Symmetrical Logos With Fake Small Caps

Joe Pemberton's picture

Alright. You've all seen them. Maybe some of you are responsible for creating them... They're those centered, symmetrical logos with a cap on the front and an equal size cap on the end. They're almost as ubiquitous as they are tasteless. (See the attached example of a bad one I threw together for reference.)

My question is:
Is there a good historical example in some text book that people are deriving these bad logos from? Or is there some design hack textbook that details this as a "can't fail" logotype?

badlogo.jpg22.31 KB
Miss Tiffany's picture

Is it bad because they faked the caps, or bad because the hung the first and last letters?

Dan Weaver's picture

That style was popular when I first broke into the design business. It came from sign painters originally. I don't think its a bad look if you balance the weight of the first and last characters with the small caps. Most clients wouldn't let you have the time or spend the money to let you do this.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Not an answer to your original post, but an example. Does letter-size gradation count? Lucas Films

Miss Tiffany's picture

Joe, I think an educated guess would be that the use of two caps on the end derives from a desire to simulate the gradated looked created by lettering artists. Sorry my other responses weren't exactly on topic. If you look at the gallery at Letterheard fonts you'll many samples. Perhaps people at first tried using different pointsizes to mimic the gradation but realized that it wasn't working and so simply decided to use to caps on either end. Maybe?

Miss Tiffany's picture

Another thought. Instead of trying to simulate the flat-top, convect bottom it could also have happened because they were trying to mimic the curved lettering before we could actually do type curved on a path.

Lots of examples in the galleries found on the Letterheads site -- -- scroll to the bottom and look for the galleries.

Miss Tiffany's picture

This is a fun topic. Sorry. Here's a great example.

Stephen Coles's picture

It's all about symmetry. Humans love symmetry. They are symmetrical.

(My best Typophile post EVER.)

Joe Pemberton's picture

Thanks for the great links Tiff. There's no question that it's a plausible (appropriate) solution when it's hand-drawn and when the hand technique is deliberately expressed. It's all the more striking by contrast to look at the DTP logotypes that are merely scaled to fit.

(And Stephen, indubitably. People are symmetrical!)

Norbert Florendo's picture

I recall an incunabula title page as well as a few map engravings that had symetrical cap/small cap treatments which means the design convention dates back centuries.

I agree with Tiffany that "modern" use might have been inspired by curved lettering commonly used by artists and engravers during the 1800-1900s.

Early lithography also gave lettering artists freedom. You can see it in this circus poster and fruit crate label. (BTW- take a look at the pointing hand on the fruit crate label.)

The problem nowadays is that so many designers are blind to weight and balance in letter forms... they just see words.

Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

Will Miller's picture

norbert- well said.

it seems 95% of the time people who are using these typefaces to create logos and/or messages are forgetting the parts to a whole. like the quick impression of the word is the absolute most important thing as a viewers eyes happen to flash across a page or sign. and in some instances i would agree...

but in the realm of logos it seems to me, that the most important part of having one at all, is having one that is balanced, well thought out and easily readable/translatable.

it's funny because just the other day i was strolling around chicago (north ave/halsted area if youre familiar) and had nearly the same thought hit me. why are logotype letters so unbalanced when it comes to faked small caps. (especially when it is in large signage or poster format that everyone must see) or better yet why is it accepted practice by designers. both are easily asnwered questions i guess, but ya know we have to have something to complain about here every now and then :)


Norbert Florendo's picture

I think burried within all of our comments is a chief reason why many current designers lack sensitivity on typographic balance.

Many of us might recall the great debates about typography that ensued in the '90s during the transition from high-end proprietary digital typesetters to open-ended PostScript imagesetters.

Up until that point, whenever you required type, you generally marked up the copy and sent it to a type house. Getting typeset copy and composed headlines was not cheap! Therefore, any designer that didn't comprehend type spec-ing (sp?) caused unnecessary expense and needless delays.

Also, many professional typesetters would tweak photo headlines and galley type output in spite of poor markup (especially if it was a good client). The sins of the graphic designers were often corrected by typographers.

Once the front-end PostScript devices were put into the hands of graphic designers and copy writers, the need for professional typographers and typesetters went the way of the town blacksmith.

We often argued that most graphic designers had broader training and that typography was highly specialized. But as frequently happens, tight budgets prevail.

One of the main reasons why I left the type industry and moved on to multimedia and Internet publishing was that the market was dwindling for dinosaurs such as myself.

I'm happy to see that many members of Typophile strive to maintain the craft and art of typography.

Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

Will Miller's picture

i can only hope that someday typographic training and the eye for the nuances of typography become as key as having a 'specialized' web designer. i feel as graphic design and technology bashed through many walls and limits together, there came a time where the technology overtook those people who were doing it. you can only tackle so many things before youre severly under-staffed and need more focused people to handle all the new specific things the programs are capable of.

you can be a jack of all trades, but you should be an expert at one.


Joe Pemberton's picture

This reminds me of something Jared said a couple years ago about a client's logo.

If anybody can re-create your logo using Word and the fonts that came with the computer, then your logo has a major problem.

(Paraphrasing of course.)

Will Miller's picture

*laugh* -that is good.

i admire the novice outlook on 'fonts'. it's like most people with little or no background in typography/design try to emulate a feeling or a mood through the faces they choose. whether they actually know it or not, i like approach. as expected, when you use times new roman in conjunction with arial i'm not sure what caliber of crap you'll get but to somebody, it might hit the spot in their mind. and there's what the power of computers can do. put typographic intelligence and legitimacy to bed for a long time.

as of late, alot of people i've been working with on projects (clients) have come to me because they said my type was different. it got me wondering if they like things i do because it just looks like something you cant do in word and they know it, or if it's actually because it's good? i'm not a good judge of my own work and i sorta think neither are a lot of clients i work with, but it's just worth noting that these days, type that looks so far out of the norm and unsafe is what attracts people's attention. people being those who are mostly unfamiliar with the nuances of good type usage. this is somewhat hard to explain i think


jason's picture

Hey Joe,

I recently had to re-make a logo/type for a friend's small business that used this sort of arrangement. The sign I was working from clearly had it wrong: looks like caps for the guts are really big caps stretched vertically for the ends. Fixing this was obviously simple: just use caps on the ends with the same sized small caps inside, and NO stretching. I know I'm not adding much here, but just wanted to share a recent example of this sort of thing.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Somehow I have it in my head that these are like fangs. I can't look at these logotypes anymore without visualizing fangs.

Man, I need counseling.

mb's picture

Is there a good historical example in some text book that people are deriving these bad logos from?

the london underground roundel, designed by edward johnston in 1913.

antiphrasis's picture

Thanks Joe,

Now I can't see those logos without seeing the fangs either... Your turn: don't think about a pink elephant. :)

Miss Tiffany's picture

yes i'd say it counts. :( poor willy-style.

mica's picture

Does it still look like vampire fangs to you when the design is with real small caps? Is it the color shift or the disparity in size that makes it fangy?

Eric_West's picture

I think its an easy/cheap solution ( cough ). It needs to die. Die. Die. Die.*


Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.Die. Die. Die.

Norbert Florendo's picture


I've got to step in here and praise some designers who have pulled off the caps bookending small caps motif. I know, I've done it myself in some of my old type posters.

Here's a Peugeot poster from 1968 by Seymour Chwast (scroll down)


Rodrigo Sanchez balances "CON"

When it looks right, it seems easy.
Making it look right is what is hard.

Yes, I'm old, but I can bookend in style!

Norbert Florendo's picture

Love it or Hate it,
they DID IT!

Conference Logo

Now technically, you can debate the use of cap A, T, I as initials, but then, why is lowecase "yp" in small caps as in their actual logo?

Yes, I'm old, but I love breaking typographic rules!

Miss Tiffany's picture

I don't think it is wrong, Norbert, I think when the designer doesn't take care to re-draw the letters to fit the shape and to fit the weight of the other characters is when the designs really scream "WRONG"!

I have to disagree with you. The Peter Pocs poster is an example where a little more care should have been taken. I really don't even think the trick was necessary for the design. I'd argue that the poor type treatment distracts from what could have potentially been a very strong poster. The enlarged S and A also cause the top line to be read, initially, as SOFFENBACHA.

It looks to me as if Seymour Chwast drew those letters. Still, the P and T are a little too heavy.

The Sanchez piece works because the letters share the same width. Don't they?

Norbert Florendo's picture

Yes, Tiffany, I agree.

Rodrigo Sanchez's treatment is balanced the best.
Seymour Chwast's letters are drawn, and unfortunately, not weighted correctly.
And, yes, Peter Poc's is the poorest of the three.

In my hunt to find good examples on the web by well known designers it took almost 3 hours. And you can see by the time on my post 03:01 a.m. I gave up hunting and posted the three. Sloppy on my part.
It shows how little the motif is used correctly.

What do you think about the ATypI93 Conference logo?

Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

hrant's picture

> In my hunt to find good examples on the web by well known designers it took almost 3 hours.

And what about just proper use of smallcaps? It's pretty hard to find that too. But most type designers think it's a good idea to make them. Maybe it isn't (generally).


dezcom's picture

I have always had a problem with AtypI looking like ATYPL (atypical?) The lowercase "i" seems to help clear that up well.

I recall seeing the "bookend caps" (as we called it in the '50s) associated with nautical fare for some reason. I remember seeing antique books in New England sea towns with more than the usual amount of cap fore-and-afting--Also, painted on the names of sailing ships. Actually, the lettering on ships was often quite good since it was hand painted and there was no use of Arial or MS Office Times :-)


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