrophes. Very smart idea!
Diego Hodgson, a designer from Chile, is highly skilled in icon design and typography and approaches identity design with smart, bold thinking.
A logotype that demonstrates its meaning purely through the re-imagining and altering of its letters. Here Orlando Aquije Abarca has transformed the letter 'e' into an infinity symbol. Smart thinking.
Orlando Aquije Abarca is a Peruvian graphic designer skilled in illustration and typography.
Through clever positioning and subtle added details, the 'b' of the logotype for clothing company Bad Rabbits magically transforms into mini rabbit icons.
Pablo Cánepa , a designer all the way from Uruguay has a signature playful typographic style and also has a great body of clever logo design work.
A proposal for the Californian rock band No Doubt, Isabela Rodrigues creates a typographically interlinking logotype here. The 'u' interlinking with both 'o' are a very nice touch and the logotype is nice finished off and balanced by the 'n' and 't' both ending in an arrow shape.
Isabela Rodrigues is a Brazilian based design studio with a passion for branding, illustration, art direction and front-end mobile app design.
Canopy is an organization dedicated to planting trees for governments, companies, organizations and individuals so as to offset carbon emissions. Through use of scale and extension of letters, this logo cleverly transforms the word 'canopy' into a tree.
This logo was created by Parallax, an agency driven by strategic thinking, which strives to create solutions for their clients that "engage and inspire the consumer".
Based in Sydney, Frost* is an internationally- awarded studio with work spanning identity design, packaging, corporate literature, the built environment, installations, exhibitions and displays. It's declared mission is focussed on "inspiring ideas to life ® through simple, simply brilliant design".
Frost*'s logo for Gateway241, a commercial property development, is a slice of typographical genius. Sometimes, numbers can pose as letters and vice versa. In this company logo, an asterisk becomes a typographic snowflake - another slice of brilliance from the studio.
Kris Sowersby, aka Klim Type Foundry, makes excellent use of ligatures here. The T-h join is expertly handled and the 'm' featuring a droplet like the 'T', 'K' and 'g' is a very nice touch.
The creator of many typefaces, including Hardys and Serrano, Sowersby's brilliant work in typeface design has led him to work with industry greats such as Erik Spiekermann, House Industries and Pentagram. He also made the ADC Young Gun list in 2010.
A beautiful example of a type-based logo, the intersection of the tail of the 'k' with the 's' is sublime on this design for pharmacy Dr Kat's.
With an emphasis on creating quality, high-end design, particularly corporate identities, Durban-based The Curators of Contemporary Craft are proficiently skilled in creating typographic works of art. They strive to apply meticulous attention to detail on every project.
An ambigram by design, when flipped 180 degrees the logotype will still read Bittersuite, AMAZING! Interestingly, the Bittersuite logotype also hints at the agency's ethos of "creativity through contradiction", in that the name itself is a contrast – bitter vs. sweet.
The Visa logo has gone through a few redesigns over the years, and here's the latest look for the global credit card company, launched this January. The new look tweaks the classic design, removing all traces of yellow. But few will blink an eye: the iconic typography is so firmly embedded in the public conciousness that it's still instantly recognisable without it.
31. FedEx by Landor
Designed in 1994 by Lindon Leader, the then-senior design director at Landor, the FedEx logo is proof that simple, clever type-based logos can still look as fresh and smart 20 years down the line.
Impossible to ignore once you've spotted it, the FedEx logo contains a very appropriate directional arrow, indicating FedEx's commitment to speedily delivering parcels on time. Cleverly, the FedEx logo also changes in colour to indicate different sectors of the company one is dealing with.
With many branches dotted worldwide, Landor offers an in-depth, branding service, specializing in strategy, brand naming and innovation and boasts a portfolio of many enduring identity designs such as FedEx, BP and Levi's.
The Truce logo not only represents the mix of the Vodka Cognac drink, but the typography has been cleverly designed so that Truce can be flipped and fits together with its mirror image. It can also be read upwards and downwards, and takes on an interesting quality when applied to packaging – the label is highly reflective so depending on what lighting conditions the bottle is present in, sometimes the white lettering will be more visibly prominent and at other times, the black lettering.
There's no doubt that you will know another logo created by this design firm: their clever brand redesign for Amazon.
A design firm with a focus on strong, clever brand identities and packaging, Turner Duckworth's New York and San Francisco studios collaborate on every project to offer clients fresh new perspectives from both corners of the globe.
Cleverly, a first aid symbol emerges from the logotype, which is very fitting as Cure Life products not only cure the skin but 20% of all purchases are given to select charities in their commitment to helping the world.
With over 30 years experience in the industry and offices in the UK and US, Dowling Duncan has an award-winning body of work spanning corporate identities, packaging, signage, websites, environments, publication and architecture. They strive to work on each brief with great consideration and care, aiming to "deliver appropriate and engaging work, solving problems with intelligent ideas".
We couldn't complete this list without including the big daddy of typographic logos. Minor tweaks have been made to this logo, based on the signature of William Cadbury, since it first appeared on transport livery in 1921. But it's remained essentially the same almost a century later - a true case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
Have you seen any great examples of typography-based logos? Let us know in the comments box below!
Words: Robyn Mitchell
Robyn Mitchell is an illustrator, graphic designer, and sometimes-copywriter living and working in Cape Town, South Africa, which is 2014 World Design Capital. Take a look at her portfolio on Behance.
- This is an updated and extended version of an article previously published on Creative Bloq.