Deadly Sin of Logo Design #5: Overlapped Elements

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Deadly Sin of Logo Design #5: Overlapped Elements

Overlapping elements was once a popular technique in identity designs, but people learned more than a hundred years ago that it reduces clarity.

Placing type over an image makes both the image and the type harder to read. Similar to overlapping is the practice of placing the signature inside a visual element, which makes the type subordinate to the visual and reduces legibility. When the signature type is very brief, it can work, but only marginally. Larger signatures suffer considerably from this approach. It should be avoided.

Each of these companies learned for themselves that overlapped elements don’t work well and have abandoned them. Type is either subordinat- ed inside the logo or legibility is compromised–or both.

Putting type over any other element(s) does nothing to benefit legibility. Sometimes overlapping with lighter elements can be survived (1, 2, 4) but the text is not made easier to read by doing so. When the type over an element is only middle value (3), legibility is forfeited.

When any text is placed over a busy background, elements that are both light and dark, (5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13) legibility is severely compromised. (see Busy Backgrounds in Chapter 8.)

Placing text inside another element makes it subordinate to the element, often making the text too small for clarity. For instance, in the Conte’s identity (9), did you notice the words “MARKET & GRILL” in the upper fin and “WESTPORT” in the lower fin?

Didn’t think so.

Placing the logo in the middle of a two-word signature (14) disrupts the reading of the signature. Then, separating it from the signature for a different layout becomes a breach of design continuity. Best to not do it at all.

Even in a relatively clear logo like Best Buy (12), the words were always subordinated to the label shape. In its newer improved new design, the Best Buy label element is separated from the signature and the whole identity is cleaner.

Capital One (15), on the other hand, has fixed the word “One” that was in a poorly contrasting gray, but improved nothing by adding a hackneyed swoosh shape that intersects the signature, making it harder to read.

Separating the Pepto-Bismol signature from the pink shape has lost nothing of value (16).

Often the motivation to overlap identity elements is little more than an attempt to camouflage uninspired, lackluster or mismatched elements (8, 17, 18). Happily, some clients have jettisoned their sub-par logos for new, cleaner ones without overlapping elements (16, 17, 18.

The Utah Jazz identity has taken a drastic turn for the worse by sacrificing
clear and unified type for a sickly conceived and executed letter “J” cobbled together from other poorly drawn parts. Furthermore, the secondary shadow line on the main letters compromises clarity, especially in front of the word UTAH, where it could be easily mistaken for an extra letter “I.”

As with any other action that lessens clarity, overlapping elements should be avoided. It may not be a total disaster, but it never improves legibility. Instant clarity and readability are indispensable qualities of successful corporate identity.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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