A Beginner’s Guide to Wordmark Logo Design
Wordmarks are perfect for many companies, but it can be intimidating to try to design one
Wordmark logo design is all about keeping it simple. The type-only look is a popular choice across industries, especially tech, media, fashion, and food.
What is a wordmark? It’s a type of logo design that includes only the company name written out in a lettering style — no symbols, monograms, mascots, or emblems. Wordmark logos are also called “logotypes” and can include monogram variations for smaller spaces like social media profiles and favicons. Because of the simplicity of these logos, typography and spacing are extra important.
Examples of famous wordmark logos include Google, FedEx, Coca-Cola, and Toys “R” Us. In these cases, the words have become the visual landmark of the brand.
When we’re born, letters and fonts are just shapes. But as we grow up, we begin to associate the shapes with words, and the design and style of those words with specific objects and organizations.
For example, if I asked you to choose an appropriate font for the word “Army,” most people will picture a heavy stencil font, and they would most likely color it in dark green.
If you understand your target audience, you can take advantage of these cultural and visual associations to communicate specific messages through the use of font and color in your logo.
When to choose a wordmark logo
While many designers favor wordmarks or logotypes and consider them to be the most “pure” form of a logo, creating a wordmark when you’re not a designer can be intimidating.
You don’t want your logo to be boring or forgettable. And when you’re starting a business, you may need help communicating what you offer, which is difficult without the visual aid of a symbol.
A lot of the most popular brands have symbols included in their logos, such as Nike, Apple, or McDonald’s. Because of that, many new business owners expect a logo to include a symbol. A symbol can also have more perceived value to a non-designer, as it feels like more time and energy went into the design.
Still, a well-designed wordmark is an ideal solution for some businesses. Here are strong cases for choosing this type of logo:
- You have a short, distinctive business name. In this case, one word is ideal. A wordmark helps to establish name recognition, a must in the startup world. If your business name is longer or contains multiple words, consider a monogram or lettermark (think HBO or IBM).
- You’re planning to use your logo across many different media, or on top of images and different backgrounds, so a wordmark logo can be easy to integrate across multiple platforms. You don’t have to worry about the legibility of a symbol or the real estate it takes up — and you don’t have to worry about multiple variations.
- You want to use a bright, distinctive color or font in your logo. A strong wordmark doesn’t need other elements competing with it or taking away from its impact.
Read on for a few tips and ideas for creating a wordmark that stands out.
Find the right font
Because wordmarks are built using only letters, choosing a font that communicates your brand personality is critical. As Michael Evamy writes in his book Logo, “Words carry meaning; fonts convey character.”
A script font won’t make sense if you’re running a life insurance company because it doesn’t convey the seriousness or trust factor of the service you’re providing.
On the other hand, an all-caps serif font wouldn’t work best for a children’s summer camp or music school that’s all about fun, community, and learning.
To start the process of choosing a font, think of a few adjectives to describe your business, such as “bold” or “dynamic.” Then start looking at fonts to see if they fit with those adjectives. “Typography is basically word art,” says designer Dylan Todd. “When you are designing with type, the font you choose tells a story.”
The first step is usually choosing between fonts that have serifs and fonts that don’t. Serif fonts have small lines attached to the letters. Serif fonts can look authoritative and professional and suggest the weight of history or experience. Sans serif fonts do not have small lines attached to the letters (sans means “without”) but they bring strength, clarity, and a modern or clean look to any wordmark they are featured in.
As with any logo style, you also want to pick a font that ensures your company name is legible in different sizes and across different channels. To do this, consider:
- Weight: Is your font thick or thin? Solid or textured?
- Case: How does your font look in uppercase or lowercase letters?
- Features: Does your font have distinct features like notches or curves?
Pro tip: “Being aware of competitors’ logos allows you to ensure a font is selected that’s not currently being used in the market. Just make sure that the chosen font has the correct associations with your business and brand — don’t be different for the sake of being different. Modifying a font, or having one designed from scratch, can also allow you to have a very distinct wordmark that stands out from the crowd.” – Ian Paget
Use a character feature
Sometimes the only thing standing between a “regular” font and an eye-catching one is a single character that looks different from the rest. That element of surprise adds to a logo’s memorability — think of the double “x” ligature in the Exxon logo or the exaggerated “A” in the Braun logo.
While character features don’t work in every case, they can be a fun design element to explore and help you get over the fear of text being boring.
If you do opt for a character feature, make sure you’re doing it for a reason. Will you use that letter as your monogram? Does it add emphasis to your company name in the right spot?
Communicate with color
When text is the main attraction in a logo, color is a great way to differentiate your brand and draw the eye in.
Think of the cheerful-yet-subdued orange of Etsy, the multi-colored Google and eBay logos, and the royal purple of Cadbury.
Sometimes choosing a clean font with a bold color makes your logo both distinctive and unique.
You can also experiment with color by making one character (or one word within a company name) a different color. But make sure you're doing it for a reason. Flickr does this with a hot pink “r” to help pronunciation and Mobil uses a red “o” for a distinctive and attractive look. It also serves to help people pronounce the name correctly (Mo-bil, not Mo-bile), and of course to add a single, memorable, and distinctive element to an otherwise very simple lettering style.
As with character features, make sure you’re putting emphasis on a letter that makes sense in your company name. Done right, this tactic can be a great way to make your logo distinctive, especially if you’re using a common logo color like blue.
If you’re designing a white wordmark on a colored background, remember that your logo will be placed on a white background for many branding applications. To ensure that your wordmark looks good everywhere, you’ll need reverse color variations of your logo.
Pro tip: “Color is one of the most identifiable components of a visual identity. If no competitors are using a specific color that’s relevant to your brand, it’s a color that you can own as a business, which would immediately allow you to stand out from the crowd with little effort.” – Ian Paget
Get detailed with spacing and letter casing
If you’re designing a wordmark logo, it’s time to get extra picky about spacing — or, more accurately, kerning, which is the spacing between each letter in your logo.
The kerning you choose will largely depend on the font in your logo. Do you want some or all of your letters touching? Does adding or reducing the space between letters increase the readability of your logo? How does the weight and angle of your font affect the spacing?
You can also play around with letter casing to see what best characterizes your brand. Go back to the adjectives you wrote down to describe your business to see what fits.
While title case is the most common, many famous brands have a rationale for using all lowercase or uppercase letters.
Play with shape
Another way that designers add visual interest to wordmarks is to enclose some of the letters in a shape. If all the letters are contained within a shape, then the logo is classified as an emblem logo.
Showtime puts the first three letters of its name, “SHO,” in a red circle and reverses the color from the rest of the logo, giving it a whole different look than if there was no shape. This also allows Showtime to use the first three letters as a symbol for the brand.
Although LinkedIn is a one-word company name, the letters “in” are contained in a blue box to make it visually distinctive. This suggests the “in” feeling of having connections in your industry.
Then there’s the use of stacked text. Stacking the text of your company name is a great way to optimize space. The goal is to try to get the logo to fit into a square and be as legible as possible.
Saks Fifth Avenue is a great example of this. If the company name was all on one line, the logo would be very wide. This would be a problem and would affect legibility when scaled down.
Wordmark logos are used widely across industries for many reasons— they’re clean and uncomplicated, they boost name recognition, and they’re easy to apply across media.
That said, they’re not always easy to design, especially if you’re not a pro. These logo designs take restraint and a laser-sharp attention to detail to get right. With fewer surrounding elements, you have to make sure every character is perfect.
Wordmarks also work best for shorter company names. If that’s not the case for your business, you may want a monogram or lettermark version of your logo for website favicons, apps, and social media.
You can do a lot to make a wordmark logo stand out and look great across channels. But practice restraint with embellishment — simplicity trumps complexity in logo design, and it’ll make the most memorable impression on your target audience.