6 considerations for using Helvetica in your logo

It’s becoming more evident that simplicity in branding and design can be effective and beautiful. It’s gone beyond being a design trend and has begun to permeate business thinking, mostly in good ways.
Along with the desire for a clean, simple brand presence, some businesses have caught on that Helvetica is an effective typeface to achieve this. I’m not going to get into the history of the typeface in this article but I feel safe saying it’s one of the cornerstones of modern visual communication. When I say Helvetica I mean to include Helvetica Neue, knockoffs such as Swiss 721 and Arial, and to some degree, other neutral faces which are often mistaken for Helvetica. With its neutrality (brought on by its Swiss roots and huge adoption base), clean lines and unfussy appearance, it’s fit for the job of being a straightforward, clear communicator. It works well for brands that offer high value, widely accessible solutions. However it doesn’t exactly jump off the page on its own, especially compared to other typefaces.

The problem with not jumping of the page is that the business / brand is missing an opportunity to differentiate and identify themselves apart. Given Helvetica’s ubiquitousness across industries, this issue goes beyond competitive differentiation. If selecting Helvetica as your primary face, you run the risk of dissapearing in a sea of trades companies, mobile service providers, discount warehouses, hair salons and what not.

However this doesn’t mean Helvetica should be avoided. Many companies have built a successful brand around this and other neutral faces.

Using a neutral or common typeface for your brand means you will need to be ready to invest in a few things:

1. Writing

Your company name, tagline, should be consistent, polished, and unlike anything else out there. That means getting a writer go through the paces and research to ensure your front facing content refers to your company alone. Helvetica is mute in terms of messaging – so people go straight past form and right into content that the letterforms are delivering.

2. Voice

If Helvetica were to speak in North American English, its accent would be somewhere in between Akron, Ohio and Tacoma, Washington. That is to say, it’s quite unrecognizable and somewhat bland. People seeing your brand will look for your voice and personality and will not get very much from just a name and tagline set in Helvetica. Voice can be best delivered in medium and long copy connected to your messaging.

3. Secondary brand elements

Any non-typographic mark accompanying Helvetica is going to pop nicely. After all it’s not competing with anything other than a name which could very well be as generic as the face in question. Given that more attention will be given to this secondary element, it pays to really sharpen that piece so its right on target with your brand.

4. Typographic variation

One subtle way for your logomark to stand out is customization of the letterforms. Customization should of course work in tandem with the typeface – either extending its visual language or providing a significant contrast to it. Alternatively, you can combine Helvetica with another typeface to gain more uniqueness.

5. Repetition

Many large corporations, especially those using generic marks or neutral typefaces rely on the cultural permeation of their mark for recognizability. This is brought on by rigorous consistency and repetition. They advertise on all channels simultaneously, through brand or campaign messaging. Repetition is a cornerstone of marketing and is that much more important when using a neutral mark.

6. Brand standards guidelines

I believe this to be one of the most important tips for using Helvetica, or any other neutral face for that matter, to be effective. When you render your mark in Helvetica, you need to be certain that the particular colours, spacing, positioning, and all visual qualities are locked into a system. Over the long term, its the system that will become recognizable rather than the mark. Think Massimo Vignelli’s work for the New York subway system. Generating a guidelines document and distributing it to anyone using your brandmark will enable your neutral, Helvetica bold logomark to be much more effective.

The bottom line is if you want a minimal, clean, simple typeface for your logo, you need to be ready to invest in the above 5 to ensure your brand will stand out from competitors and become recognizable in your industry. The idea that a brand lives in consistency and usage rather than in the logo is that much prevalent with Helvetica based identities.

Monday, February 27th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Mobile Experience Consistency

One of the big problems in mobile strategy today is establishing a baseline honesty and reality in terms of experience consistency. This honesty extends to our clients and even ourselves. The promise of mobile reaching your end consumer directly in their pocket is so appealing, companies have been built around promising the world to clients wanting to go mobile. But when most people talk about the mobile experience, they are more often than not talking about what they experience in their own pocket. And more often than not, if you are talking about mobile experiences, you’re packing Android power, something from Apple or a freshly released Blackberry. We pull the device out of our pocket, perhaps with the intention of using it only referentially. More often than not, we think that our audience is using a similar device but this is rarely the case. As such, there are a lot of promises that are being made that simply can’t be met.

The problem is most of the world still doesn’t run on new phones. Even when considering your audience, you may find startling device usage profiles. You may find that they use something completely different than what you consider standard.

How mobile phone types can be used to segment your audience

Different mobile users have different expectations on their experience. The huge number of device types is a pretty good map of mobile users into varying market segments. You can use these users expectations to back any experience adjustments you need to make to your web product.

For example, North American Blackberry users running on Blackberry OS 4.x browsers are often hooked up to a server set up by their large, Fortune 500 employers. They are often executive level – with busy schedules and less-than-perfect eyesight. You can start to develop a persona based on this (if they are part of your target audience).  However Blackberry has maintained a younger audience keen on ultra-fast texting. 5.x and later Blackberry users may very well be in their mid-20s and are going to have much different expectations for their experience.

That being said, the brand of your device does not necessarily indicate your income or demographic, but it does say a lot about your experience expectations.

The mobile device as moving target

Consider for a moment the advent of the film camera. There were many attempts at providing just the right form factor, size, usability to allow that device to do the best that it could. Of course its development was closely guided by the varying science that allowed light to be captured into a static image. This is where the mobile device sits with us now as an invention. We as a human race are still discovering and defining what a mobile device is. Even though you can say we’ve come a long way in its definition, there are thousands of opinions still out there – and we will need to run the course to determine what the ultimate expectations we have for these powerful devices.

Basic mindset

Since it’s impossible to account for every last variable that defines a mobile experience, we need to think about mobile products differently than concrete or even online products. Rather than thinking of a mobile product as a singular reality, we need to think of it as if it were in a hall of mirrors – there are many slightly different variations visible, but it’s ultimately one cohesive unit.

This multi-reality thinking needs to be built into strategy, design and development. Design and strategy wise, dig deep into that product’s brand to create a identity detailed enough to help define how you define details like small snippets of text or tiny icons. From a development standpoint, agile is well suited. In fact that defines how things should be built: flexible CSS and well structured code that allows the content to breathe. Use Yahoo’s well established Graded Browser Support to setup your segmentation. Integrate testing at a cyclical level, rather than the typical practice to lump all of the testing at the end of the project. Think of the sculptor taking a step back from a work in progress, checking out all of the angles at a distance.

These techniques can help you a more air-tight product. Establishing this workflow early will set up a much more realistic offering, a richer product, as well as potentially open up opportunities to identify your audience even further.

Friday, February 10th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Icon design for gaming

I’ve had the opportunity recently to look back at all of the icons and sets I’ve developed for a poker game software company. They are used primarily within the game UI environment but we quickly realized they were useful much beyond this.

Icon design challenges a designer in three main ways–

  • You need to come up with the essence of a particular idea, much like the process of creating a brand
  • The icon needs to reflect the surrounding user experience and any interactive qualities it might have, and
  • You are often working in impossibly small dimensions and restricted colour spaces.

It’s these main challenges that really appeal to me as a designer. It’s been quoted that design is a process of overlapping constraints until the final design reveals itself and the design of icons is a pretty pure example of this.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 Uncategorized No Comments

New personal site

Hi all

I’ve decided to launch a personal site + blog to run concurrently with offbeat studios. It will be more dedicated to general design observations rather than interaction design specifically.


And a Short and sweet portfolio


Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Photography services

Place settingWe believe great photography is a necessary component of any great marketing campaign. There’s no better method of putting a face to your event than documenting real live social interaction with captivating images. We apply our studio’s functional approach to design to our photography practice, which means capturing focused, journalistic pictures of real people and live events. Check out our live events portfolio for selected work.

Monday, May 4th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

Real Estate Website + CMS

Ubertor offers a good package for realtors and designers alike when it comes to developing a customizable website. I’ve had the chance to work on a few here and there, including refreshing one recently for Carl Rankin of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. It was mentioned on Ubertor’s own blog, check it out here: Beautiful Realtor Website Design

Friday, April 3rd, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

Sketchbook entry :: Leigh type process

This is some type process for a face called Leigh. The original intent was for a Jewish Holocaust center poster. I was attempting to communicate a calligraphic type rendering, referencing a carefully done hand-drawn aspect, with subtle reference to Hebrew letterforms. Latin type serifs were added to create a bristly tenacity. My process involves a fair bit of hand sketching, following up with individual letter refinement, then testing out groups of letters using random words.  The serif face became the starting point for a sans-serif version.

Friday, March 13th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

A case for kerning

What exactly did the Canadian border guards find strange about the cocaine-filled tombstone for Albert Thomas, deceased Scottish pensioner, attempting to pass through customs? Something they just couldn’t put their finger on, just a ‘funny feeling’ that this gravestone marker wasn’t legit. Was it the curious use of palm trees in the motif? Or was it the choice of Arial bold, the most pedestrian, default font available, designed for on screen use, therefore highly inappropriate for an epitaph? Or was it the completely random letterspacing underneath the name? Just look how jammed the “NDF” of grandfather looks. This whole passage of text looks to be generated by a shopping mall trophy kiosk. If you’re going to smuggle something inside a fake object with type on it, get it done properly. While the average joe can’t tell you why something is wrong with a piece of typography, he’ll definitely have a funny feeling that something is very, very wrong. And you’ll get caught, like our smuggler, or this guy, or even this guy. RIP, Albert.


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Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

New site

For those of you who’ve been here before, you probably noticed it’s a complete redesign. If it’s your first time here, we’ve made our site more accessible and added a lot more relevant content, including a blog section which helps illustrate different facets of our approach. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

Finishing websites – How to complete that last 10%

This trend has become all to common. A small company hires a freelancer to create their website, only to stall at 90% complete because the designer is unwilling to do some small changes that would complete the project. This may happen 3 or 4 times consecutively as the client works with different designers, leaving jaded clients and disgruntled web designers in its wake.

The issue may be that designers prefer to work on graphical elements and consider these small text changes negligible. Even if some design guidelines have been developed by a previous iteration of a website, they prefer to start from scratch as a proof of their own design process. This only delays the completion of the site even further. Additionally, the last 10% of a website is often minor changes such as pixel-adjustments and copy changes.

Designers often consider copy editing outside of their scope of work and therefore don’t give it due attention. They feel their pride may be hurt that they are stooping below their expertise level. What I believe is happening here is that they may forget the form- part of the form-function equation. If the website is not done, it’s not functioning, for the client and their market.

This also brings some thoughts on how to improve the process.
Firstly, manage expectations. As a designer (and project manager) you need to be diligent about getting the client to be clear about what they want. Have them sign off on a fairly detailed scope definition early in the process. A lot of things are possible on the web now design-wise, and smart clients know that nearly any crazy idea can be brought to life. It’s important that they know how many hours it can take to develop the fancier elements.

Secondly, work with a Content Management System. These have been around for a while, but until recently they have been too feature rich to be accessible to the typical graphic/web designer. Check out off the shelf solutions such as Smallbox, or as another option, repurpose a blog engine such as WordPress which has a nice back end and lots of plugins available. Benefits are basically two fold – Not only are the administrative and editing duties transferred to the client, the web designer can concentrate on what they do best. Most CMSs allow fairly fine tuned control of content posting, so if as a designer, you cringe at bold-italics, you can omit this functionality from client-driven content. The key in choosing a CMS is scaling it correctly to the job. You wouldn’t use Joomla for a mom and pop bakery site, and you wouldn’t necessarily use WordPress to run an online store. If the CMS is scaled correctly, the client is happy, and the designer is happy.

A website is an ever-changing entity and it can be argued that a website is never done. This lies in the fact that a website is a shell until quality content has been added. If budget allows, work with a writer, or encourage your client to do so. If you are getting quality text content, and it’s organized well, Google, and your readers, will love you.


Thursday, December 11th, 2008 Uncategorized 2 Comments