The 20 greatest Hunter S. Thompson quotes

by Joel Willans

Hunter S Thompson quotes

Famed as the creator of gonzo journalism, the highly subjective blend of fact and fiction, Hunter S. Thompson is arguably one of America’s greatest ever chroniclers of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times. He is best known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared as a two-part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. This tale of a long weekend road trip has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken and perfectly showcases Thompson’s outlook on life. But it’s not just in his works that he’s shares his opinon about life, love and the world at large. Thompson was a man who never shied away from speaking his mind and the internet is littered with his quotes.

Happily the vast online book community Goodreads, which has over 20 million avid readers, has helped sort the wheat words from the chaff. Here’s their selection, in reverse order, of Thompson’s greatest quotes, both from his writings and from the man himself.

20. “There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.”

Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80′s

19. “I was not proud of what I had learned but I never doubted that it was worth knowing.”

The Rum Diary

18. “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


17. “I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.”

16. “Too weird to live, too rare to die!”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

15. “If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”

14. “It never got weird enough for me.”

13. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

12. “Some may never live, but the crazy never die.”

11. “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

hunter s thompson quotes

10. “THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

9. “Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”

The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman

8. “No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

7. “Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”

6. “Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.”

5. “So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”


4. “We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”

The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

3. “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

2. “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”

The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

1. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”


UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

For updates and more adventures follow me on twitter and check out my website

This is a film I made after some adventures underground with Steve Duncan ( last summer. We also have a teaser video which you can watch on my vimeo page (

For more information about the video and our other adventures please contact Andrew Wonder (Director/Cinematographer) at

Steve and I just completed another underground expedition with Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge ( It was featured in a three page article on the front page of the NY Times metro section and was written by Alan Feuer ( We were also covered by NPR's Jacki Lyden whose report will be aired on 1/2/11 and posted on NPR's site (

Shot on a canon 5d mkii with canon 24 f/1.4 (version 1) with the zacuto rapid fire, Zoom H4N and a sennheiser g2 wireless lav. The zacuto was really great at being there when I needed it but also staying out of the way.

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Thanks for watching!

122 Things you Need to know About Investing

A year ago I started writing what I hoped would be a book called 500 Things you Need to know About Investing. I wanted to outline my favorite quotes, stats, and lessons about investing.

I failed. I quickly realized the idea was long on ambition, short on planning.

But I made it to 122, and figured it would be better in article form. Here it is.

1. Saying “I’ll be greedy when others are fearful” is easier than actually doing it.

2. When most people say they want to be a millionaire, what they really mean is “I want to spend $1 million,” which is literally the opposite of being a millionaire.

3. “Some stuff happened” should replace 99% of references to “it’s a perfect storm.”

4. Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow begins, “The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than your own.” This should be every market commentator’s motto.

5. Blogger Jesse Livermore writes, “My main life lesson from investing: self-interest is the most powerful force on earth, and can get people to embrace and defend almost anything.”

6. As Erik Falkenstein says: “In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost. The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves.”

7. There is a difference between, “He predicted the crash of 2008,” and “He predicted crashes, one of which happened to occur in 2008.” It’s important to know the difference when praising investors.

8. Investor Dean Williams once wrote, “Confidence in a forecast rises with the amount of information that goes into it. But the accuracy of the forecast stays the same.”

9. Wealth is relative. As comedian Chris Rock said, “If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah’s money he’d jump out the window.”

10. Only 7% of Americans know stocks rose 32% last year, according to Gallup. One-third believe the market either fell or stayed the same. Everyone is aware when markets fall; bull markets can go unnoticed.

11. Dean Williams once noted that “Expertise is great, but it has a bad side effect: It tends to create the inability to accept new ideas.” Some of the world’s best investors have no formal backgrounds in finance — which helps them tremendously.

12. The Financial Times wrote, “In 2008 the three most admired personalities in sport were probably Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius.” The same falls from grace happen in investing. Chose your role models carefully.

13. Investor Ralph Wagoner once explained how markets work, recalled by Bill Bernstein: “He likens the market to an excitable dog on a very long leash in New York City, darting randomly in every direction. The dog’s owner is walking from Columbus Circle, through Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum. At any one moment, there is no predicting which way the pooch will lurch. But in the long run, you know he’s heading northeast at an average speed of three miles per hour. What is astonishing is that almost all of the market players, big and small, seem to have their eye on the dog, and not the owner.”

14. Investor Nick Murray once said, “Timing the market is a fool’s game, whereas time in the market is your greatest natural advantage.” Remember this the next time you’re compelled to cash out.

15. Bill Seidman once said, “You never know what the American public is going to do, but you know that they will do it all at once.” Change is as rapid as it is unpredictable.

16. Napoleon’s definition of a military genius was, “the man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.” Same goes in investing.

17. Blogger Jesse Livermore writes,”Most people, whether bull or bear, when they are right, are right for the wrong reason, in my opinion.”

18. Investors anchor to the idea that a fair price for a stock must be more than they paid for it. It’s one of the most common, and dangerous, biases that exists. “People do not get what they want or what they expect from the markets; they get what they deserve,” writes Bill Bonner.

19. Jason Zweig writes, “The advice that sounds the best in the short run is always the most dangerous in the long run.”

20. Billionaire investor Ray Dalio once said, “The more you think you know, the more closed-minded you’ll be.” Repeat this line to yourself the next time you’re certain of something.

21. During recessions, elections, and Federal Reserve policy meetings, people become unshakably certain about things they know very little about.

22. “Buy and hold only works if you do both when markets crash. It’s much easier to both buy and hold when markets are rising,” says Ben Carlson.

23. Several studies have shown that people prefer a pundit who is confident to one who is accurate. Pundits are happy to oblige.

24. According to J.P. Morgan, 40% of stocks have suffered “catastrophic losses” since 1980, meaning they fell at least 70% and never recovered.

25. John Reed once wrote, “When you first start to study a field, it seems like you have to memorize a zillion things. You don’t. What you need is to identify the core principles — generally three to twelve of them — that govern the field. The million things you thought you had to memorize are simply various combinations of the core principles.” Keep that in mind when getting frustrated over complicated financial formulas.

26. James Grant says, “Successful investing is about having people agree with you … later.”

27. Scott Adams writes, “A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.”

28. According to Vanguard, 72% of mutual funds benchmarked to the S&P 500 underperformed the index over a 20-year period ending in 2010. The phrase “professional investor” is a loose one.

29. “If your investment horizon is long enough and your position sizing is appropriate, you simply don’t argue with idiocy, you bet against it,” writes Bruce Chadwick.

30. The phrase “double-dip recession” was mentioned 10.8 million times in 2010 and 2011, according to Google. It never came. There were virtually no mentions of “financial collapse” in 2006 and 2007. It did come. A similar story can be told virtually every year.

31. According to Bloomberg, the 50 stocks in the S&P 500 that Wall Street rated the lowest at the end of 2011 outperformed the overall index by 7 percentage points over the following year.

32. “The big money is not in the buying or the selling, but in the sitting,” said Jesse Livermore.

33. Investors want to believe in someone. Forecasters want to earn a living. One of those groups is going to be disappointed. I think you know which.

34. In a poll of 1,000 American adults, asked, “How many millions are in a trillion?” 79% gave an incorrect answer or didn’t know. Keep this in mind when debating large financial problems.

35. As last year’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Warren Buffett said he has owned 400 to 500 stocks during his career, and made most of his money on 10 of them. This is common: a large portion of investing success often comes from a tiny proportion of investments.

36. Wall Street consistently expects earnings to beat expectations. It also loves oxymorons.

37. The S&P 500 gained 27% in 2009 — a phenomenal year. Yet 66% of investors thought it fell that year, according to a survey by Franklin Templeton. Perception and reality can be miles apart.

38. As Nate Silver writes, “When a possibility is unfamiliar to us, we do not even think about it.” The biggest risk is always something that no one is talking about, thinking about, or preparing for. That’s what makes it risky.

39. The next recession is never like the last one.

40. Since 1871, the market has spent 40% of all years either rising or falling more than 20%. Roaring booms and crushing busts are perfectly normal.

41. As the saying goes, “Save a little bit of money each month, and at the end of the year you’ll be surprised at how little you still have.”

42. John Maynard Keynes once wrote, “It is safer to be a speculator than an investor in the sense that a speculator is one who runs risks of which he is aware and an investor is one who runs risks of which he is unaware.”

43. “History doesn’t crawl; it leaps,” writes Nassim Taleb. Events that change the world — presidential assassinations, terrorist attacks, medical breakthroughs, bankruptcies — can happen overnight.

44. Our memories of financial history seem to extend about a decade back. “Time heals all wounds,” the saying goes. It also erases many important lessons.

45. You are under no obligation to read or watch financial news. If you do, you are under no obligation to take any of it seriously.

46. The most boring companies — toothpaste, food, bolts — can make some of the best long-term investments. The most innovative, some of the worst.

47. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 34% of Americans said gold was the best long-term investment, while 17% said stocks. Since then, stocks are up 87%, gold is down 35%.

48. According to economist Burton Malkiel, 57 equity mutual funds underperformed the S&P 500 from 1970 to 2012. The shocking part of that statistic is that 57 funds could stay in business for four decades while posting poor returns. Hope often triumphs over reality.

49. Most economic news that we think is important doesn’t matter in the long run. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic once wrote, “I’ve written hundreds of articles about the economy in the last two years. But I think I can reduce those thousands of words to one sentence. Things got better, slowly.”

50. A broad index of U.S. stocks increased 2,000-fold between 1928 and 2013, but lost at least 20% of its value 20 times during that period. People would be less scared of volatility if they knew how common it was.

51. The “evidence is unequivocal,” Daniel Kahneman writes, “there’s a great deal more luck than skill in people getting very rich.”

52. There is a strong correlation between knowledge and humility. The best investors realize how little they know.

53. Not a single person in the world knows what the market will do in the short run.

54. Most people would be better off if they stopped obsessing about Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the president, and focused on their own financial mismanagement.

55. In hindsight, everyone saw the financial crisis coming. In reality, it was a fringe view before mid-2007. The next crisis will be the same (they all work like that).

56. There were 272 automobile companies in 1909. Through consolidation and failure, three emerged on top, two of which went bankrupt. Spotting a promising trend and a winning investment are two different things.

57. The more someone is on TV, the less likely his or her predictions are to come true. (University of California, Berkeley psychologist Phil Tetlock has data on this).

58. Maggie Mahar once wrote that “men resist randomness, markets resist prophecy.” Those six words explain most people’s bad experiences in the stock market.

59. “We’re all just guessing, but some of us have fancier math,” writes Josh Brown.

60. When you think you have a great idea, go out of your way to talk with someone who disagrees with it. At worst, you continue to disagree with them. More often, you’ll gain valuable perspective. Fight confirmation bias like the plague.

61. In 1923, nine of the most successful U.S. businessmen met in Chicago. Josh Brown writes:

Within 25 years, all of these great men had met a horrific end to their careers or their lives:

The president of the largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died a bankrupt man; the president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died penniless; the president of the largest gas company, Howard Hobson, suffered a mental breakdown, ending up in an insane asylum; the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, had just been released from prison; the bank president, Leon Fraser, had taken his own life; the wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died penniless; the head of the world’s greatest monopoly, Ivar Krueger the ‘match king’ also had taken his life; and the member of President Harding’s cabinet, Albert Fall, had just been given a pardon from prison so that he could die at home.

62. Try to learn as many investing mistakes as possible vicariously through others. Other people have made every mistake in the book. You can learn more from studying the investing failures than the investing greats.

63. Bill Bonner says there are two ways to think about what money buys. There’s the standard of living, which can be measured in dollars, and there’s the quality of your life, which can’t be measured at all.

64. If you’re going to try to predict the future — whether it’s where the market is heading, or what the economy is going to do, or whether you’ll be promoted — think in terms of probabilities, not certainties. Death and taxes, as they say, are the only exceptions to this rule.

65. Focus on not getting beat by the market before you think about trying to beat it.

66. Polls show Americans for the last 25 years have said the economy is in a state of decline. Pessimism in the face of advancement is the norm.

67. Finance would be better if it was taught by the psychology and history departments at universities.

68. According to economist Tim Duy, “As long as people have babies, capital depreciates, technology evolves, and tastes and preferences change, there is a powerful underlying impetus for growth that is almost certain to reveal itself in any reasonably well-managed economy.”

69. Study successful investors, and you’ll notice a common denominator: they are masters of psychologyThey can’t control the market, but they have complete control over the gray matter between their ears.

70. In finance textbooks, “risk” is defined as short-term volatility. In the real world, risk is earning low returns, which is often caused by trying to avoid short-term volatility.

71. Remember what Nassim Taleb says about randomness in markets: “If you roll dice, you know that the odds are one in six that the dice will come up on a particular side. So you can calculate the risk. But, in the stock market, such computations are bull — you don’t even know how many sides the dice have!”

72. The S&P 500 gained 27% in 1998. But just five stocks — Dell, Lucent, MicrosoftPfizer, and Wal-Mart — accounted for more than half the gain. There can be huge concentration even in a diverse portfolio.

73. The odds that at least one well-known company is insolvent and hiding behind fraudulent accounting are pretty high.

74. The book Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? was written in 1940, and most people still haven’t figured out that brokers don’t have their best interest at heart.

75. Cognitive psychologists have a theory called “backfiring.” When presented with information that goes against your viewpoints, you not only reject challengers, but double down on your view. Voters often view the candidate they support more favorably after the candidate is attacked by the other party. In investing, shareholders of companies facing heavy criticism often become die-hard supporters for reasons totally unrelated to the company’s performance.

76. “In the financial world, good ideas become bad ideas through a competitive process of ‘can you top this?'” Jim Grant once said. A smart investment leveraged up with debt becomes a bad investment very quickly.

77. Remember what Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel says: “You have never lost money in stocks over any 20-year period, but you have wiped out half your portfolio in bonds [after inflation]. So which is the riskier asset?”

78. Warren Buffett’s best returns were achieved when markets were much less competitive. It’s doubtful anyone will ever match his 50-year record.

79. Twenty-five hedge fund managers took home $21.2 billion in 2013 for delivering an average performance of 9.1%, versus the 32.4% you could have made in an index fund. It’s a great business to work in — not so much to invest in.

80. The United States is the only major economy in which the working-age population is growing at a reasonable rate. This might be the most important economic variable of the next half-century.

81. Most investors have no idea how they actually perform. Markus Glaser and Martin Weber of the University of Mannheim asked investors how they thought they did in the market, and then looked at their brokerage statements. “The correlation between self ratings and actual performance is not distinguishable from zero,” they concluded.

82. Harvard professor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says that “virtually everything I taught” in economics was called into question by the financial crisis.

83. Asked about the economy’s performance after the financial crisis, Charlie Munger said, “If you’re not confused, I don’t think you understand.”

84. There is virtually no correlation between what the economy is doing and stock market returns. According to Vanguard, rainfall is actually a better predictor of future stock returns than GDP growth. (Both explain slightly more than nothing.)

85. You can control your portfolio allocation, your own education, who you listen to, what you read, what evidence you pay attention to, and how you respond to certain events. You cannot control what the Fed does, laws Congress sets, the next jobs report, or whether a company will beat earnings estimates. Focus on the former; try to ignore the latter.

86. Companies that focus on their stock price will eventually lose their customers. Companies that focus on their customers will eventually boost their stock price. This is simple, but forgotten by countless managers.

87. Investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort looked at analysts’ predictions of interest rates, and compared that with what interest rates actually did in hindsight. It found an almost perfect lag. “Analysts are terribly good at telling us what has just happened but of little use in telling us what is going to happen in the future,” the bank wrote. It’s common to confuse the rearview mirror for the windshield.

88. Success is a lousy teacher,” Bill Gates once said. “It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

89. Investor Seth Klarman says, “Macro worries are like sports talk radio. Everyone has a good opinion which probably means that none of them are good.”

90. Several academic studies have shown that those who trade the most earn the lowest returns. Remember Pascal’s wisdom: “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

91. The best company in the world run by the smartest management can be a terrible investment if purchased at the wrong price.

92. There will be seven to 10 recessions over the next 50 years. Don’t act surprised when they come.

93. No investment points are awarded for difficulty or complexity. Simple strategies can lead to outstanding returns.

94. The president has much less influence over the economy than people think.

95. However much money you think you’ll need for retirement, double it. Now you’re closer to reality.

96. For many, a house is a large liability masquerading as a safe asset.

97. The single best three-year period to own stocks was during the Great Depression. Not far behind was the three-year period starting in 2009, when the economy struggled in utter ruin. The biggest returns begin when most people think the biggest losses are inevitable.

98. Remember what Buffett says about progress: “First come the innovators, then come the imitators, then come the idiots.”

99. And what Mark Twain says about truth: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while truth is putting on its shoes.”

100. And what Marty Whitman says about information: “Rarely do more than three or four variables really count. Everything else is noise.”

101. Among Americans aged 18 to 64, the average number of doctor visits decreased from 4.8 in 2001 to 3.9 in 2010. This is partly because of the weak economy, and partly because of the growing cost of medicine, but it has an important takeaway: You can never extrapolate behavior — even for something as vital as seeing a doctor — indefinitely. Behaviors change.

102. Since last July, elderly Chinese can sue their children who don’t visit often enough, according to Bloomberg. Dealing with an aging population calls for drastic measures.

103. Someone once asked Warren Buffett how to become a better investor. He pointed to a stack of annual reports. “Read 500 pages like this every day,” he said. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

104. If Americans had as many babies from 2007 to 2014 as they did from 2000 to 2007, there would be 2.3 million more kids today. That will affect the economy for decades to come.

105. The Congressional Budget Office’s 2003 prediction of federal debt in the year 2013 was off by $10 trillion. Forecasting is hard. But we still line up for it.

106. According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2010, “for every 1% decrease in shareholder return, the average CEO was paid 0.02% more.”

107. Since 1994, stock market returns are flat if the three days before the Federal Reserve announces interest rate policy are removed, according to a study by the Federal Reserve.

108. In 1989, the CEOs of the seven largest U.S. banks earned an average of 100 times what a typical household made. By 2007, more than 500 times. By 2008, several of those banks no longer existed.

109. Two things make an economy grow: population growth and productivity growth. Everything else is a function of one of those two drivers.

110. The single most important investment question you need to ask yourself is, “How long am I investing for?” How you answer it can change your perspective on everything.

111. “Do nothing” are the two most powerful — and underused — words in investing. The urge to act has transferred an inconceivable amount of wealth from investors to brokers.

112. Apple increased more than 6,000% from 2002 to 2012, but declined on 48% of all trading days. It is never a straight path up.

113. It’s easy to mistake luck for success. J. Paul Getty said, the key to success is: 1) rise early, 2) work hard, 3) strike oil.

114. Dan Gardner writes, “No one can foresee the consequences of trivia and accident, and for that reason alone, the future will forever be filled with surprises.”

115. I once asked Daniel Kahneman about a key to making better decisions. “You should talk to people who disagree with you and you should talk to people who are not in the same emotional situation you are,” he said. Try this before making your next investment decision.

116. No one on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans can be described as a “perma-bear.” A natural sense of optimism not only healthy, but vital.

117. Economist Alfred Cowles dug through forecasts a popular analyst who “had gained a reputation for successful forecasting” made in The Wall Street Journal in the early 1900s. Among 90 predictions made over a 30-year period, exactly 45 were right and 45 were wrong. This is more common than you think.

118. Since 1900, the S&P 500 has returned about 6.5% per year, but the average difference between any year’s highest close and lowest close is 23%. Remember this the next time someone tries to explain why the market is up or down by a few percentage points. They are basically trying to explain why summer came after spring.

119. How long you stay invested for will likely be the single most important factor determining how well you do at investing.

120. A money manager’s amount of experience doesn’t tell you much. You can underperform the market for an entire career. Many have.

121. A hedge fund once described its edge by stating, “We don’t own one Apple share. Every hedge fund owns Apple.” This type of simple, contrarian thinking is worth its weight in gold in investing.

122. Take two investors. One is an MIT rocket scientist who aced his SATs and can recite pi out to 50 decimal places. He trades several times a week, tapping his intellect in an attempt to outsmart the market by jumping in and out when he’s determined it’s right. The other is a country bumpkin who didn’t attend college. He saves and invests every month in a low-cost index fund come hell or high water. He doesn’t care about beating the market. He just wants it to be his faithful companion. Who’s going to do better in the long run? I’d bet on the latter all day long. “Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with a 130 IQ,” Warren Buffett says. Successful investors know their limitations, keep cool, and act with discipline. You can’t measure that.

Read more:

Understanding The Difference Between Type And Lettering

Coming out of the grunge, graffiti and David Carson era through the ’90s, there has been a major resurgence of interest in typography. We have seen a number of designers and artists make their careers out of designing type or custom lettering, and it has become common to list typography among our skills and disciplines.

Unfortunately, as with any popularity surge, there have come with it a lot of misunderstandings of some of the terms and concepts that we use. This article will help you gain a clearer understanding of what typography is and isn’t, and why.

One rather common example of this is the myriad of blog posts and showcases claiming to display “hand-lettered typography” — I’ve even heard university professors say it. Though the phrase seems to make sense, it’s actually a contradiction in terms — hand-lettering is not typography at all! Before you throw your pens and brushes at me in protest, please let me explain!


Even though lettering and typography share many of the same concepts, and a good eye and understanding of one will enable you in the other as well, they are completely different disciplines. Let’s begin by defining how we understand each term.

What Is “Typography”?

Typography is essentially the study of how letterforms interact on a surface, directly relating to how the type will be set when it eventually goes to press. One definition is stated as “the style, arrangement or appearance of typeset matter,” and is a product of the movable type printing system that much of the world has used for centuries. It is related to typesetting and can include type design. In our current digitally-driven design world, this means working with fonts on a daily basis for most of us.

Typography is actually a subset of lettering, because it is the study of letters applied to typefaces. Many designers have also taken up letterpress printing as a hobby or side interest, which also utilizes aspects of typography or typesetting, depending on the project.

Typeset book pages.
Typeset book pages. (Image: Tom Garnett)

Gerrit Noordzij, professor of typeface design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands, from 1960 to 1990, defines typography as “writing with prefabricated characters.” Peter Bil’ak, founder of Typotheque, notes that this “implies a complete distinction from lettering, handwriting or graffiti, which are also concerned with creating letter-shapes, but don’t offer a repeatable system of setting these letters.”

It is quite common for people to refer to lettering as typography, but you should always avoid doing so when speaking with a client. Typography might be used in a logo, but so might custom lettering. Your client may not know the difference, but you do, and it’s important to have an educated client. This requires that we speak to them using the right terms, and it makes things easier to understand for both you and your client.

In addition, as designers of any sort, we strive to maintain a high level of professionalism, and using terminology correctly is an important part of showing pride in our line of work and being confident that we can do it, not simply to get the job done, but to produce excellent work.

What Is “Lettering”?

Lettering can be simply defined as “the art of drawing letters”. A lot goes into making lettering look right, and that’s an entirely different topic, but the concept is very simple: a specific combination of letterforms crafted for a single use and purpose as opposed to using previously designed letters as components, as with typography. Often lettering is hand-drawn, with pens, graphite or brushes, although some people start their work directly in Adobe Illustrator. Engraving and similar arts are related to lettering.

New York script by Simon Ålander.
New York script by Simon Ålander.

Just as typography is not lettering, lettering is not typography. Widely respected lettering artist Jessica Hische gave a talk on the subject at the FRONTEND 2011 conference, for those who “don’t understand the difference between lettering and type,” getting into the pertinent information with some concise definitions at around ¾ the way through the video.

Typography does indeed have similarities to lettering — it is still dealing with letters, but within the context of typefaces and their proper use. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to refer to typography as lettering, since they have different connotations and you don’t want to confuse your client by swapping terms. Again, accuracy in terms is an important element in any profession and design is no different.

Similarities And Differences

The visual concepts that are behind typography and lettering are largely shared by both disciplines. Letterspacing, consistent weight and contrast, the rules that we go by for what works and what doesn’t work, still apply. However, often the terms used are different. For space between two lines of text that are typeset, we use the term “leading,” referring to the strip of lead that printers would set between the lines of type to give more space. The same concept applied to lettering would simply be called “line spacing.”

Upper case of type containing uppercase glyphs.
“Upper case” of type containing uppercase glyphs. (Image: Marcin Wichary)

The space between letters is also an important concept, and lack of attention to it is responsible for much of the bad typography we see today. When working with type, we call adjusting the horizontal space between characters “kerning,” but this is a modernized understanding of the term. In typesetting, a kern is part of a glyph that extends beyond the type block on which the character is molded, e.g. the terminal of the “f” in the image below.

A kerned f type block.
A kerned “f” type block.

In lettering, however, avoid referring to this as kerning. Rather than saying that the “A” and the “V” could be kerned, we could say that the space between them could be tightened up.

Typography is used for endless applications, from titles to body text, some of which present a myriad of typographic considerations that those concerned with lettering will not have to think about. Lettering is almost exclusively used as display text — imagine lettering a few paragraphs of text by hand!  Calligraphy is a much more likely to be used in longer passages of text. While calligraphy and lettering are once again related, there is a fundamental difference between the two that I’d like to point out.

Calligraphy is based on penmanship; it’s essentially “writing letters.” Lettering, on the other hand, is based on draftsmanship, i.e. “drawing letters.” Persevering calligraphers and scribes have famously done books as long as the Bible, which are incredible works of art in their own right (e.g. the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Kells), but those were a lifetime endeavor, and for practical purposes we now use typefaces. Whew!

Illuminated (lavishly decorated) lettering in the Lindisfarne Gospels, from the Gospel of Mark.
Illuminated (lavishly decorated) lettering in the Lindisfarne Gospels, from the Gospel of Mark. This particular page showcases a lettered portion as opposed to a calligraphic passage, i.e. drawn rather than written. (Image: manuscript_nerd)

The differences, in the modern digital age, are sometimes theoretical, but the practical differences are huge — nobody wants to hand-letter 500 pages!

Some tenacious calligraphers, however, have undertaken monumental projects, such as theSt. John’s Bible, a modern manuscript completely written and illuminated — a calligraphic term for embellishing — by hand. It took about 13 years, from commission to completion, using traditional techniques such as quill pens and manually-applied gold leaf, and cost an estimated $8 million. The incredible proportions of this project are a testament to the beauty of traditional techniques, but also a reflection on how printing and typography have changed the world.

Historically Speaking

The arts of both lettering and calligraphy have been around since time immemorial. Spoken languages quickly developed writing systems, which were then used to communicate through a more enduring medium than speech. Lettering and calligraphy evolved alongside each other, along with other letter-related arts such as engraving. We can follow the progression, from the Rosetta Stone and ancient Roman inscriptions to the works of scribal art mentioned above and more. History has provided us with endless examples of lettering and calligraphy, by engraving, pen and brush.

Traditional Chinese Calligraphy.
Traditional Chinese calligraphy. (Image: Terry Madeley)

Although very few people could read, and writing was relegated to monasterial and royal scribes through the Middle Ages in Europe, we have some awe-inspiring work from that period. Unfortunately, we often overlook the beautiful calligraphy and lettering that was being done in Asia and the Middle East, where an education in the arts was much more accessible. Both lettering and calligraphy have thrived in the eastern hemisphere and continue to be a source of inspiration today.

Calligraphic art in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
Calligraphic art in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. (Image: Simona Scolari)

When Johannes Gutenberg built his printing press around 1439, the concept of typography, which had been developing slowly, was revolutionized. The moveable type system, metal alloy and casting methods gave the world a practical solution to printing. This gave rise to the discipline of typography as we know it, with kerning, leading and the terms we still use today. Each letter had its own type block on which it sat, and typesetters would arrange the type character by character.

Inside a Gutenberg Bible.
Inside a Gutenberg Bible. Note the mixed use of blackletter typography and hand-lettered drop caps, mimicking the contemporary German calligraphic style. (Image: jmwk)

Typography was, and has continued to be, primarily the skill of setting type. It was a very time-consuming process, and people were constantly trying to find ways to streamline it and increase production rates. Standardized methods for arranging the glyphs so their positions could be memorized and picked up by the typographer without having to look were developed. This gave us our terms for upper case and lower case characters, because an upper case, or drawer, typically contained the capitals and the lower type-case the minuscules, before the California Job Case, popular in the United States in the 19th century, combined both levels into one larger case.

A chart displaying the layout of the California Job Case method for arranging type.
A chart displaying the layout of the California Job Case method for arranging type. (Image: Marcin Wichary)

Leaving typography at this point in its development, I’ll follow the progression of lettering and calligraphy. During this period of experimentation with printing, calligraphy still played a huge role in communication, and the educated would write in a hand that amazes us today as to the beauty and accuracy of their manuscripts. Swashes, ascenders and descenders wove themselves into amazing patterns and borders, sometimes all but obscuring the text itself.

Ornate sample of penmanship by Jan van de Velde, Amsterdam, 1609.
Ornate sample of penmanship by Jan van de Velde, Amsterdam, 1609.

Lettering and calligraphy followed cultural trends, leaving the Rococo era and becoming more sober during the early 19th century, only to flower into ornament once again through the Victorian era and the florid shapes of Art Nouveau. The worlds of type and lettering constantly intermeshed. Many people, such as Oswald Cooper, achieved respect for their lettering and were hired by type foundries to design new typefaces.

Title pages from German avant-garde publications Dekorative Kunst and Pan, examples of lettering during the Art Nouveau movement.
Title pages from German avant-garde publications “Dekorative Kunst” and “Pan”, examples of lettering during the Art Nouveau movement.

Lettering figured strongly through Art Deco and Modernism, for posters and ads, logotypes and book covers. The relatively recent art of film titles also provides us with a wide range of illustrative lettering styles from the 20th century. Coming out of the Modern era and through the latter half of the 20th century lettering went through a variety of permutations — the organic styles of the 70’s, the new modernism of the 80’s, and the grungy 90’s styles aforementioned — bringing us to our modern lettering scene, with a smorgasbord of visual references to every period of history imaginable. Designers such as Herb Lubalin and Doyald Young, the metaphorical giants of lettering, have left a huge legacy from this time period.

Lettering by Herb Lubalin displaying his studio address.
Lettering by Herb Lubalin displaying his studio address.

Here I will step back in time to pick the thread of typography back up. The development of techniques continued through the 19th century, and printing played an important role in world history, such as Benjamin Franklin’s publications and Thomas Paine’s printed materials — The Rights Of ManAge Of Reason, et al — that were instrumental in the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, after many inventors had tried and failed to create a practical typesetting machine, Ottmar Mergenthaler succeeded in building the linotype machine in 1884, which revolutionized the newspaper industry. I won’t say more about it here, but if you’re interested in the history of typography, I would highly recommend taking a look at the documentaryLinotype: The Film. This is not a sponsored statement, I simply enjoyed the documentary immensely and you may want to check it out!

A look at a linotype machine.
A look at a linotype machine. (Image: Marcin Wichary)

The linotype was just one of the machines used to expedite the typesetting and printing processes, and although some people still hand-set type, the industry as a whole was continuously changing to introduce faster and better techniques. Typography was explored in the various art movements, from Dada to Modernism and beyond, rethinking ways in which type could be used and given expression and meaning. As typography, experimental and traditional, progressed, the techniques segued to phototypesetting and from thence to the digital age in which we find ourselves today. Typography as a discipline looks very different than it did 50 years ago. Instead of setting metal type and locking in forms, we use panels in Illustrator or InDesign to kern, add leading and align our type.

Lettering has also moved into the digital format in which we enact most of our design work. Many artists, however, stay true to analog media by hand-drawing lettering.

Lettering by Tom Lane for Hook & Irons.
Lettering by Tom Lane for Hook & Irons.

The digital amalgamation has been largely responsible for the confusion of lettering and typography, since they are now often created using the same programs — the difference between the two is no longer the difference between a brush and a letterpress machine, or a drafting table and linotype matrices. However, lettering and typography are still different concepts, and understanding them and their similarities and differences will help us become better designers.

Getting Started On Your Own Hand-Lettering

For those looking to begin creating hand-lettering of their own, it can feel a bit daunting. The letterforms that we see so often prove very difficult to draw freehand. Thankfully, there are a lot of tips and tricks you can use to familiarize yourself with the process and learn how to create pleasing compositions.


Get some tracing paper, and print out samples of well-known typefaces. Trace them over a few times, letting your hand become used to the lines that type designers have carefully worked over and revised until they were perfect. Some good ones to start with are time-honored classics such as Garamond and Caslon, or exceptional recent works such as Okay Type’s Harriet. Avoid using free fonts, since they are often poorly crafted and wouldn’t provide a good model. This allows you to train your eye and hand using the work of masters.


Read voraciously! I’ve listed a number of resources at the end of the article for you to check out — books, blogs and other resources. Knowledge is power, and understanding principles behind type design and letterforms help you develop your eye.


If you live near a town with a historic district or old buildings, make a point to spend a few hours on a weekend just walking around and finding samples of good typography and lettering. You can find great examples in outdoor signage, whether lighted signs, painted or vinyl. Often there are huge letters painted on brick walls at old factories or restaurants. Then, use your photos as models to draw historic styles of lettering.


When lettering, you’ll find that perfect measurements often don’t actually look “right.” Draw lines to help yourself keep a consistent stress and even weight throughout your lettering, but trust your eye rather than the grid if something doesn’t look quite correct. This is particularly true if you’re doing something with a curved baseline. Remember, you’re making this to be seen, not measured, so perception trumps geometric perfection.


Here are a few resources that I have found to be particularly helpful, concerning both lettering and typography.


  • Dangerous CurvesDoyald Young
    This volume showcases some of the best work over Young’s illustrious lettering career, including rejected logotype options and in-process sketches.
  • ScriptsSteven Heller and Louise Fili
    From two of our contemporary design landscape’s most respected proponents of lettering and type comes a “veritable festival of rare and unknown scripts.”
  • Typography SketchbooksSteven Heller and Lita Talarico
    Heller teams up with Talarico to present a look inside the minds and processes of more than 100 esteemed letter-lovers.
  • Designing TypeKaren Cheng
    Cheng walks us through a semantic look at the rationale and aesthetics behind the typefaces we see and use regularly, replete with diagrams and illustrations.


  • Typeverything
    A tumblog of lettering and typography, curated by some of the most respected current lettering artists.
  • Calligraphica
    Another Tumblr website showcasing calligraphy of all styles and languages, again curated by amazing calligraphers and letterers, including some of those involved in Typeverything.
  • I Love Typography
    In-depth blog posts about type history and lettering, interviews with type designers, updates on upcoming type-related publications — ILT provides a good read for serious letter lovers.
  • We Love Typography
    Compiled by typographers and designers of all sorts, another showcase of type and lettering with styles for everyone.
  • Beautiful Type
    This site isn’t updated terribly often, but whatever and whenever they do post, it’s inspiring!


Here are a few portfolios from great lettering artists that have inspired many:

In Summary

Hopefully this dissertation on lettering and typography has enhanced your knowledge of design and will further equip you to improve your skills. Lettering and typography, so similar yet so diverse, are a huge part of design and thus deserve our full understanding.


The office holiday party is tricky territory

The office holiday party is tricky territory. If you aren’t careful, you could end up without a job in the morning.

And if you are too careful, you could end up missing out on a ton of free booze and bonding. (For the most part though, you want to err on the side of too careful.)

Regardless if you spend the whole night getting trashed and making besties with the new intern as you spill your life story, or if you are horrified by everyone and everything and stand against the wall the entire time, one thing is for certain: You will never view the office in the same way again.

Here are the 45 uncertainties everyone thinks and feels after an unforgettable office holiday party.

1. I know I had a life-changing conversation with one of my coworkers, I just don’t remember who it is.

2. Why did I have to ask that random old dude (who happens to be the CFO) if he worked here?

3. I wish they didn’t leave me alone with the IT guys.

4. My coworker is hot. F*ck, I’ve named the beast now.

5. I would never be friends with these people outside of the office.

6. Did anyone see me throw up in the plant?

7. I showed up way too early. Does that mean I don’t have to stay late?

8. Why would anyone throw an office party during the work week?

9. Will they surprise us with hangover bagels tomorrow morning?

10. I should have worn something underneath my skirt.

11. It was weird when Larry from Accounting dressed up like Santa and never broke out of character.

12. Why am I so unsuccessful when it comes to avoiding my boss? Especially in empty elevators?

13. Weird. Just so weird. This whole office is nuts.

14. This empty bag of watermelon cough drops and crumpled receipts can only mean one thing: I totally embarrassed myself last night.

15. Fuck, I hope I don’t get fired.

16. What happens at the office party, STAYS at the office party… right?


18. What’s the gossip. I need deets.

19. I shouldn’t have made out with the new intern.

20. I really hope she’s legal.

21. Tonight was definitely not the night to skip dinner.

22. My boss was way too comfortable on the dance floor. Is it in my job description to stop him?

23. Pregaming wasn’t necessary.

24. Please lord I hope no one caught that on camera.

25. I smell like Big Foot’s dick.

26. I need an IV drip of fluids.

27. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted Diane’s sketchy looking ceviche.

28. Going straight from the office was so not the move. Why am I the only person in a suit?

29. Is that a homeless person or my cubicle mate sleeping on the reception couch?

30. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that body shot off that sales exec and had it captured on film.

31. I should stay home more often.

32. I probably shouldn’t have thrown a punch at my coworker… Oops.

33. Whose puke is that?

34. So much regret. So much regret.

35. Was I the worst person there? All I did was anonymously terrorize people waiting for drinks, slap my boss’s ass and then pass out at the bar. I didn’t do anything too bad, right?

36. Why did I ask who my boss’s boss was? I definitely should not have asked…

37. Did I say too much?

38. Probably.

39. How the hell did I get to work on time? Who would throw an office party in the middle of the week?

40. It scares me that my last memory is taking a shot with the custodial group. And then nothing.

41. Why is there an email chain going around about me?

42. Thank God I never said anything too incriminating on the internal messaging system… And said it all aloud tonight instead.

43. Why does it feel like everyone hates me today? Including myself?

44. I’m pretty sure I pet the CEO’s toupee. I really hope he didn’t notice.

45. This is the best office ever.

58 iTunes Keyboard Shortcuts

1. Playback shortcuts


Start or stop playing the selected song


Play the currently selected song from the beginning

Option++Arrow Right/Arrow Left

Move forward or backward within a song

Option+Arrow Right/Arrow Left

Listen to the next or previous album in a list

Arrow Left/Arrow Right

Go to the next or previous song in a list

2. Library and Playlist

+click the checkbox next to a song

Select or deselect all the songs in a list


Create a new playlist from selected songs


Create a new Smart Playlist


Delete the selected playlist without confirming that you want to delete it


Delete the selected playlist and all the songs it contains from your library


Delete the selected song from your library and all playlists


Refresh the Radio list, when Radio is selected (or Genius Playlist if selected)

3. iTunes Store shortcuts


Go to the next page / go to previous page in iTunes Store

Type in Search field and press Option+Enter

Initiate a search in the iTunes Store (from anywhere in iTunes)


Check for app updates (when Apps is selected, below Library)

4. File and Window

Ctrl+click a column heading

Change the song information columns

+click a triangle

Expand or collapse all the triangles in the Radio’s Stream list


Shrink the iTunes window to show only the playback controls

Option+click the zoom button in the upper+left corner of the iTunes window

Switch between custom and maximum window sizes

+drag the resize control in the lower+right corner of the window

See the iTunes window resize while you are resizing it


In the Info window, see the info for the next or previous song in the list


Go to the previous or next pane in the Get Info or Preferences window


Select the search field

5. iTunes menu shortcuts


Open iTunes Preferences


Hide the iTunes window


Hide all other applications


Quit iTunes

6. File Menu


Create a new playlist


Create a new playlist with the selected songs


Create a new Smart Playlist


Open / add a file to your music library


Close the iTunes window


Open the Info window for the selected song or CD


Show where a song file is located


Show the currently playing song in the list


Stream audio file at a specific URL to iTunes

7. Edit Menu


Open iTunes Preferences


Undo your last typing change while editing an item’s information


Cut / Copy / Paste the selected song’s information or artwork


Select all the songs in the list


Deselect all the songs in the list


Hide or show the Artist and Album columns


Open the View Options window for the selected source

8. Add Menu


Start or stop playing the selected song

Arrow Right/Arrow Left

Play the next song / play previous song in a list (When a song is playing)

+Arrow Up/+Arrow Down

Increase the volume / decrease the volume

Option++Arrow Down

Mute the sound (song keeps playing)


Eject a CD

. Visualizer Menu


Turn the visualizer on or off


Fullscreen visualizer

Press ?, then key available

See more options when a visual effect is showing

10. Other


Enter or exit full-screen view


Put the iTunes window in the Dock


Open iTunes Help

Option+Command (while opening iTunes)

Open iTunes in “safe mode” (without external plug-ins)

While the video is playing, Control+click the movie, and choose Set Poster Frame

Choose artwork for the selected video

Press and hold Option+Command when connecting iPod/iPhone

Prevent iPod from automatically syncing when you connect it to your computer

Shift++Arrow Right/Arrow Left

Go to the next or last chapter during spoken words (if available)

Source: Apple Support Pages

What Makes the Best Logos So Good


Every day consumers are confronted with countless logos, mostly unaware of how these icons are constantly transmitting a slew of messages aimed at the subconscious.

“A company’s logo is its shorthand, a visual cue that tells a story of the brand’s culture, behavior, and values,” said Su Mathews Hale, a senior partner at the New York brand-strategy and design firm Lippincott. Because a logo may only have a second to tell this story, creating one “can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of branding,” she said.We had her guide us through some of her favorite projects she’s worked on, as well as some of the corporate logos she most admires.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc

Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

In 2005, Wal-Mart recruited Lippincott to reimagine its brand. It wanted to shed its image as a big corporate outlet for cheap products and become seen as a place where people could wisely save money and buy premium groceries. Wal-Mart debuted its new logo in 2008.

Mathews and her team felt that the old logo’s all-caps, dark blue letters screamed “corporation” and had become inextricably linked to the popular view among critics who saw Wal-Mart as a malevolent giant crushing small businesses across the country. They deemed the star serving as a hyphen generic and forgettable. They also believed that businesses with hyphenated “mart” names conjured up images of corner stores and cheap outlets.

They decided to keep the color blue, which Mathews said is the world’s favorite color, but go for a brighter hue they believed evoked modernity and trustworthiness. They replaced the sharp angles of the original letters with “a more humanistic font.” Finally, they decided on an asterisk-like symbol they wanted to look like “a lightbulb going off in your head,” a metaphor for Wal-Mart shoppers being smart for taking advantage of affordable, quality products. They chose a hue of yellow that appeared hopeful but didn’t make it too bright because “bright yellow is associated with low-cost items in retail,” said Mathews. She was happy to find that focus groups also interpreted the spark as a sun or flower, both positive associations.


Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

In 2012, eBay basically had the inverse problem from Wal-Mart: It wanted to finally grow up, and its playful logo was getting in the way of its ambition. Mathews said that when Internet companies have electric, jumbled logos, they conjure up memories of the companies that died when the dot-com bubble burst. So, for eBay, she and her team stuck close to the original design but refined the typography, toned down the colors, and put the letters on the same baseline. The resulting logo is “more grounded” and better suited for a company that takes business seriously.

Hyatt Place

Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

Hyatt Hotels Corporation bought AmeriSuites in 2004, and Lippincott was responsible for rebranding the chain as Hyatt Place, which launched in 2006. Hyatt and the designers believed that AmeriSuite’s affordable business-suite market was beginning to be seen as boring, cheap alternatives to upscale hotels, and that the way to turn it around would be to turn it into the option for younger business travelers who may not be very wealthy but still appreciate luxury.

A fundamental component of the relaunch was to give every Hyatt Place an attractive, engaging lobby. The final logo combined two different shapes: In design, said Mathews, “a circle tends to be seen as modern and approachable” and “a square tends to be steadfast and disciplined.” The design team chose vibrant colors for seven of the circles and picked black for two. When Hyatt Place signs are illuminated at night, the colored circles create an “H” for “Hyatt,” which Mathews finds to be a fun, extra dimension of the logo.


Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

Over the past several years, Starbucks has grown into a global powerhouse and has been heavily promoting its non-coffee products, like pastries, sandwiches, and teas. In 2011, it decided it wanted a simpler logo not tied to the word “coffee.” Mathews was not involved in the project, but her Lippincott colleagues were.

The redesign started with a basic premise. When focus groups were asked what color Starbucks’ logo was, explained Mathews, participants almost universally said “green.” But the thing is, only the ring around the former logo was green — the siren character was outlined in black. Mathews said the designers freed the siren from her constraints and imbued her with the color with which customers were already associating the brand. They nixed the word “coffee” and brought the text outside of the circle, since the siren had become iconic enough to stand on her own.

“It’s a great example of how a logo can evolve,” said Mathews.


Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

Lippincott has not worked with NBC, but Mathews said the NBC peacock is one of her favorite logos. She thinks the logo has improved over time as it’s gotten simpler, and that even though the peacock’s colors originally celebrated the advent of color television, the array of colors still transmits feelings of joy and energy.


Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

FedEx’s logo is another one of Mathew’s favorites. As shown by her work with the Hyatt Place logo, she likes images that have surprises in them, and the arrow formed by the “E” and “x” in FedEx is one of the best-known hidden designs. She also appreciates the timeless nature of the logo. “It could have be designed in 1970 or it could have been designed yesterday,” she said.

It was actually created in 1994 by Lindon Leader, and it has won more than 40 design awards, partially for the reasons Mathews mentioned.


Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

Mathews thinks that Apple’s logo is a perfect example of how a logo needs to adapt to the changing direction of the company it represents. One of Apple’s co-founders, Ronald Wayne, designed the first Apple logo, a weird, detailed etching of Sir Isaac Newton that was supposed to represent the way Apple was an ambitious outsider. That same year, Steve Jobs hired Rob Janoff to replace it with something more modern. Janoff came up with the now iconic image of an apple with a bite out of it, and Jobs decided Apple’s unique approach to computers would be represented by making it rainbow-colored.

It became monochrome in 1998 to fit into the clean, simplistic designs that the company decided to pursue.

Regarding trends and presentation

When tackling a branding project, Mathews differentiates between the “true and new.” She say a logo needs to be “true,” in the sense that it should not be fundamentally tied to a trend, the “new.” The trendiness is more appropriate in supporting elements of branding, like store experiences or website interfaces. That said, a logo should be fundamentally sound but also be adaptable to the ways it will be presented.

“Logos used to have to be recognizable down to the size that they would be represented on a business card. Now they have to work at much smaller sizes, because they’ll be seen on mobile screens,” Mathews said. That’s actually the reason why so many logos have become “flatter,” in the sense that they’ve been stripped of techniques like shadowing that add a dimension of depth or movement.

Here’s an example of how Google went flat last year:

Expert Explains What Makes the Best Logos So Good

“I personally like more simple designs,” said Mathews. “Gradients are my worst nightmare.”