The Art of Logo. Part II: Your Tools. Nuances | WebReference

The Art of Logo. Part II: Your Tools. Nuances


Proportions, contrast, and repetition constitute a powerful set of design tools which, when used carefully and reasonably, can yield wonderfully engaging results.  However, real professionalism implies more than mastering these tools.  One of the most important features that differentiates a work of experienced designer from a novice's (even a gifted novice's) exercise is the powerful use of nuances.

Actually nuances do not introduce a wholly new concept.  Applying nuances means using the same old design concepts---but with a difference.  The word "nuance" means "a subtle, delicate degree"; nuances cannot comprise the foundation nor the main idea of a composition, but they are always supplied at a final stage and used to accentuate, to stress, to make more prominent various design features.  So why dedicate a separate chapter to this sort of minutiae?

Because nuances can really make the difference in perception.  A form deprived of nuances may still look interesting, but only at a first glance.  It does not engage your look for more than a fraction of a second, and if you force your attention for longer, the thing is likely to start losing its charm.  After you've caught the basic message, the composition becomes too obvious, clumsy, and boring.

With nuances, however, all is changed.  A well-nuanced design becomes warm, human, and attractively elegant; it really invites us to feast our eyes.  Lots of tiny coordinations and contrasts entertain our attention; our mind is busy figuring out the solutions of tens of little riddles that the designer has secreted here and there.  "Ahha! this couple of lines are parallel...  And yes! this detail is the same color as that one...  And these two lines continued, their point of intersection is exactly in the center of that disk...  And this letter's serif is exactly on the level of that horizontal bar..."

Most of these discoveries are made unconsciously, but that's the magic of subconscious perception---it greatly affects our impression and our, quite conscious, evaluation of the quality of work.  What's interesting, our mind is not fatigued by that much "background activity"---on the contrary, it is pleasantly stimulated.  Our ancestors have been trained by natural selection to constantly watch for traces of order, be it intentional or accidental, in the chaos around us.

Decorating a logo with nuances is almost always a time-consuming process.  Stricken by inspiration, you can hit the main shape and color combination in a wink; but finding the best set of subtleties to illuminate the soul of your creation always requires some time and effort.  Before you roll out your finished work, you should carefully examine every little detail of it asking yourself the questions, "Why it's done this way? Why it has this size, this position, this angle? Is it justified somehow or can it be changed?"

If there seems to be no special reason for an element's being this way and not the other, try to slightly adjust its characteristics to better coordinate it with the others or to better express its role in the composition.  This kind of polishing may seem tedious but it really rewards.  It is recommended even to leave the unfinished work for a day or two, as after some period of relaxation your mind may become more perceptive to the delicate matter of nuances.

One kind of nuances deserving special mention is kerning, that is, manual adjusting the distance between letters (see also chapter on fonts in Part I).  Nothing is a more undeniable giveaway of an amateur than a title left without kerning.  It is true that the fonts you use are usually produced by highly experienced artists, but you should nevertheless treat your fonts as you would any other graphic resource and daringly adjust their characteristics if you need to.  And kerning is the characteristic that always needs manual intervention, as it is nearly impossible to create a font whose built-in kerning information would suffice for all practical cases.


Fig. 13  Sample logo illustrating the use of nuances
Let's see a couple of examples.  The logo shown on Fig. 13 contains two nuances worth mentioning.  First, note that the tilt of the italic letters is exactly the same as the angle of the bottom (dark) square.  This helps to establish meaningful communication between the visual and the text and to bind them into one solid whole. Second, the impression of a mathematically accurate cross is misleading; if you use a ruler, you'll see that its vertical bar is actually a bit shorter than the horizontal one.  This is done intentionally, and the goal is exactly to make you believe that the cross is symmetric---it occurs that if the bars are physically equal, our eye tends to count the vertical one longer because it is not burdened with text.  

 The symmetric composition on Fig. 14 is improved by the fact that its title is aligned against the vertical axes of right and left stars and that its middle star is raised exactly to the extent allowing its lowest ray's edges, when continued, meet the other star's apexes (both these nuances are illustrated by red dashed lines in the figure.)
Fig. 14  Nuance coordinations are shown by red dashed lines

 In conclusion I'd like to say a thing that may be a bit out of the tracks of this tutorial, but is nevertheless as important as the technical advice I've been giving.  To succeed in the art of logo, you must before all enjoy your material and your tools; you must love to play with forms, fonts, and colors; you must palpitate with expectations when you unpack an upgrade to your favorite drawing program.  Enjoying the process of work is the best way to make sure that your audience will enjoy your creation---and nuances come out quite naturally from the author's soulful attitude.  

Created: Feb. 21, 1997
Revised: Feb. 22, 1997