“If you really hate someone, teach them to recognise bad kerning,” says the web comic XKCD. Kerning is how designers make the spacing between letters give a text a visual harmony, and kerning text is one of the first things you learn as a designer. It’s a design rule that’s supposed to be unbreakable.
If you’re a designer (and maybe even if you’re not), you’ve probably noticed we chose not to kern our logo. We had something more important than visual harmony in mind, and that’s usability and creativity.
We’re a digital agency. This means we’re one part design agency. As much as designers love to break rules, you’d imagine it’s pretty reasonable for a design agency not to break the first rule of design, at least in our own logo. But when we did a visual rebranding last year, the new visual identity included a logo in the font Space Mono. Not altered. Available for free from Google Fonts. That means you can just type it on a normal keyboard.
The font is a monospace type, which means every letter uses the same amount of space (the “I” and the “W” are the same width, for example), which is the kind of font developers use in code editors. We chose this because we’re also a technology agency with deep roots in development, and we wanted our visual identity to reflect our technology and design strengths equally.
This font was, and still is, the best direction for us and for what we are.
We could have. When this no-kerning suggestion was first made, designers on our team didn’t hold back –“It hurts my eyes,” “the gaps are too big,” and “it’s ugly and now it’s all I can see” — and we didn’t even manage to reach consensus on it in the end.
Kerning would make the logo more visually pleasing, but not kerning made it consistent in its usage, rather than its appearance. Space Mono is our primary font for documents, presentations, and anything else, and doing it this way meant that anyone typing DARESAY into a document has the logo at their fingertips.
Doing it any other way would have meant that there would be a kerned and absolute version locked in a template made by the branding team, and would prioritise designers’ use of it. They find it easier to use visual elements and place them perfectly where they need to be, but everyone needed to be able to use the logo.
No matter what we did, we knew that in real companies, the single source of brand truth quickly becomes divided, and soon you’ve got one version that’s been kerned by the team in charge of the identity, and another version used by people who are copy-pasting it into documents and presentations. We’re experienced enough to know that this is practically unavoidable.
By using the font as raw material – no PNG, SVG or jpeg to find, drag, and move around – we made it equally accessible and usable by everyone on the team. It was still a hard decision, and we knew it would upset some designers, but on our identity team, we voted – 4 to 1 – to do it anyway.
In other words, by making it meaningful and putting users first, it’s clear for us that our logo is designed.
Of course, we provided pre-made and ready-placed logos in all of our templates, and we made rules for logo usage. But we decided that didn’t go far enough.
Creativity needs constraints, but we believe if you create too many constraints in your brand, forcing the logo to be used with too much exactitude, you’ll limit the quantity and diversity of stories that can be told with it. Branding assets have sometimes become too important for the people who made them, and the rules can overpower the formats and media the brand might appear in. We didn’t want that.
Now if a Daresayer wants to create a new type of document, an app, a web prototype, a game, or some kind of one-of-a-kind presentation format, they can stay true to our brand with just seven letters on their keyboard, and they don’t need to be a designer to do it.
They say your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room, and the same can be said for design: it’s how people use a thing when the designer has left the building. We believe a brand should be consistent and should empower its users to go beyond the limited boundaries that a branding team can provide.
We understand it’s not a choice everyone can agree with, and that, if you’re a designer, it might still hurt your eyes. But not kerning our logo was a statement that we know design, and it was a decision to put humans first, before visual perfection. It might look like an odd choice, but we see it as a brave move to push the boundaries of conventional branding.
To us, it’s a statement about how deeply we care about creating powerful and accessible tools that work for everyone.