A monogram logo is an artistically arranged business acronym. It is sometimes called a lettermark, and it is usually derived from the initial letters of a brand name. While this makes it function effectively as an abbreviation, there is much more to monogram logos than that.
Historically, monograms have signified everything from artistry to royalty to team affiliation, and these associations have carried on to this day. To get a better sense of how monogram logos work and how to design a great one, we are going to take a look at their history and get inspiration from their modern interpretations.
Monograms in historical context
Monograms predate logo design as we know it today by millennia. Even so, it is worthwhile to understand their origins when planning to design a monogram. How monograms have been used in the past informs their usage and our perception of them in the present.
Monograms appear to have originated in Ancient Greece. They first served the practical purpose of identifying the city state to which currency belonged, the monogram fitting conveniently within the limited space of a coin. In this way, monograms became associated with the government and as markers of legitimacy.
Later, the burgeoning Christian church used “Christograms,” combinations of Christ’s initials in Greek. While these allowed early followers to identify one another and spaces of worship in secret code, the religious symbolism tied to the Christograms led to the initials being presented in artful configurations.
Skipping ahead to the medieval period, monograms became fairly common amongst guildsmen and artists. In this capacity, they acted as a shorthand signature, identifying a piece with the hand of a particular creative or guild. As they were associated with quality craftsmanship, this promoted even more artful monogram displays.
Monograms also became popular among the nobility as royal cyphers, in which a family name would be crafted onto a stamp as monogram. Documents and wax seals would be stamped with this monogram to signify royal approval. The cypher would also identify soldiers or government officials as belonging to the court.
In the modern era, after the birth of logo design, monograms found popularity amongst sports teams, partially due to their history of identifying members of a group.
For example, the New York Yankees has one of the oldest monogram logos, dating back to 1913. The association with royalty led to monograms becoming common in luxury brands, such as perfume and high end fashion.
These days, monograms are extremely versatile. They can act as a shorthand for a wordmark logo, and they help brands appeal to international markets where their full name may not translate well.
With that in mind, let’s get into the specifics of how monograms are typically put together.
Types of monogram logos
A monogram is, of course, made up of a proper name whose initials are displayed together. While most designers try to combine these letters in unique ways, there are plenty of common constructions that have naturally appeared over time. You can choose to build upon these or avoid them for something more creative.
The standard way to showcase initials is next to each other from left to right, as you would if simply writing the abbreviation within a sentence. While this might not seem especially creative, many brands appreciate this straightforward approach for its easy legibility.
For example, H&M uses the traditional initial display for fast brand recognition. They lean on the bright color and an energetic font style to carry the brand personality instead of the letter arrangement.
Intertwining the initial letters into a central configuration is one of the most common ways you will see monograms displayed. Although this is not as easily legible as the traditional display, it tends to make the monogram look like a more abstract symbol.
This is useful for staking out a sense of individuality and artisanal flair. There is also plenty of creative opportunity in how letters can be intertwined, aided by variety in letterforms and typographic styles themselves.
A reflected monogram displays two initials like a mirror, and for that reason it is generally more useful when they are the same letter. The benefit is a sense of symmetry and balance, which promotes serenity in the composition.
It can also create a practical, structured shape out of the letters as in the Gucci monogram logo which commonly finds its way onto belt buckles.
A three dimensional monogram often uses positioning or shading to create an optical illusion of depth. This can be done just to create a cool, eye-catching effect, and as a way to expand the number of ways you can intertwine letters.
The Playstation logo, however, does so as part of their brand. Back in the 90s when they were completely unknown, they wanted their monogram to identify them as the pioneers of 3D technology (in contrast to Nintendo), and they succeeded. Similarly, brands can use this approach to show that they operate outside of the box.
Monogram logo ideas and inspiration
Luxury monogram logos
Luxury monograms typically seek to convey one-of-a-kind quality through their logo design, similar to the artisans of the days of old. Some monogram logos achieve this through an understated approach, using stately serifs and metallic colors to evoke that classical elegance. At the same time, luxury is also about extravagance. Monograms that are full of decorative filagrees and cursive swirls come across as ornate, and they also mimic the flourishes of artisanal signatures.
Vintage monogram logos
As mentioned, monograms are an especially old design practice. Using them almost inherently evokes the past, and some designers choose to do so purposefully. This makes sense when working with family-owned or cultural businesses, where you want to create a sense of longevity and tradition.
Vintage monograms typically go for the stamp look akin to the royal cyphers, meaning they are commonly displayed within a circular border with decorative elements. Vintage logos also tend to have more illustrative features, harkening back to a hand-drawn, pre-digital design age. At the end of the day, there are many types of vintage looks and this can be referenced in the typographic style, whether you are going for the Tuscan serifs of the old West or fine calligraphy of handscribed manuscripts.
Geometric monogram logos
By taking letters and combining them, monograms are all about creating new shapes out of familiar ones. It is then no surprise that geometric design tends to be popular.
A geometric approach uses angles and points to connect the shapes in sturdy composition. This leads to designs that feel more like planned, meaningful symbols as opposed to a jumble of letters or a messy signature. In some cases, such as the Oriental Uniform logo, the underlying geometric shapes behind the letters are simplified, creating a much more striking and unexpected monogram.
Pictorial monogram logos
Monograms are sometimes avoided because at the end of the day, it can be hard to make letters feel as creative as traditional, pictorial logos. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of monogram logo designers use illustrative elements within their monograms to give their logos that extra touch of personality.
This can be achieved subtly, as in the wheat grain ‘S’ of the Shindig Brewery monogram. Designers can also go the extra mile to create elaborate frames around the monogram or work the monogram shape into a full blown illustration. Either way, it just goes to show that the shapes built out of these letterforms are an excellent jumping off point for creative exploration.
Make your monogram logo memorable
Even if they are abbreviations, monogram logos can say a whole lot. They can be as personal as signatures and as creatively adventurous as paintings. For all the millennia that designers have been creating monograms, they continue to find new ways to reinvent them to this day. For this reason, if you want a monogram that is more than some initials, you’ll need a talented designer.