Joined Type: From Ligature to Logo

imcurious blog — modern connection 2

Often in the history of design, concepts become outdated or unpopular, and they fall from the public design zeitgeist. In the case of ligatures, their popularity waned in the world of typography, but their purpose saw itself remodelled within a culture of logo design. It is difficult not to see the legacy of ligatures in logos. Ligatures, the conjoining of two different characters, were originally used when movable type was first invented. It was effective in making sure that typographic forms were visually balanced, but had a second purpose: efficiency. When using a single ligature rather than two characters of an alphabet, type designers were able to lay out one less block of type on a page. As time went on the public fell out of love with ligatures. Some say that the public never had a fascination with the joined forms, but that type designers were the ones who loved them. On top of that their goal of invisibility was achieved and so they weren’t missed when they declined in popularity. This seems well supported because eventually conjoined type reemerged with a vengeance, except this time, its goal wasn’t for pure functionality — it was to stand out.

Despite their following decline, ligatures live on. One can see conjoined letterforms anywhere they go, but the difference is that they are logos, not simply joined characters in a book. Take the CNN logo or the CW logo. The type flows together in a single, connected lock-up, Although these are not typeset in a book, they follow the same formula that ligatures did. They are a heavily designed conjoining of characters that provide a more effective read. Although the purposes differ in that the priority of ligatures was to help type flow more effectively while the purpose of a logo is to effectively brand a corporation with stylized letterforms.

CW logo courtesy of CBS and Warner Brothers
CNN logo courtesy of CNN
Vaio logo courtesy of Sony

Nothing is ever truly new, and this is especially the case with logo design and ligatures. A practice that learned how to efficiently and beautifully merge two characters saw its rebirth in the modern age. However, with its rebirth came many concessions and redirections, such as having an entirely different purpose. But no matter the form, whether it is fortissimo or Vaio, the joining of characters to communicate new purpose has its roots in movable type.

Bibliography:

Lorena. “For The Love of Ligature.” PlumDesign Logo Design Category. Plum Design, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983. Print.

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