Shop Talk: Logos and Logotypes

Keeping it simple remains the best advice

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Well, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a real vacation, and the shop has been pretty busy this summer. But, on invitation of Slade and Beth, our middle son and his wife, we stole away from the shop for a long weekend and joined them in their rental on Pensacola Beach. This area, sometimes called the “Redneck Riviera,” is special to us all since we all shared a number of memorable family vacations there when the kids were still at home.

It happened to be “Blue Angel Week” while we were there, and some of the photos here were snapped of these famous planes flying down the beach and at the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, which we never fail to visit. As a sign guy I was a bit fascinated by their traditional but somewhat dated logo that goes with them everywhere.

Another piece of logo art I really was impressed by was a rendition of the name of “Natchez,” as in Natchez, Mississippi, our last overnight stop before returning home and back to work. The “logotype” used by the Natchez Grand Hotel is lovely, and truly artistic even though it is quite simple. A take off of that logo is being used by the city of Natchez to mark the 300th anniversary of that lovely southern city, and it is also a bit of fine sign art.

So, even though away from the shop, as is the case with all sign guys and Letterheads, I could not help but notice the artistic letter work that is so a part of most anything noteworthy, or certainly should be. And the examples that stood out to me were not only examples of letter artistry and tradition, but also lessons in simplicity as well.

This reminded me of jobs we have either designed and created, or worked on for our clients, and some of my favorites certainly share those characteristics. So the lesson I needed to be reminded of was the old adage of “keep it simple, stupid.” The serious downside for sign makers and designers is we often forgot how important simplicity of design is.

Coming across my screen saver from time to time is one logo I created and produced for a housing development down in Henderson, Texas, and it has to be one of the simplest designs I ever drew up and cut in metal. The name was “Chase Creek,” and besides choosing an attractive and appropriate font, the rest of the design was merely a couple of little waves representing water. But, it sure did work and I smile a little when it passes across the computer screen. Again, here is a job where anything fancier would probably not have worked as well.

Some designs that are still being put to good use obviously date back to the hand-drawn and hand-lettered days, and the one being used by the Navy’s finest is certainly one of those. For several decades it has decorated some of the baddest and most famous planes in the sky; this historic logotype is part of the Blue Angels tradition, I’m sure. I wonder if anyone even knows where the design originally came from, but is has endured and is a bit unique. The lower case “s” is one I’ve never seen before, and all of it is obviously hand drawn, at least originally.

I mention this art because it has endured, and that encourages me. I’ve seen clients throw away excellent and well recognizable logo art, and replace it with something unremarkable, and which means nothing to anyone … not a good tradeoff. Though there is nothing wrong with an artistic update, the new version is a better asset if it has kept the best features and character of the old one.

Another “dated” logo shown on these pages is our own, which is probably over 30 years old by now. It too was originally hand drawn, and has changed almost none over the years. I still like it, and here it is shown in basic black and white, and also in a really custom version done by California sign artist and friend, Ken Tamashiro.

Again, simplicity is often the key, and the other designs here all fit that category. Our client, “Imex” had its logo before we cut it and put in on their brick and tile monument, and it probably is the simplest logo we’ve ever made a sign with, but it still works.

Often you will see artists just modify the first letter of a logo or logotype, and that method of customizing is actually quite effective. There are numbers of major company logos that use that device, but the one shown for our client “Bombshell Hair Design” also serves as a pretty good example. The first letter “B” is an obvious diversion from the rest of the lettering, and supersized, which makes this design work quite well. Once cut out, it made for an interesting sign shape, too.

The “Town Lake Ranch Estates” sign we did some time ago was created from what was left of the old sign, and I really like that design as well. Just the unpainted version, in plate aluminum as shown in the upper left part of the illustration, looked so handsome I had to take a photo of it. The design is well balanced, simple, readable … what’s not to like?

The last one shown is merely a considerable variation of a script font, but the final version has an improved readability and the oversize capitals create a certain balance that worked well for the tight quarters it had to fit in. This monument sign was odd because the columns were almost as wide and bulky as the area where the signage would go-not really a good idea. It also shows that a font may really just be a starting place for the evolution that will produce the final design.

None of this is complicated, but having said it, it is amazing how few designs really work well and how many of them don’t do their owners justice. But, as sign makers, we can learn from the traditional, the elegant, and especially the very effective and simple logos that very often are the most effective and deserve to be used year after year.

And we can do all this even when we are on vacation.  

Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business, Sign & Digital Graphics, and GRAPHICS PRO since 1986. Contact Rick via email at [email protected]

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