The Rise of the “Hand-Made” Logo

If 2014 was the year of typography then 2015 was the year of hand lettering.

This once necessary skill took a back seat, becoming all but obsolete, with the dawn of the digital age. But now, with big brands like Microsoft, Google and Apple leading the trend of flat and minimal, more and more companies are searching for ways to stand out. As a result, the disciplines of calligraphy and hand lettering are no longer relegated to wedding suites and fancy invitations. In fact, they’ve been cropping up everywhere — magazine covers, advertising, signage, packaging and more.

hand lettering

Program, American Heart Association New York Heart Ball; calligraphy by Iskra Johnson

Chipotle hand lettering

Chipotle packaging; designed by Sequence

Troegs Brewing Company packaging redesign

Troegs Brewing Company packaging redesign; hand lettering and artwork by Lindsey Tweed

hand lettering

Left: San Francisco Chronicle Magazine Cover; hand lettinerg by Leigh Wells. Right: Gold’n Plump “Gold’n good.” advertising campaign; hand lettering by Alison Carmichael

Perhaps the true indicator of the value of hand lettering to the design world is its increased use in logos and branding. The fact that companies, big and small, are willing to commit to this aesthetic is a signal that the discipline has been revived and restored to elevated ranks, suitable for more than just one-off print ads exploring more “creative” and “free-spirited” messaging.

hand lettering logos

Atlanta area businesses with hand drawn logos.

The beauty of the hand-drawn movement is that the creator is not hidden behind the perfection of precise symmetry and linear edges. The subtle irregularities of the hand-drawn approach captivate consumers in a different way, reminding them that there is a human hand behind what they are viewing.

This is not to say that “cleaner” design approaches lack personality or character; all good logos carry a specific energy and intention behind them. The hand-drawn style is most often utilized to make brands more approachable, or to communicate attributes like raw, organic and earthy, homegrown, hand crafted, or even retro. It is certainly not suitable for every project or every brand.

The ability to read and understand the intention behind a typeface is always relevant, especially where it concerns the hand-lettered variety. A curve here or sweep there can give a logo an entirely different energy — be it calm, measured, whimsical or flamboyant. Considerations for balance and the use of negative space are also still exceedingly important in the implementation of a hand-drawn logo. Hallmarks of good design are just that, regardless of the style.

The hand-lettered approach can be perceived by some as a more free form, illustrative approach to design — one suited only for small business and boutique services. But even in a world of corporate logos with hard and polished edges, some of the most valuable consumer brands draw from a made-by-hand aesthetic.

hand-drawn corporate logos

Lord & Taylor logo redesigned in 2015; Madewell launched by J. Crew in 2006; H&M brand redesign announced in 2015, set to launch in 2017; Kleenex logo (originally designed by Saul Bass) redesigned in 2008 by Sterling Brands; Pizza Hut logo redesigned in 2014.

What all of these major logos have in common — what gives them staying power — is execution. When well thought-out and professionally executed, a hand-drawn logo can have real, meaningful impact for a brand.

However, if one neglects to make deliberate design decisions — fundamental decisions about form, space and color — a hand-drawn logo could easily fall onto the pile of trendy mistakes and other “experiments” that ought not to have seen the light of day.

The ability to create and employ hand lettering can be a valuable asset to a designer’s tool kit. But in order for those designs to last beyond 2016, they must be imbued with purpose.