Design Process: Toast Logo Revisions & Visual Symmetry

We’re always excited to share our process with you, and we are especially excited when we can marry the behind-the-scenes info with design education. This blog will describe the “minor” logo revisions we applied to our own logo AND illustrate an important design principle: visual symmetry. This is also a good reminder that even logos that look simple – “Google just typed their name in a font, right? What’s the big deal?” – have a lot more going on than you realize. Countless hours (and sweat and tears) went into creating the final logo that you see.

I can already hear the question, so let’s knock this out first – “If I don’t notice the changes, then why do they matter?” To be honest, making sure you don’t notice the revisions is kind of the point. If you are conscious of the details, then they are distracting you. A lot of what designers do is fix anything that makes you think about the construction of a mark so that you can just enjoy the final solution.

Once we decided the general concept and design for the Toast logo, the real work began. We had some specific challenges in creating a visually symmetrical and balanced logo. Note the emphasis on the word visually – there is a big difference between literal symmetry and visual symmetry. Something can be literally centered or symmetrical, yet still appear unbalanced for any number of reasons. While literal symmetry is always nice, it’s most important to create visual symmetry. This means elements are positioned in a way that feels pleasing and balanced to the human eye.

If you look closely at a font, you can see this in practice. Get a ruler and notice how capital Os are always a little taller than the other capital letters – that’s because the curve makes the O feel smaller than the other letters. As a result, font designers make the O slightly bigger so that it will feel like it is the same size as the other letters. It is more important that it appear to be the same size than that it actually is the same size.

 
 

In refining our logo, our first step was to customize the typography (aka type, font, type treatment, or lettering). We used the font Gotham HTF as the basis for the logo’s type treatment, but we wanted the letters to be softer, so we rounded the edges. This was especially important in the A – in the original font, you’ll see that the A is flat at the top; however, we wanted the top of the A to end in a rounded point that would fit comfortably under our triangular logomark.

 
 

After we customized the type and placed it with our logomark, we realized we had another problem – when the A and triangles lined up, the logo appeared unbalanced. This was because the letter A was not in the literal center of the word TOAST, so for the A to nestle into the triangles above it, the triangles had to be off center too.

The problem in our logo is that the O and the S are not the same width, so although the A is symmetrical and the Ts at the beginning and end are the same width, the A was off center, pushing the triangles off center too. We tried a variety of solutions, including adjusting the space between the letters, widening the S, and thinning the O, but these were all too noticeable -- in a bad way. They solved our symmetry problem, but they created visual distractions.

Often, the final solution comes from a combination of things, and that is true in this case too. When we adjusted the spacing, it created big, obvious gaps – until we lengthened the crossbar of the Ts. Once we widened the Ts, we were able to adjust the spacing without creating noticeable gaps in the word.

You might consider this minor revision work, but this is what makes the difference between a professional logo and an amateur logo. We spend a lot of our time in this stage of logo refinement, though our clients are rarely aware of the specifics (we find that clients aren’t usually interested in these details because they don’t affect the meaning of the logo).

That said, if you’re curious about the process and want the nitty gritty details, ask your designer to keep you informed about the behind-the-scenes work. We love to talk about it because when we find the right solution, it feels like we’ve solved a 10,000 piece puzzle, and we are proud and excited about the breakthrough. And ultimately, these modifications and details are a major part of our job as designers, and people rarely know the work that goes into it.

If you’re another designer or in a totally different field, we’d love to hear about the invisible parts of your job, too. What takes up your time and energy that isn’t an “obvious” part of your job? Tell us about the ways your job is so much more than the three sentence grade school Career Day summary.