Strolling through the mall one day . . .

I’m on my way to Chico’s, my wife’s favorite store, to pick up a gift, and along the way I’m noticing signage. Walk with me.

Below is Chico’s. One typeface simply set, the perfect logotype. No graphics, boxes, borders, shadows, glows, swooshes, lines, dots, deeper meanings, or any other complications. The signboard has a frame, and its letters have dimension, which from camera level gives the illusion of an outline, but they’re not part of the logo.

Chico's signage at the mall

Note the industrial quality of the typeface. Chico’s sells women’s wear, yet its typeface could brand a machine shop, a railroad, a law office, a bank. Aggressively rectangular, single stroke weight, slightly rounded corners, not a feminine characteristic in sight. Similar is the Chanel logo. Is it the typeface you’d choose?

Below is our view down the sidewalk — Soma, Lucy, Coldwater Creek; all, like Chico’s, are simple, short, clear. Soma is signed in overtly sensual Snell Roundhand, an off-the-shelf typeface. Would you dare charge for this? I hope you would, if it perfectly expresses the vibe of the store.

Soma, Lucy, Coldwater Creek signage at the mall

Lucy sells women’s activewear. Its logo is industrial like Chico’s. Heavy, compressed, sans-serif type, white, on an orange rectangle. Feminine? Not by any stereotypical standard. Yet it looks good, it’s easy to identify, and it’s easy to remember. It “brands” well, meaning it’s easily transferred to many formats and venues. It’s a visual oxymoron, and yet it’s working.

Lucy signage at the mall

Below, Lucy’s door. So simple. I hope you appreciate how effortless this is. One rectangle (the word) centered on another (the glass). By effortless, I don’t mean it didn’t take time. It took lots of time, mainly trying and discarding more elaborate alternatives.

Lucy signage at the mall

Below, Coldwater Creek, a longer name, is set in Palatino italic, another unmodified, off-the-shelf typeface. You can type it in five seconds (although they should have taken another five to kern the space between words). Could you leave it at this? Or would you feel tempted to do more?

Coldwater Creek signage at the mall

In contrast to the simplicity, around the corner we come upon Sole Desire, whose designer succumbed to temptation. This sign has a funky typeface and a logo, which is comprised of a psychedelic S and a partially obscured D shoehorned into a box. The letters don’t match. The box style is different from the logotype. It doesn’t fit the sign well. It looks like nothing native to earth. It’s hard to decipher.

Sole Desire signage at the mall

Question is, what were they thinking? Does the SD say something that Sole Desire doesn’t? To find out, let’s take it away, and fix the typeface conflict, too . . .

Sole Desire mod signage at the mall

. . . and the result is simpler, more grown-up, more in line with the vibe of the mall. Is it the right look? Hard to know. Sole Desire’s shoes are heavily stylized — party shoes, biker boots, spikes, sequins, things like that. An edgier sign would not be out of line. We can know, however, that their current sign is not the right one. Poor design is never right.

Back to Chico’s and Lucy, the oxymorons, whose typefaces do not expressly reflect their products. Why do they work? They work because they’re neutral without being bland.

Chicos Lucy logos in useChico’s, for example, is known for its beautifully complex outfits and elaborate, scene-stealing jewelry (left). What typeface could portray its wide array of styles? A neutral canvas will showcase everything that’s put on it.

Lucy is different. Unlike Soma, whose feminine lines are all boudoir, soft and breathy, Lucy’s activewear is vigorous, outdoorsy, sweaty, drippy — harder. Muscles are being built, which a square logo portrays really well.

The one nod to femininity that the logos share? Both are (usually) set in lowercase. And both can be softened with light colors.

Talk to me.


Click here to jump to that Before & After logo article listing a few posts ago.

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Posted in Branding, Critique, Design, Logo design | 42 Comments