Spatial Issues with Identities

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Visual Logic
Much of the good in a design, even in an exquisite design, can be undermined by poor spacing. There is no benefit to having size relationships that are jarring or spaces between elements that do not look natural.

Visual logic is one way to accomplish good spacing. That is simply that shapes and sizes that are repeated make visual sense to our eyes. They seem natural, expected, right.

Gaps or spaces between elements of an identity that are based on visual logic don’t call attention to themselves. After all, if the spaces drew one’s attention instead of the elements, that would be counter-productive design.

Logo vs. Signature Sizes
Logos and Monograms usually require an accompanying signature. A logo and signature together constitute the identity. (A notable exception is Apple. When your company is as big as Apple, can you omit the signature.) Logos and signatures shouldn’t fight each other. The beginning designer will naturally care more about the logo than the signature because that was the part that usually was more labor intensive compared with the signature. Some want to display the logo big and the signature small, but this is a mistake. There should be a harmony between logo and signature. Size relationships should be balanced.

When a logo is at the side of the signature it will generally look balanced if it is between 11/4 to 13/4 times the signature cap height. If it is smaller than that, it will appear insignificant. If the logo is much bigger than 13/4 times the signature height, it will appear to be eating the signature like PacMan gobbling its food.

Another factor is the amount of space between the logo and the signature. If the logo is too close, it will interfere with the instant reading of the signature, weakening the identity’s effectiveness. If it is too far away, they will not feel connected. Another good rule of thumb for this space is between one cap height and a half cap height distance between the logo and signature.

When the logo is above the signature in a vertical format, the identity will usually look balanced when the logo is 11/2 to 2 times the cap height of the signature. A common vertical space between the logo and the signature is the x-height of the signature, measured from either the signature x-height or the cap height.

Other factors can influence what will look balanced including the size and weight of the signature. The number of words in the signature may also make a big difference. A two-word signature would need a larger logo when the signature words are stacked flush left with the logo at the side. If the signature is all caps it may need a proportionately larger logo to balance. Still, the above rules of thumb are good starting places.

Clear Space
Every identity needs a certain amount of space that belongs to it alone. Nothing else may come into this Clear Space, not even the company’s own return address on stationery, for instance. Clear space is measured from the outside of the perimeter of any parts of an identity. Individual signature descenders are sometimes excluded from this perimeter calculation or they may be included, as in the samples shown here. The Clear Space should never be less than the x-height of the signature. Many times, it is the cap height of the signature, occasionally, even more.

It is a standard practice to have a clear space for all identities. Note that this is measured from the outer edge of the whole identity, not just the logo. Some companies shown here did not give their identities enough clear space. This will result in crowding the identity in various design situations, a visual disrespect to the identity. Recommended absolute minimum clear space is the signature’s x-height.

Notice that measurements for clear space—as well as all other spatial measurements—have been made not using inches, points, or millimeters. All measurements have been internal to the identity, such as the signature’s x-height or cap height. Not only does this make all measurements automatically scalable, but it also is a natural way to achieve visual logic.

Slogan vs. Corporate Activity Phrase
Many well-known companies have slogans that they incorporate into alternate variations of their corporate identity. These slogans tend to change over time according to new marketing directions. Some examples are:
McDonald’s I’m lovin’ it
FedEx When there is no tomorrow
IBM Solutions for a smart planet
Coca-Cola Open Happiness
Nike Just do it
KFC Finger lickin’ good

But slogans are not for everyone; they only work for companies that are so well-known that they don’t need to tell people what they do or companies whose name is so descriptive that there is no need to explain further.

All other companies should not use a slogan; what they need is a Corporate Activity Phrase (CA Phrase for short), some brief word or words that explain what they do.

When I was a teen I saw trucks driving around with the name “Purolator” on them and nothing else. What’s a Purolator? I thought maybe they made machines that made really good tasting coffee by filtering it (percolator / pure-olator?). Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know who they were or what they did because a few years later, they began to include the single word “courier” on their truck identities. That’s a corporate activity phrase (or CA Phrase).

A business named Murphy’s could be a men’s clothier, a restaurant or a funeral home. Without a corporate activity phrase included with their identity, much of their advertising, especially that on vehicles or other out-of-context situations is largely wasted. If I don’t already know what Murphy’s does, and see their vehicle, I still won’t know without a corporate activity phrase. The key is that they must be simple and clear. Examples might include:
Tax Consultants
Industrial Robotics
Natural Foods
Divorce Lawyers
Hydrogen Fueled Engines

For any businesses like these––and a million other ones not as famous as FedEx––a CA Phrase (not a slogan) should be incorporated into the identity for use whenever it is out of context or when a viewer might not already know what the company does. It goes on business cards, but perhaps not on the letterhead (because the letter can explain that better, if needed). It goes on signage and vehicle graphics. It goes on ads and brochures.

When a corporate activity phrase is used, it is considered part of the identity. The best place for it is under and smaller than the signature. It should be in the same color as the signature to avoid drawing undo attention to itself. The ideal spacing is to have a gap between it and the signature equal to the corporate activity phrase’s own cap height. That spacing always works, depending on the existence and depth of any signature descenders and on the length and height of the activity phrase. And it’s visual logic.

Logo Aspect
Wordmarks tend to be much wider than they are tall. And there are successful logos of just about any shape: tall, wide, irregular, etc. Even so, there is a natural advantage to having a logo with close to equal height and width. Squares and circles, for instance, are more versatile than shapes much more extreme in aspect. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used; it just means they are less versatile in different design layout situations.

When these principles of visual logic are practiced with care, there is usually an increased esthetic appeal added to any identity design.

One of the advantages of having a logo separate from a signature is that there can be different arrangements. Logos with the same vertical and horizontal dimensions (or close to it) are inherently easier to work along with a signature than a logo of extreme aspect.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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