• Steve Frampton

Live Long And Proper Kerning

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

I love science fiction; Star Wars, Star Trek, pretty much anything with spaceships and aliens. It was therefore pretty exciting to see the announcement of the new United States Of America #SpaceForce logo, proudly presented on Twitter by President Trump after ‘consultation with our Great Military Leaders, designers and others’.

Donald Trump Tweet

Now I know that if someone had said to me “We’re creating a real Space Force on Earth and we’d like you to design the logo for it” I would be extremely proud, honoured and thrilled to the point where I’d be squealing like R2D2 when he accidentally put one of his droid appendages into an Imperial electrical socket.

My immediate surprise however wasn’t so much the fact that if Donald Trump had a tiny hand in the approval process, why there wasn’t a frickin’ shark with a frickin’ laser beam on its head included on there somewhere or that the Space Force logo is almost identical to the Star Fleet Command insignia from Star Trek (although to be fair it does also borrow from its own military origins [1] and NASA space programme); I was more surprised at how a logo for America’s Air Force and essentially, the most advanced “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” could be allowed to be unveiled with the spacing between characters, or kerning [2] as it’s known in the field of typography, being somewhat overlooked, to the point where, in places, it's tighter than one of Seven of NIne's shiny uniforms.


It’s a character space Jim, but not as we know it

Putting text on a curve, around a shape or along a path often causes characters to look

as though they're too close to each other, misaligned or at funny angles but there are things you can do to alleviate and solve this. Looking at Space Force's emblematic serif Century School Book typeface and text I couldn’t help but think of the Vulcan Typographic High Council hastily meeting to discuss such illogical character spacing, Marvin The Martian feeling ‘very angry’ about possible copyright issues, Buzz Lightyear smacking his space helmet with frustration (that’s not a euphemism), ET wagging his magic finger in disapproval or Yoda saying "Kern or kern not. Go back and closer you must look".

Marvin The Martian (Left) in The Simpsons "The Springfield Files" Season 8 Episode 10

If Earth and our own supreme leader (All hail our quaff-haired, orange overlord) aren’t already a laughing stock to our interstellar and almost certainly technologically and typographically more advanced friends, we certainly would be if this was the first thing they set giant eye on whilst shaking our warm human hands with their cold slippery green tentacles, prior to selecting who will take part in their alien crossbreeding programme [3]. This is our logo, our identity and a possible first symbol of communication between interplanetary species... and we managed to squash the letters together!

Now I don’t like or indeed want to seem critical of the logo. It's someone else’s work and I'm sure that quite rightly, they're incredibly proud to have been handed the task just as I would be, so if there’s any criticism at all I want it to be constructive and helpful.

So, having spent literally half an hour or so playing with the lettering on the logo myself, I wanted to illustrate how, with just a sprinkle of graphical Midichlorians, a little bit of fine-tuning can make all the difference to the overall look of the logo, lettering and typography. I’m sure there are people that would never tell the difference but just as easily there will be an ET-eyed typographer wearing Maz Kanata glasses out there that will spot something that’s still not quite right. However, like I said, I spent half and hour on it and, truth be told (it is out there), I don't have a Police Call Box or a DeLorean to help make up the time I've spent doing this.

The Upsidedown

Looking more closely at the logo, in addition to the kerning issue it was also evident that the text at the top of the logo (United States Space Force) is larger than the text at the bottom of the logo (Department Of The Air Force) by perhaps a couple or more points.

On my adjusted logo (below) both lines of text have been made the same point size. By adjusting the text's horizontal scale [5] and tracking [6] on the two curved paths and individual adjustment of the kerning [2] a consistent type size was achieved with better spacing which is better for legibility, readability and more balance visually.

By adjusting the tracking, kerning and baseline shift [7] of the ‘MMXIX’ Roman numerals (2019) it was possible to align that up a little too. However, I think the Roman numerals look awkward and a bit messy no matter what you do with them or where you position them. I tried them in a straight line positioned slightly up and more towards the arrow symbol and that didn't look right to me either. I think it would actually look better without them altogether.

Final Adjusted Logo

"I bring you peace"

I really do want to emphasise that I don’t want to offend anyone who worked on or approved the logo and I certainly hope I haven’t upset any of our distant intergalactic friends out there who may be thinking of visiting us in the near future.

I apologise two-heartedly if I've stereotyped any alien physical, cultural or behavioural traits [4]. I just felt that rather than allowing it to eat away at me, like a Ceti Eel chomping on a tasty cerebral cortex or annoying me like C3PO’s incessant need to tell everyone the odds, I wanted to show how the logo could be improved with just a few tweaks and a Jedi mind trick here or there.

Maybe one day I’ll have a go at designing my own Space Force logo. However, if our wonderful, tiny planet that we call home in this gigantic, amazing universe can resolve its own differences and work together to prove ourselves worthy of possible first contact with other species from galaxies far far away it will be time to boldly go for the inevitable rebrand and become the United Federation Of Planets anyway.

End transmission.


[1] The delta symbol, the central design element in the seal, was first used as early as 1942 by the U.S. Army Air Forces; and was used in early Air Force space organisation emblems dating back to 1961. Since then, the delta symbol has been a prominent feature in military space community emblems." - John Noonan

@noonanjo - Ex USAF

[2] In typography, kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result. Kerning adjusts the space between individual letter forms, while tracking (letter-spacing) adjusts spacing uniformly over a range of characters.

[3] Kang and Kodos - The Simpsons

[4] I for one welcome all other-worldly life to our planet be it Porg, Borg, Trill, Kree or troublesome Tribble. I do not condone ‘spaceism’ in any way, shape, carbon or silicon based form.

[5] Horizontal Scale - The measurement, expressed as a percentage, of a letter's width; going below 100% makes the letter slimmer while going above 100% makes it wider.

[6] Tracking refers to an optically consistent degree of increase (or sometimes decrease) of space between letters to affect visual density in a line or block of text.

[7] Baseline Shift - Adjusts the baseline of selected text in relation to other segments of text in the same layer.

#SpaceForce #USA #StarWars #StarTrek #Space #Logo #Logodesign #Graphics #GraphicDesign #Type #Typography #Alien #Aliens #ExtraTerrestrial #SETI #NASA

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