Few things frustrate me as much as a great logo poorly executed. It’s like a beautiful piece of clothing made with cheap fabric. You can wear it. But it doesn’t feel as good as it should.
This is an endless debate among designers. And one that depends on the era you’re having it in. In my opinion, a good logo is four things.
Of those qualities, Leboncoin had the first three. It was a simple sans serif wordmark with just a few distinctive traits: the ligature between the
l and the
e, and the rounded top parts of the letterform. These were perfect for a brand that was (and still is) about connecting people through secondhand exchanges. It worked fine in all sizes, and in all colors; it was a great logo. Until you looked closely.
The first obvious issue was the
i. The rounded base didn’t match the other letters. And the dot was attracting too much attention, both because of its size and because it was positioned rather high above the stem.
The counters (the white space inside the letters) seemed a bit off too — more on that later. We could feel that this logo was all about round shapes. The fact that its author didn’t replicate this logic on the counters of the
n felt like a missed opportunity to me.
The logo was also unnecessarily tall. When your name doesn’t have any descenders (letters that go below the baseline like
p), I generally don’t like having high ascenders because they move the optical center of the wordmark upwards1.
The first thing you learn when you start designing letters is to obey nature. Nature doesn’t like rational shapes. Nature likes organic. And organic is often counter-intuitive.
Let’s illustrate this with a few basic concepts and see where they apply to our logo.
When we conceptualize a letter, we think about its positive shape — the black part. In reality, the white, negative space matters just as much. I would even argue that it matters more on-screen than on paper since screens emit more light and therefore make the color white more present visually.
If you want proof of that, here are two perfectly identical squares. See how the white one seems bigger?
Consequently, while the following shapes all fit in the exact same square, the circle and the triangle appear to be smaller. That’s because the negative space around them is bigger and “eats” the shape from the outside.
This needs to be compensated by making the round and pointy areas a bit more salient. This is what we call overshoot. And it’s built in every good typeface.
Sadly, leboncoin’s logo was full of round shapes. And most of them were not adjusted to compensate for this optical effect. Even on the few letters that had been corrected, the correction was too shy, and not systemically applied to the top and bottom.
Looking at the logo from afar, this made the
c appear to be positioned a bit higher than the
Now you can’t unsee it, can you?
As we just saw, negative space can be as, if not more tricky to manage than the positive one. This is especially true when balancing closed and open letters.
b, n, c, o allow us to illustrate.
What struck me first was that the letters
b, n, c appeared slightly larger than the
o. This time, it was not a question of white space around the letters. It was a question of “inner light”.
Not all counters have walls around them. Letters like
a have “open windows” letting more light come inside the shape. This needs to be compensated by reducing the proportions of the letters and the space between them.
In the original logo, the
c was rather well-spaced with the
o (understand: close enough). The problem was its proportions. They were exactly the same as those of the
o. And thus, being an open shape, it appeared much larger than its sibling.
The situation on the
n was less critical. The counters had been balanced, but probably just not enough.
For reference, here are a few examples of how the GOATs did these kinds of corrections.
b was also problematic but for a different reason. Here, the problem was not the area of the counterform, but its shape. The angles formed at the junction of the bowl and the stem made the counter appear a bit larger than a perfectly round one. This is because the human brain detects angles better.
These two shapes seem pretty similar right? Yet the area of the first one is bigger.
The curves in this logo looked like they were
coming straight out of Mordor in desperate need of attention. To be fair, drawing good curves is not a simple task. Professional type designers can spend days on glyphs like
& because these are so hard to get right. But hey, if you want to draw a logo, that’s part of the job.
The common wisdom in type is to never add nodes where there’s no need to. The fewer nodes you have, the simpler it is to control your curve. If you come from the graphic design world, this is pretty similar to creating a gradient. You might be tempted to add intermediary steps to better control the transition from color A to B, but the more you create control points, the harder it is to achieve a smooth transition from start to finish. The same applies to curves.
So then, when should we add nodes? The answer is simple: at the extremes — points at which the curve becomes tangential with either a horizontal or a vertical line.
Also, the handles of the nodes should always be positioned on the axis of the tangential line. Diagonal handles on curves are difficult to manage and reserved for exceptional circumstances — like controlling the spine of an
With that in mind, let’s look at the original logo under the microscope.
Every blue dot you see is a node. And there are probably three times too many of them.
Another tricky part when drawing curves is achieving what mathematicians call continuous tension. Instead of telling you about the theory behind it 3, let’s look at two (almost) identical shapes. Which one seems more harmonious to you?
Most people answer B. They can’t always explain why, but they certainly can tell that something’s off with A.
This is because the green and red parts of the curve don’t have the same tension when they meet. The green line has a rather smooth, even curvature, while the red one is much more abrupt at the top. If you were driving a car from green to red at a continuous speed, you would have to turn the wheel quite suddenly to stay on track. This is the reason why all roads and railways are based on what mathematicians call transition curves (also referred to as Euler, or Clothoïd curves)4.
Our eyes can easily see that a curve is not continuous because they’ve been “trained” in an environment that is full of them. Take a sports car, an iPhone, an animal, or any (good quality) font, they’re full of continuous curves.
With that in mind, let’s now look at our original logo. I’ll zoom in so you can see what I’m talking about.
Now you see it, right? The bottom of the
l and the top of the
n are bumpy.
You might assume that the new logo is just an ironed-out version of the original one, but I actually redrew it entirely from scratch. I didn’t import the logo into my software.
As for almost all of my wordmarks projects, I started by drawing the letter
n, then expanded the glyphset until I had enough material to work with.
I didn’t just redesign
leboncoin. I created the full matching alphabet. Why? Because every letter informs the design of the next one. You never know how, but you might find the solution to a problem on the
a while drawing a
? for example. Also because, to understand the “vibe” of a typeface, zooming on a couple of letters is less efficient than looking at a full paragraph.
Now, that’s not to say that I created a fully-functioning typeface. That would have taken years. But I did design almost all of the lowercase letters.
This logo rework was part of a larger brand lifting. The rest of the design was overseen by the amazing parisian agency 4quatre. They suggested we create a better connection on the
le ligature. Given the shape of both letters, it felt natural to rotate the
e and have an almost scriptural junction.
But this idea turned out to be quite hard to execute. And there we go again with type design theory!
We saw earlier that white space could optically distort our perceptions of letters. But this is also true of black space.
In instances where lines cross or connect, the junction between them can appear too dense because our brains (or computer screens) tend to simplify the shape. This is the reason why most typefaces have thinner diagonals on letters like
M for example. In some extreme cases, type designers even choose to add what we call “ink traps” to artificially prevent this effect from happening.
So we had to make the diagonal bar of the
e significantly thinner than the vertical stem of the
I could speak for ages about all the tiny differences between before and after. But maybe this is just easier to show you with this animation.
And that’s it!
Here’s an excellent article with more details about how to draw good curves.↩︎
Note that not all typefaces need to strictly apply the principle of continuous curvature. This is especially true of serif typefaces, where “accidents” can be intentional, and create a handwritten texture. On sans serifs though, the linearity of the letterforms makes mistakes more obvious.↩︎
If you’re into math, here’s the scientific explanation.↩︎