Case #MMM...or rather TAM014 - Font Distorting - Radiant

The Radiant Blog

Monday Morning Misdemeanors is a series of weekly posts written by Graphic Designer, Derek Gyssels. In this series, Derek hones in on a number of common problems that crop up in graphic designs and then gives you the tools to avoid them which will give your designs a professional polish. This week's feature is actually "TAM" because we are posting it on a Tuesday Afternoon (as yesterday this feature got trumped in favor of announcing our corporate 10-year anniversary).

This week's post is going to act as a bridge between last week's and next week's.

On one side of the bridge we have the topic of typography (Do's & Don'ts) and on the other side we have logo design. I consider this post to be a bridge because last week I wrote about bad practices in typography but only brushed on topic of font distorting and next week's post is going to be about bad practices in logo design. Using a distorted font in a logo is about the worst thing a designer can do. It is so bad that you could almost say that any person willing to commit such a heinous act is not a professional designer at all.

Before I can make a solid case for why font distorting is a graphic crime, I need to build a foundation of understanding, so consider the following. Typography is both alphabet and font. Or to say it another way, it is both science and art.

On the science side of things we have 26 letter forms that make up the English alphabet. They are all unique and identifiable from each other but also work together in groups to form words and sentences that translate into communication. Of course this has been a process over the course of history but here we are today with a solid group of letter forms that have been engineered to be easily recognizable and readable, that is to anyone who has grown up learning English as a language.

On the art side of things these 26 letter forms are carefully crafted into fonts to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and enhance readability. Throughout history, many designers have attempted to design the alphabet into different font styles to convey different feelings and moods with varying degrees of success.

With both of those philosophies combined we can assert that typography is and should be well engineered letter forms that are easily recognizable, both easy to read and aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.

With this understanding when you distort a font for whatever reason you are taking easily recognizable letter forms that are easy to read and pleasing to the eye and making them less recognizable, less easy to read and unpleasing to the eye. This in turn makes a piece of visual design repulsive to the eye and therefore unattractive to the audience you're working very hard to appeal to. Does that sound like something you want to do? I don't think so.

While font distorting is undesirable everywhere, it is especially problematic in logo design. Your logo is the representative of your company. Your logo is often everywhere that you aren't. In many cases your logo leaves the first impression and many impressions after that. There is never a reason to distort a font because distorting a font basically equates to being careless and negligent. There are literally thousands upon thousands of fonts to be chosen from. Many of these fonts are parts of families that offer every possible variation you could want whether bold, thin, condensed, expanded, italics, all caps, the list goes on. Choose one that meets your needs and doesn't need to be altered by either adding an outline to make it bold, or skewing to make it italics or stretching and squishing to fit.

It can be time consuming looking for the right type face and costly to purchase the right font but it is worth it in the end. Do you think Nike spends millions on its identity just because they like to spend the money? No, they recognize the value because people gravitate to well-designed and purposeful communication. Now I am not saying you need to spend millions, but maybe $200-$500 dollars on some good typography is a wise long-term investment. I'll close by showing some examples.

Font Distortion Example 1
All these examples feature the Helvetica font family. Here we see the difference between a condensed version and one that was squished.

Font Distortion Example 2
Extended versus stretched.

Font Distortion Example 3
Bold versus outlined.

Font Distortion Example 4
Italics versus skewed.

Font Distortion Example 5
Does this car look as sporty squished?

Font Distortion Example 6
Is Mona still compelling stretched out?

The last two images are to make the point that we don't really consider distorting other visuals because it makes them look wrong. The same applies to type. So stop distorting fonts. You don't stretch, squish and distort anything else in design. It is an unnecessary, bad and unprofessional practice. There are always other options.