Typography--Branding Between the Lines

February 19, 2014

You’re in the midst of a look and feel exploration, reviewing color palettes, imagery style, and secondary graphics – design elements that evoke an immediate reaction. But when you get to the typography evaluation, you’re not quite sure how to determine which typeface (or font) best represents your brand and marketing needs.

It’s an important decision, because it’s how what you say is said. Here are some tips on evaluating and selecting typefaces for your brand:

1. Express the brand’s personality

What you say is just as important as how you look, and typography does both simultaneously. It needs to communicate the essence of the organization through carefully drawn letterforms. We like to say that typefaces, like people, have their own personality. Brands have personalities, too. When developing the brand platform, we define attributes to help guide the look and feel of the brand.

Think about what Apple communicates: Simple, easy, approachable. Their typeface – Myriad – embodies all of those qualities, down to the round dot on the ‘i’. And how they use it is just as effective: Black type on a white background.

2. Serif or sans serif?

Find the right combination of serif and sans serif to tell the brand story. There are thousands of typefaces to choose from, but it boils down to two main font categories: serif and sans serif. Classic serif typefaces – like Garamond – project a more established, traditional, and trusted feel. Sans-serif typefaces – like Verdana – communicate a more simple, friendly, and modern look.

Traditionally, serif typefaces are easier to read in large bodies of text, which is why most publications – both print and online – use them. On the other hand, sans-serif typefaces are great for technical copy, small block blocks of text, and even headlines and subheads. Both are interchangeable, but it comes down to balancing the appropriate personality and, of course, legibility.

3. Deliver the message

Your typography is the vehicle for communicating messages. The typeface enhances the message, it shouldn’t distract from it. Is your romantic, blue-sky headline more effective in Helvetica Bold ALL CAPITALS or in Times New Roman Italic? Is your call to action stronger in Georgia or Frutiger?

Consider how the small details, like upper and lower case letters, play into messaging. Using ‘Title Case’ for Headlines Will Convey a More Serious Tone, while ‘sentence case’ is more approachable and casual. And be on lookout for those whacky ampersands, ‘Qs’, question marks, and other characters. The last thing you want is to license a typeface only to realize that one or more symbols distracts from your message.

4. Rein in the number of weights and styles

Just because a typeface may provide the flexibility of a dozen weights and styles, doesn’t mean each one should be used. Most typefaces have multiple weights and styles, including Light, Regular, Italic, Bold, Bold Italic and Black. Some typefaces even have Condensed or Extended styles. While that level of flexibility is useful for some communications, it’s best to limit the number of styles you actually use.

You can shift the size or the weight to change the message hierarchy, but it’s not necessary to do much more than that. If Palatino Regular is used for titles on print collateral and for headlines in advertising, communications would be more consistent and recognizable than if Palatino Bold were used on one piece, Italic on another and Bold Italic on another.

5. Don’t be limited to what’s on the PC

Don’t stifle your brand’s personality with what’s available in PowerPoint. Software applications may limit what fonts you can use on a daily basis, the typefaces representing your brand shouldn’t be limited to Times New Roman and Arial. Designers often recommend typefaces that aren’t widely available for a reason.

Print materials from ads to fact sheets and annual reports should always leverage those carefully selected typefaces. Even online, more and more typefaces are available as Webfonts so what you communicate is seamless from traditional print materials to websites and mobile devices.

Typography is the one tool you use most often in your daily communications (how else would you be reading this?). Invest the time and strategy to ensure your fonts are appropriate for your brand and corresponding communications, lest your efforts become viewed as the equivalent of .

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