WHAT’S YOUR TYPE?
THE ROLE THAT TYPOGRAPHY PLAYS IN BRAND EXPRESSION
September 30, 2019
The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” embodies the notion that some complex ideas can be more easily conveyed with a single image. The availability of low-cost images—from reputable sources such as unsplash.comand pixabay.com—combined with technological advances in printing have democratized this adage. All that’s required is imagination. This is a boon for unfunded entrepreneurs and individuals who have time (but not money) to invest in searching for the quintessential picture that tells their story. However, when it comes to packaging or brand expression, the image itself cannot convey the entire narrative. You need typography.
The collection of faces that were designed together and intended to be used together. For example, the Helveticafont family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold, and bold weights. Each of the style and weight combinations is called a face. (i.e. Helvetica Neue)
The letters, numbers, and symbols that make up a design of type. A typeface is often part of a type family of coordinated designs. The individual typefaces are named after the family and are also specified with a designation, such as italic, bold or condensed. (i.e., Helvetica Neue Condensed, Helvetica Neue Oblique, Helvetica Neue Bold)
One weight, width and style of a typeface. (i.e., Helvetica Neue Condensed Bold 10pt)
Typography is the art of arranging words to create a message. Chaos, order, serenity and aggression are a few of the numerous emotions and messages that can be conveyed through the style and appearance of typography. The exact same word can convey vastly different meanings when set in a different typeface. In Figure 01 for example, tough love, romantic love, platonic love and puppy love are all variations that can be communicated through typography even though the word does not change. Phrased another way, a successful typeface is worth a thousand words. However, the part-art, part-science of finding a suitable font to deliver an effective message has become more nuanced recently.
Over the last decade, with the Internet making more avenues of typography more accessible (like with photography), there has been a deluge of new typefaces. Some great, some not. This is due in part to reasonably priced font creation software such as Glyphs, Robofont and FontForge. Additionally, there are now more permissive font licenses like the SIL Open Font License, which allow creative re-mixing and/or building on previous typeface designs to express emotion and brand identity. Bespoke typefaces for an identity system are now standard table stakes: Netflix, Apple, Firefox, IBM and Airbnb are just a few brands that have created custom typefaces to convey brand core and philosophy.
Additional benefits to a bespoke typeface include cost and multi-language support. For example, IBM and Netflix have claimed to save millions of dollars per year by switching from Helvetica to IBM Plex and Gotham to Netflix Sans, respectively. Moreover, owning your own typeface allows you to forgo licensing fees and add new languages or modify characters as needed. Brands that have an international presence need a typeface that supports non-Latin characters such as Greek, Russian, Chinese and Arabic.
So, should every company and brand create its own typeface? The answer is an emphatic NO! Despite all the advances in typography, the font alone cannot do all the work to express your brand. You must first identify your brand’s key emotions and motivations, and align all components of your design—font, imagery, tone-of-voice, graphic style, color— to those principles. Simply creating another generic sans serif font won’t cut it. A picture or typeface may be worth a thousand words, but nothing beats a compelling and cohesive brand story with all of its elements working together.