Monograms have a prominent place in contemporary visual culture thanks to their employment by aspirational fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Gucci. Combining existing letterforms may appear straightforward. But if you want your finished monogram design to look professional and work for your brand then insight into the process will help you produce an elegant identity design solution.
What is a monogram?
A monogram is a single form created by combining multiple letters.
A lone character is not a monogram and is known simply as a letterform. A row of separate initials isn’t a monogram either. Two or more letterforms (or graphemes) must be brought together to create one motif.
The LA Dodgers provide a clear example of a monogram as the bar of the “L” creates the crossbar of the “A.” Under Armour draw the crossbar of the “A” with the bowl of the “U.”
When do monograms work best?
A pleasing aspect of monograms is the work your brain does to untangle them and recognize each letterform. This “aha moment” can produce the sought after “smile in the mind” prized in all forms of graphic communication as the viewer “gets the joke.”
If a company has a particularly long name then using initials or some other form of abbreviation is advisable for your logo. The London Symphony Orchestra is a bit of a mouthful so shortening it to LSO seems logical. The brilliant thing about their celebrated monogram is that it also resembles a conductor holding a baton.
Major League Baseball provides a number of high-profile examples too. The New York Yankees, obviously, but also the cap insignia of local rivals The Mets as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
If a company is a little less well-known then a monogram alone may be too vague as a means of identification. But designing a monogram can provide a useful alternative to compliment a wordmark, especially in smaller spaces like social media avatars where a long logo won’t fit. Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci each use monograms as an alternative means of identification to their wordmark and demonstrate its appropriateness for physical products.
Consider the most important use-cases. Where will the logo appear? That will help determine whether a monogram is a practical choice.
The monogram design process
1. Writing a brief
Every successful design project begins with a clear brief. Knowing the goals before starting helps both designer and client enjoy the process and delivers great results.
Make sure the brief answers the following questions: What does the business do? Who are the customers? Is there an existing logo or other visual assets? Where will the monogram be used? How would you describe the brand? What feeling are you trying to evoke?
2. Choosing which letters to include
This point isn’t as obvious as it may seem! Long names can be shortened by using initials. But you don’t necessarily need to incorporate every single one. For example “Sarah James and Richard Jones’ Classic Car Repairs and Servicing” probably doesn’t need to include S.J.R.J.C.C.R.S.! “J&J Classics” would roll off the tongue and a “JJ” monogram could be an ideal complement.
You could also take a different approach to the abbreviation. For example, The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company became a well-known brand as 3M. Get creative.
Ideas don’t come from the computer. Ideas come from your imagination. However tempting it is to jump straight into your design software of choice, always begin by sketching on paper.
Don’t get lost in research either. Endlessly scrolling through the work of other designers. A monogram is a simple brief. You are combining letterforms. So sharpen your pencil and start sketching.
I always start with small and rough sketches before refining them. Simply draw the letterforms under consideration and create as many variations of each as you can within a set time. Then think about different ways in which they could be combined.
Once you have lots of approaches on paper evaluate which you can develop further into a design solution appropriate to the brief. Then refine your sketches into larger and more detailed versions before scanning or photographing them ready for digitizing.
If any of the sketches are close to the final version, then the drawing can be imported into design software to build a vectorized version. Logos must be created as vector artwork as it can be scaled to any size without loss of quality.
Sketching on paper is not only the method of course. Different routes can be explored using the software. Trial existing fonts with the appropriate characteristics for your brand. Try different ways of combining the letterforms in your monogram. Overlay, interlock, join, reflect. Remove parts of the letter whilst keeping it recognizable. Keep copies of each version as iterations across your artboard.
If you have used an existing font then some customization will help make your monogram unique. Another avenue is to create your own letterforms using the pen tool or by combining geometric shapes. You could also add enclosing shapes or flourishes to make the motif more distinctive or to achieve balance.
If you’re looking for more inspiration then check out these creative monogram logos.
5. Choosing colors
Logos and symbols should always be designed in black on white in the first instance before adding color. This ensures your design will work in different applications.
Then invert the design and evaluate the white-on-black version. Negative spaces look optically smaller in this arrangement so make sure that they are large enough to retain pleasing proportions and that they don’t disappear at small sizes. Zoom out and check! The design may need finessing.
Occasionally a separate inverted version is created to counteract the optical differences whenever lighter tints appear on a darker background. This is not usually necessary but is worth bearing in mind in case your monogram requires it.
If brand colors already exist then ensure your monogram works well in this palette. Otherwise, choose an appropriate color for the brand and build your palette in which to show off your design.
6. Testing your monogram design
It is important to ensure that any identity design works in the real world. The monogram should be tested in the most common use-cases. Mockups can help you visualize the finished product and will present the monogram design in the best light.
Evaluating your monogram design
The designer and client will benefit from some criteria by which you can evaluate the design. Ask these questions together.
- Is it legible? Ensure the marque can be read clearly.
- Is it appropriate? Does it suit the brand’s category and personality?
- Is it simple? Monograms exist primarily to identify. Don’t try to do too much. Simple logos are more likely to become iconic and work better across a range of applications.
- Is it distinctive? Never copy the work of another designer. If you have used an existing typeface then ensure it has been modified in some way to create a unique design.
- Is it balanced? An experienced designer can ensure that a form has elegant proportions, is optically balanced, and explain this to their client.
- Does it work at small sizes? Check this with particular attention to counters and negative space.
- Are there any issues with the technical drawing? Ensure the lines are sharp and smooth and deliver the file in a vector format.
- Have any unwanted forms been created? Can you read letters that aren’t supposed to be there? Are any ugly or inappropriate shapes present?
- Does it work in trial applications? Review mockups to make sure.
- Does it answer the brief? The most important question of all! Review the brief to confirm that you have arrived at an appropriate solution.
Ready to begin your monogram design?
Now that you have all the steps and know-how, it’s time to start your monogram design project. A monogram could be the elegant identity solution you needed all along. It works in small spaces, looks great on physical products and possesses a timeless quality.
There’s no substitute for the skill of an experienced designer. So if you’re looking for the ideal monogram design for your business then work with our talented designers to make it happen.
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About the author
Matt Brunton is a Brand Strategist, Identity Designer, and Online Educator. When Matt’s not helping purpose-driven start-ups or working on his new YouTube channel you’ll find him enjoying life with his wife and their three sons in the North of England. You can see more of his work at www.mattbruntondesign.com