Posted on January 23, 2016

Ampersand & design

How did this obscure character become such contemporary design icon and why do designers love & so much? This character does have a past but is so familiar in today’s world of design and ubiquitous keyboards where the Ampersand = &

B&L logoOur own designers love to have the option of using an ampersand when creating a new logo, the identity of a company and Brooks & Lyndhurst is a prime example. Part of the reason for the success is that although it has an instant understanding of what it means, this character has the ability to be adapted to a huge degree but yet we still understand its connotations in an unconscious split second. There are no other text characters that are so versatile and can be changed and personalised so much yet remains instantly recognisable. Here you can see that we have adapted the character to contain a reversed B and also an L, so it is a character and an icon in one go, quite an achievement in logo design giving our client a unique icon as a distinctive piece of intellectual property.

The chart below shows the vast array of versions all instantly recognisable as an ampersand when in situ. The word ampersand is a corruption of the phrase “and per se &” It was also common practice to add the “&” sign at the end of the alphabet as if it were the 27th letter, pronounced as the Latin et or later in English as and. As a result, the recitation of the alphabet would end in “X, Y, Z, and per se and”. This last phrase was slurred to “ampersand” and the term had entered common English usage by 1837. The full  etymology is available here but it is cumbersomely written. We are more interested in its ubiquitous use today in logo design and typography.ampersands Today ampersands are most commonly visible in between business names often originally formed from partnership of two or more people, such as Johnson & Johnson, Dolce & Gabbana, Marks & Spencer, and Tiffany & Co., as well as some abbreviations containing the word and, such as R&D (research and development), R&B (rhythm and blues), B&B (bed and breakfast) and P&L (profit and loss).  It add strength to a name and a sense of long establishment, more of a connection that the word ‘and’ alone does. It adds a lot of design value from what is basically a short cut found above the number 7 on your qwerty keyboard.

In 2010 over 400 Designers collaborated on a typography project “Coming Together” to create a font based entirely on the ampersand visit FontAid to view their creation Font Aid IV. There is no other typographical character with that versatility.

Trebuchet_MS_ampersandDesigners and Illustrators can have a lot of fun with ‘&’ to the point where it becomes a character in the non-typographical sense.  Sometimes the Ampersand symbol is created by mirroring the Latin word ‘et’  meaning ‘and’.  Here we can see the modern font Trebuchet MS, employ ampersand characters that reveal its origin but are still an ampersand at heart. If you follow Tumblr you can see a different ampersand every day at the project.

Although is is a space saving character, what is the biggest drawback of the ampersand in a brand? Well that would be the inability to use & in a domain name so the famous D&G/Dolce & Gabanna becomes where they have taken out the and entirely as it does not translate to every language. Will it one day become usable in future domain names? I’m sure it will as it would be guaranteed to be bought with many permutations by companies as part of their domain portfolio, how could they afford to not buy it? Surprising that the money obsessed domain registrars have not already made it happen.

If you are interested in symbols and their use in typography then await our post about the @ sign aka asperand character.

By Neale Gilhooley, posted on 17th January 2018


Fast Co – Why designers love the ampersands article post on the Ampersand