Coming from a family that worked in the advertising industry, I cannot help myself by focusing occasionally on the use of lettering, symbols, or other carefully positioned typographic strategies to help galvanize an advertising logo into a widely successful brand. More importantly, I can’t help but focus on the non-successes—those examples where, even if the business still prevails, it does so even while its marketing strategy is working against it. That seems to be the case in the example below:
I know next to nothing about this emergent company, founded in 2009, selling wine-scented candle products. And I hate to cavil on a misinterpretation that probably has more to do with my own defective gray mater than the team responsible for the brand. Nonetheless, I can’t believe I’m the only one who looked at the lettering on this label a half-dozen times and saw REW-NED, or Rewned. What is “Rewned” supposed to mean? But of course: the letter “I” is carefully tucked within the wine bottle opener that forms the key pictorial element to this company’s logo. But, if a person is reading this label from too far away, the lettering of the “I” gets buried within the graphic centerpiece, and it looks like three letters flank it, leading to REW-NED.
Yes, I get it: the company’s name is a pun on “rewind” and “wined”. But it’s a bit of a risk to take a neologism like “rewined” and shroud the legibility of one of the core vowels through graphic placement. I wish Rewined the best as its niche grows. But it’s hard for me not to wonder if this attempt at double-meaning is serving them well: unlike the ingenious FedEx logo, the graphic signifier for Rewined overpowers the lettering. I covered similarly inexplicable logos at a mall in northern Virginia a few months ago, including one where I never figured out what the name was until a conceded with an internet search. Even if most people ultimately figure it out much faster than I did, any situation where the imagery dilutes the brain’s ability to process the business name is exposing a business brand to a risk that most young companies are unwilling to do. (Comparing it to a well-established, massive international brand, does everyone actually see the right-pointing arrow embedded in “FedEx” thanks to the clever kerning decision?)
The problem with the Rewined logo, as I see it, is that, although the logo seems to be carefully conceived, the desire cleverness likely compromises basic comprehensibility. It doesn’t balance the imagery with the typography. Numerous advertising websites have featured examples of “not thinking things through”, usually with comical results where the logo carries unintended innuendo. In many cases, imagery is absent, and the mere positioning of the letters becomes the logo itself, as well as the innuendo (such as the notorious “KIDSEXCHANGE”). An aging sign from a Petersburg, Virginia antiques shop demonstrates this:
It doesn’t look like Woody’s Antique Mall is still in business. But the sign on the left (on the commercial building painted white) shows the challenges of balancing good lettering with space management. Apparently the “ANTIQUE MALL” preceded the “Woody’s”, perhaps because another owner’s name claimed the operation previously. Regardless, the painter for the “Woody’s” decided to use lower case because it’s smaller and can fit more easily within the green rectangle. But alas! The lower-case Y uses what typography has called a descender—those strokes within lettering that fall below the standard linear text carriage. Lower-case letters g, p, q, and j all share this characteristic; their descenders fall below the standard “core” for lower-case letters, otherwise known as the x-height. And the designers for “Woody’s” forgot to make room for the descender, thus requiring the text to lurch upward as the letter continued. It’s not a major affront to typography primarily because it’s so commonplace, but a well-funded ad agency would never allow such a mishap with lettering to take place, unless it was intentionally trying to convey amateurishness as authenticity or some other far-flung concept. In this case, the innuendo isn’t salacious, just sloppy. But maybe likably so.
About 100 miles north, the village of Ellicott City, Maryland features a greater injustice to space management:
The goof at the Trolley Shop is a lot less subtle than Woody’s Antique Mall. The person who painted the lettering on this simple wooden sign used a size that presumed “trolley” was a six-letter word. And, ex post facto, the painter learned that it was missing an e. Rather than replacing the sign, the designers jammed it in using the empty space available through the three-letter word “the” above it. Oops. It’s a junior-varsity effort that manages to seem winsome on a mom-and-pop business, rather than simply unprofessional. And, though the shadow largely obscures the full word, the hanging wooden sign behind the fence (clearly a greater investment than this painted one) does show “trolley” spelled correctly, with seven letters. I suspect this misspelling isn’t hurting the brand or business at The Trolley Stop; it just makes it more likably home-grown.
But for my money’s worth, the best example of a failed logo—at least that I’ve seen in recent years—doesn’t try to sell a product or promote a business. It’s a caution sign, in the interest of safety, and the lettering is just fine. But take a look at the stick figure in this “slippery when wet” warning:
Basically every other aspect of the figure uses the minimalist approach we expect in caution signs. But then, at the end of each arm, we get eight fingers and two thumbs! It’s hard to take this slipping man seriously when all you see is his jazz hands.