At first glance, typography may not seem like a big issue for marketers. Dive a little deeper, however, and you’ll note it’s a hot topic for many.
Back in April 2020, Cadbury caused a stir when it spent a six-figure sum on refreshing the typography of its iconic logo. To the untrained eye, it didn’t seem like much had changed.
Then there are of course the brands who, without their iconic logo design, would be simply unrecognisable. Take the world-renowned Fedex brand, for example, whose arrow-within-a-font is a modern branding masterpiece.
Clearly, typography has the potential to stir up controversy and conversation around a brand. It also plays a key role in how customers perceive you.
First, let’s clear up some definitions. To the layman, typography and font are one and the same. But they actually relate to different styling conventions that can have a huge impact on your brand:
- Typography is the process of setting and arranging typefaces
- Typeface refers to the design of the lettering, like bold, italic, light, condensed etc.
- Font family is a set of typefaces – for example, Arial has regular, narrow, black etc.
- Font category refers to general styles, such as handwriting fonts, script, serif and sans serif.
- Serif is a line at the end of each stroke, seen in font families such as Times New Roman.
“Homogeneity is dangerous”
In another typography debacle, marketers have taken aim at fashion brands who’ve seemingly all shifted their logo designs to blend into one. Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Burberry have all switched from their distinct font categories into the same sans serif style.
While the resulting imagery is not offensive, therein lies the problem. They all look the same. As fashion expert John Whelan puts it, “for a global creative industry, homogeneity is dangerous”.
How can we differentiate with typography?
To stand out, we need to use typography to reflect our brand values. There’s more to those font families than you might think. For example:
Aesthetic versus legibility
The age-old serif versus sans serif debate is yet another bone of contention for designers. Traditionally, serif fonts are associated with older, classic, trustworthy brands. Sans serifs, meanwhile, is considered approachable and ‘clean’ – which is why we see them being associated with companies like Facebook.
But beyond brand perception, there are also practical concerns. For example, ‘slab serif’, a thicker typeface, stems from print media days when messaging was printed on cheaper paper. The heavy weighting made it easier to read.
Meanwhile, sans serif is more associated with digital media, allowing for extra space between letters without those little strokes.
Uppercase versus lowercase
Picture brands like Amazon and Facebook. In logo form, these are all in lowercase – breaking traditional grammar conventions. Some may prefer Pascal or Camel case, where new words are introduced with a capital letter and no spacing. Think EasyJet or YouTube.
In cases like the “American lowercase experiment”, during which conventions were challenged and exchanged for non-capital letters, readers lauded this as progressive and modern. Rebelling against the status quo is trendy, and many modern start-ups like to operate this way. Irreverent. Bold.
Blending with images
Break from the mould by personifying typefaces – adding human-like shapes to letters to make yours stand out. This should be done sparingly, for example, with logos only, but can really help to differentiate a brand.
They also evoke images of action and speed, which is great for delivery services or automotive brands.
As we can see here, typography is a lot more divisive than we thought! It can serve as a spokesperson for your brand, helping you stay in your customers’ minds.
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