Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to Brief a Creative, Part One: Fonts, Lettering & Logos.

Fonts, Lettering & Logos

I often hear these three words used interchangeably, particularly from clients, but even sometimes within the design community. It's interesting when it happens during a meeting with a client because while so much design vernacular is commonly heard these days, it's usually not being used correctly -- or more important -- accurately. So then I find myself thinking, are you really asking me to design a font? Or are you talking about doing some hand-lettering? Or do you mean you want some sort of logotype? It's tricky because I don't want to sound pedantic, but there really are big differences between all these things, and depending on their context, it can become very nuanced.

Here is a quick guide.

Font is frequently used when someone actually means typeface, so much so that these two things are actually becoming acceptably interchangeable even among designers. Technically, a font is a complete set of characters in one size of one typeface; for example, 12-point Georgia Italic. The "typeface" is all the letters, glyphs, punctuation, etc, designed in a set. Mrs Eaves is a typeface that includes lots of different weights, sizes, and families.

More often than not, a client who is asking for a font is actually just after some lettering, which I define here as custom letters designed in the context of a specific word or words. To this end though, I sometimes differentiate lettering from a logotype for two reasons: 1. because in my work most of my lettering is based on handwriting, whereas logotypes are commonly created using a pre-existing typeface, or at least they rely on one heavily. 2. a logotype may well be lettering, but the difference is really that a logotype is attempting to create a brand. Most of the lettering I do is not brand-driven; it's made to use as a headline, or the title of a book.

Brand and logo aren't the same thing either; the brand encompasses the whole she-bang, while the logo is the visual symbol. Which leads me to my next point.

Not everything needs to be a logo.

A lot of people these days have this knee-jerk reaction to logo-fy their product, message or service. And many, many graphic designers argue that this is what is going to set your thing apart from the rest. Sure, sometimes that's true. But a logo's not going to do that all on its own – not even Nike's – unless there is real substance behind it. Or at least a big pile of money.

It's common to take the name or title of something and want to make it look like a logo. The problem with this is that a logo tends to be a self-contained thing that can be applied (or in many cases, slapped on) to just about anything. Before you ask a designer to create a logo, ask yourself whether this is really what you need to achieve. If you're looking for a designer to help you communicate a message visually, keep an open mind; maybe what you need is just some unique, expressive lettering. Maybe it's an illustration, or an interesting image.

The point is, a good designer will explore your options with you from an experienced point of view. He or she will likely be able to help you define the brief and suggest creative ways to accomplish your goals.

I'll clarify here that that I'm not anti-logo; creating identities is an integral part of graphic design and I really enjoy it. But I think it is often the wrong prescription and the wrong diagnosis, which is why it's usually better to consult a designer sooner rather than later.

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