One of the most beautiful of symbols in our Latin-based written language is the ampersand. It can be sexy and curvy with sensuous thicks and thins, or a solid and strong single-thickness glyph. The ampersand is one of the few letterforms that allows for more creativity and interpretation in its design than most others, which have more rigid guidelines. For this reason, they are frequently a highlighted element in a logo or word mark.
The ampersand is a representation of the word and. It is actually a ligature that combines an e and a t from the Latin word et, meaning “and”. The word “ampersand” is an alteration of the phrase “et, per se and” (that is: “et by itself [means] and”), which was then became “and, per-se and”, and eventually evolved into ampersand. Once the ampersand glyph was accepted as a single character, it evolved into a more flowing design.
The invention of the ampersand is usually credited to Marcus Tullius Tiro, who was the faithful slave and secretary to the Roman lawyer and politician Cicero. Tiro invented a shorthand writing system in 63 B.C. called Tironian Notes, which included the ampersand.
There are two basic forms of the ampersand, with many variations of both: the traditional, classic double counter version (&), and the style that looks more like an E or an et, sometimes with the addition of curves and flourishes. It is common for an upright, Roman typeface version to have the first style, with its companion italics switching to the second, more calligraphic version. Most fonts have just one ampersand, but with the expanded character set of the OpenType font format, some contain two or more versions, occasionally including a small cap ampersand that is designed to match their shorter height.
Although the ampersand is a representation of the word and, it should not be used willy-nilly to replace the spelled out form when setting type, especially in running text. Save it for more prominent instances, such as headlines, subheads, and other display settings, titles, company, business and retail names (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), branding and logos, as well as connecting two related words in a list (blues, jazz, and rock & roll).
As mentioned earlier, many company names and logos contain an ampersand. When they appear, they can be designed to be unobtrusive and match the rest of a work mark or logo, or they can be highlighted in some way to stand out for a more customized appearance. Ampersands can also be used oversized, or separated from the text as a decorative or illustrative graphic element. Herb Lubalin, the iconic designer who was known for this technique, often played with ampersands in headlines and logos.
When you want to add a bit of creativity to a design or a setting with an ampersand, be sure to check out the available versions in any font you are considering. Time spent on this important font exploration might well lead to an eye-catching, recognizable, and even iconic design.