Typography and brand identity are tightly woven together. After all, type is the most high-touch brand element when you consider that so much of a brand’s communication is translated via the written word. What those words look like, how they are shaped, can form a powerful layer in the minds and imaginations of your audience.
Arguably the most visible brand element – the logo - will contain at least one word, and the typeface used in this word is one of the first things that you come face-to-face with when you encounter a brand. It has a powerful ability to set the tone for the rest of the branded communication that will follow. One study argues that typography is a core element of whether a brand is seen as “sincere”, “exciting” or “sophisticated”.
A very brief history
Prior to the 1400s, all written materials were hand-lettered; a painstaking and expensive process. It was then that Gutenberg invented movable typefaces, making printed matter much cheaper and more accessible for the average person. Sure, his first font wasn’t exactly pretty, or even very legible, but the legacy he left by inventing this literally changed the world.
He was quickly followed by a man called Nicholas Jenson who created Roman type, inspired by the type on Roman buildings – a legacy that continues to this day (via good old-fashioned Times New Roman, amongst others). Over the next 300 years a few iconic serif typefaces were introduced – Caslon, Bodoni, Didot and Baskerville – and are all still used (and are quite popular) today.
Fast forward to late 19th century Berlin, where some adventurous chaps decided to experiment by doing away with the serifs. The result? A new typeface dubbed ‘Akzidenz Grotesk’ or, a ‘grotesque accident’. They were unimpressed, and it was not exactly the most encouraging beginning for what was to become a complete game-changer in the world of typography.
What followed was the development of some of the world’s most iconic fonts – Helvetica included - as well as thousands upon thousands of other sans serif (or 'without serif') fonts that we know and love today.
Great examples of type + brand
You can’t go past an airline for an all-encompassing brand experience, and Australian carrier Virgin Australia has pretty much nailed the type component of their brand identity.
Let’s map their typical customer journey:
- Logo, probably seen firstly on their website
- Website: logo + copy (written words)
- Booking confirmation via email (again, words)
- Check in terminal at the airport – lots of signage (words!)
- Boarding pass (words, words, words!)
- The branding on the side of the airplane sitting on the tarmac (logo – or, in other words... Yep, you guessed it. Words.)
- All printed comms inside of the aircraft: safety cards, in-flight magazine, menu etc
Virgin Australia have addressed an interesting branding challenge. Originally known for their low-cost, low-frill positioning, they completely disrupted the aviation industry when they first entered the market some 15+ years ago. Around 2010, they altered their strategy and decided to go after the business customer. Suddenly their branding had to reflect that they were no longer the plucky little brother to established market players (such as Qantas). They needed to impart that they were upscale, comfortable, and most of all, reliable.
Their typeface – Montserrat Ultra Light – conveys this perfectly. It’s sleek and modern, yet approachable and friendly, and, doesn’t depart entirely from their early roots (they are after all a product of the Richard Branson portfolio).
It’s consistent application ensures that as a consumer, you are completely immersed in their visual brand. You get the impression that you’re in capable hands, yet ready to have some fun, whether travelling for business or pleasure.
Other notable mentions
Australian skincare company Aesop is a brand whose typography really stands out. They’ve used a font called Optima which is a sans serif font, but with carefully crafted curves that make it unique. It’s by no means a new font – it’s been around since the early 1950s – but Aesop’s use, and extremely clean application across all of their branding creates the feeling of sleek modernity. It’s paid off for them in terms of market share, and with this high brand equity they’ve been able to expand their operations all over the world.
Ok, I’m going to go out on a limb here and actually include a brand whose font I don’t personally love (to put it politely).
Allow me to explain.
A few years ago, the monolithic furniture retailer blew me away by introducing the web font (yes, web font!) Verdana as their brand font. Not only was it ugly (my opinion, of course) but it is a web font. Which they have used for all of their branding; online and print included.
Over the years, their consistent application (and there’s a lot of it. Like Virgin, their branded touchpoints are innumerable: catalogs, websites, signage; the works) has slowly won me over. Do I now love Verdana? Nope, and I never will. But I have built a respect for Ikea, and their brand, by its continued and successful application. It has helped support their brand positioning as accessible, family-friendly and inexpensive and whilst I will never be a fan of the typeface, I can appreciate it’s place in their visual brand identity.
Some practical Q&A of typography + branding
How many fonts should my brand have?
The best answer is 2-3. Choose one typeface that you will use all the time. Think about a brochure or other printed comms that have lots of words in it: the font that you would lay this out in is your ‘utilitarian’ font. There are no hard and fast rules around serif or sans serifs, as that may be a more granular consideration driven your industry or market segmentation.
The other typeface should be your ‘display’ font – or one that should have more impact, but used sparingly in headings and other instances where your messages really need to resonate.
And a top-tip: choose a Microsoft System Font for use across all Microsoft programs. There is absolutely zero point choosing and implementing a carefully applied font, only to send off a PowerPoint presentation and have it default to Times New Roman (or worse still, Calibri) because your brilliant font isn't installed on the recipient's computer. Good choices are Arial (if you want a modern Helvetica-type feel), Franklin Gothic (again modern) or Georgia if you want a nice clean serif.
If your brand targets a corporate audience, there are some considerations to account for when selecting a typeface for your brand. Like I outlined in my colour post in Part III of the Amadeus BrandBox, you need to consider (a) what it is that you are selling and (b) who you are selling it to. Consider what would resonate with your audience and also which factors, such as age or demographics that may play into this.
Broadly speaking, B2B brands should play it reasonably safe when choosing fonts that will resonate with their target clients. B2B buyers approach purchase decisions in completely different ways to B2C customers as, after all, they may have to justify their purchase decision to someone higher up the food chain. They want the reassurance that the brand that they have chosen is well established, credible and reliable. An outlandish font choice could have an impact on these perceptions.
Some good choices:
Seriously guys, the sky is the limit and the horizon is broad. B2C typography can literally be anything or everything – but, as outlined earlier, your primary consideration needs to be: (a) what it is that you are selling and (b) who you are selling it to. A B2C product or service could be as diverse as a clothing label aimed at teenagers, right through to a psychologist who is building a brand that provides services to women over the age of 45. Let your customer profile lead this process and again, think of age and demographics when choosing your font.
Where do I get fonts that can differentiate my brand?
There are three ways:
- Pay for a font and license it to your computer. Sites such as MyFonts or Typekit sell thousands and thousands of fonts at every point on the price spectrum. I’d encourage everyone who has an interest to go and have a look at this incredible marketplace and have a wonder around all of the beautiful fonts.
- Find one for free. Thanks to new players such as Google Fonts, this is not only entirely possible, but recommended. I am a huge fan of Google Fonts and often recommend these to my clients. Why? As they are all free, open-source fonts, there are no barriers to implementation. Every employee in the organization can go to the site, download it and install it onto their machine. Web developers can use it just as readily as someone laying out a printed brochure. As time goes by, more and more really lovely, high-quality fonts are appearing and in many instances it’s my go-to place when I’m looking for something new.
- Use one that is pre-loaded on your machine. If you must. But bear in mind that you’re probably not going to make a massive impact with your branding as millions and millions of people will have exposure to your chosen font. Like I outlined earlier, one of these fonts is definitely recommended for use in Microsoft programs, but outside of this, proceed with caution.
Have you chosen a killer font for your branding? What is it? I’d love to hear how you went about it in the comments below!