Designing a brand identity is a complex (and fun) process comprising many elements. For the brand identity to succeed, all the facets should reflect the core values and persona of the business it represents. The visual language of a brand is one of the first touchpoints people have with a company. It is helpful to think of these elements as a first impression for the audience. The most obvious influence of typography within a brand’s identity is the logo or wordmark. But even after a logo suite is designed, there are several typeface decisions that are required across many other elements that shape the brand’s presence; print materials, websites, social media content, ads, etc. Designing with type can be a fun form of artistic expression, but it can hinder success without an intentional and informed strategy.
Typography, much like art, has been a direct reflection of culture through the years. This context is helpful to understand just how connected we are with this component of design. The evolution of typography contains some really interesting learning curves. Most typeface styles and conventions have been influenced by advances in industry, machinery, and technology. Still, we are optimizing typography design based on how humans interact with different platforms and environments. This history goes to prove that there is more to selecting fonts than what looks nice to us; there are undeniable functions that typestyles serve. This should always remain at top of mind when selecting typefaces during brand development.
THE ROLE OF TYPOGRAPHY IN LOGO DESIGN
Typography offers a wide range of personality for letterforms, which is important to recognize when designing logos. Since the persona, tone, and values of the brand should be reflected throughout the design elements, typography can behave like a unique signature to the brand. Some personality traits that can be expressed with typefaces include: modern, classic, youthful, traditional, bold, conservative, etc. In addition to personality, a scale of volume to speak with is created by establishing type hierarchy. For example, a brand who’s persona is bold may translate that through a typeface with heavy family weights and at a fairly large scale.
It’s worth noting that font pairings bring diversity to a brand. There are interesting expressions created by duality. For instance, pairing a handwritten style script with a minimalist sans serif works for brands that aim to reflect modernity with luxury. Conversely, pairing a traditional serif with a more calligraphic display font would lend a refined yet conservative tone. This part of the discovery process is very creative, and of extremely high influence. Font pairings can give charming, elegant, whimsy, gritty, upscale or clever impressions; the possibilities are endless. These choices set the conditions for the rest of the brand elements to follow. Each choice influences the next decision, and throughout the design process, we create a well-rounded tone with visual styles that all call back to the defined brand persona.
Choosing fonts that do not reflect the brand’s strategy and values can be a detriment to success. If a brand’s target audience is Gen Z to Millennials, and the visual language looks dated or overtly traditional in a way that doesn’t reflect modern trends, it’s not going to leave a very lasting impression on that audience. Conversely, if the typeface is so stylized that it becomes illegible, that can hurt the impact for an older demographic who can’t recognize the wordmark, or who are inclined to trust a more classic brand.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR SELECTING FONTS
We’ve discussed how establishing the right tone is vital to a successful brand identity. Making decisions about the function of typography holds just as much power.
What needs to be taken account for is the network of platforms a brand will have a presence on. Will the brand have a website and other digital collateral for ads and social media? Will the brand utilize print materials for basic marketing strategy— business cards, letterheads, brochures or stationery? Will it live on clothing, coffee mugs, stickers, notebooks and pens? Will it be seen on window wraps, outdoor signage, billboards or other environmental ad spaces? Once we understand the spaces the brand will interact with, we can begin to define the supportive font families within the brand guidelines.
This is also where we establish standards of hierarchy for all the brand’s typefaces. If the brand will have a website, selection of a typeface that is web friendly, optimized for reading on screens, and passes accessibility guidelines is of utmost importance, (remember in 2003 when you’d stumble upon a webpage written entirely in Papyrus? Yikes.) Legibility has a different standard for each brand component; the function of a logo is to be quickly recognizable from a distance, even if heavily flourished or purely symbolic (think the Artist Formerly Known as Prince). However, the supportive typefaces function very differently and require the best possible legibility to properly share information. Why hand out business cards if no one can read the information on them?
A cohesive brand is a successful brand. Discernable standards are what makes a brand feel fully realized and aligned. To achieve this goal, it is important to set guidelines for typeface usage. For every brand we build, we establish styles for headlines, sub-headlines, taglines, body copy, captions, data and pull quotes, etc. Creating a thoughtful system of usage for several fonts, alongside any other elements like photography or graphics, is effective for maintaining consistency across materials. This approach strengthens the brand’s overall presence and visibility.
There are many classifications of typography. Here are some basic terms to help navigate searching for the right typeface.
Serif typefaces have small tapered brackets on the ends of character forms (visualize Times New Roman). This profile expresses a more classic and scholarly character— partly because serif’s date back to Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction of the metal movable-type printing press. There are no real rules for how to use a serif typeface, but they can easily feel cumbersome if not balanced with a clean sans-serif option.
Sans-serif typefaces are what they sound like; typefaces without serifs (brackets). This classification arose during the Industrial Revolution. The benefit at that time was that in contrast to the typical serif, this new style created more grabbing headlines, which is still effective today. Sans-serifs are still the most prevalent for use on the web. Originally preferred by software developers in the 1990s who used lower resolution CRT monitors, sans-serif fonts are still a common preference for use on screens today, regardless of how advanced resolutions have become. Google Fonts has a generous collection of open source sans-serif families, and some that are specifically designed to be more accessible for those with dyslexia. This is a neat corner of research developing within type foundries who aim to make the web a more inclusive space.
Display fonts and heavily stylized typefaces can be really attractive options to work with. They behave well in creating a memorable logo, tagline or campaign, but are not well suited for larger amounts of information. Think of the iconic Stüssy logo that feels like a person’s handwriting. We can all recognize this logo without really reading the letters, but if a larger body of copy was written in such a heavily stylized typeface, we’d get 2 sentences in before giving up.
SEO CONSIDERATIONS FOR TYPEFACE SELECTION
SEO is symbiotic with good user-experience. Good user-experience is influenced by cognizant design strategy. In order to create an impactful user-experience, it is important to remain empathetic and mindful of the defined audience. For all the same reasons we’ve discussed above, understanding the influence of typography on a brand is relevant to SEO health, too. When making typography decisions for brand identity, we must consider the personality, legibility, accessibility, and overall function of all the choices. A successful brand has a memorable personality, a coherent tone, distinct standards, and definable function. All these elements can be supported and expressed through effective design strategy through typography, promoting a stronger web presence, and empowering a brand’s ability to stand out from the rest.
In the realm of brand design, the significance of typography cannot be overstated, and one crucial aspect often overlooked is the impact of typeface selection on search engine optimization (SEO). The choice of fonts can influence not only the visual appeal of a brand but also its online visibility. When selecting a typeface, it’s essential to consider factors such as readability, load times, and mobile responsiveness, as search engines prioritize user experience. Opting for web-safe and easily legible fonts ensures that your content is accessible to a broader audience and contributes positively to SEO rankings. Additionally, using appropriate heading tags and incorporating keywords within your chosen typefaces can enhance the overall SEO performance of your website. Striking the right balance between aesthetic appeal and SEO considerations is key to creating a cohesive and effective brand design that resonates with both users and search engines alike.
TYPOGRAPHY SOURCES AND TOOLS
There are plenty of great resources to browse and license fonts on the web. The most reliable source for finding well-structured font families is Google Fonts. Google has a robust catalog of open-source fonts that are versatile, tested, and web-friendly. Adobe Fonts is another great site to source fonts that are pre-licensed for personal and commercial use. Adobe Fonts has the added bonus of syncing directly to your Creative Cloud account; this feature skips the process of downloading and installing the families manually.
If Google and Adobe don’t have what we are looking for, there are some additional sources for specialized fonts; these are especially great collections for browsing display fonts. Creative Market is a reliable source to look for highly stylized fonts required for more expressive and creative designs, like ad campaigns, swag or logo design. The prices have a wide range to search within, and licensing typically is dependent on intended usage (this is the standard for all foundries that are not open-source.) Pixel Surplus is another source that is useful for finding display fonts, and some are free, but each typeface has its own licensing agreement so it’s important to read through these agreements for each font of interest. Both Creative Market and Pixel Surplus have other design elements available to license as well, including vector graphics, mockup files, and other visual design pieces.
We recommend following type designers and foundries from their personal accounts, too. It is always a great decision to support smaller businesses. When the project is right, more personally crafted options have a tremendous impact. Some foundries and designers we follow are Tropical Type, Atipo, Labor & Wait, Jen Wagner, Taylor Penton, James Coffman, Brandon Nickerson, and Fatih Hardal. These are individuals and groups of such extreme talent – we love to see their work in the wild!
Typography isn’t just about choosing fonts that we like; it’s a cornerstone of effective brand design, impacting everything from visual identity to user experience. In branding, typography communicates a brand’s personality and values, fostering recognition and trust. Moreover, proper typography aids in SEO by enhancing readability and user engagement. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in accessibility, ensuring content is inclusive and easily accessed by all users. There are many resources available to designers to make thoughtful decisions about typography, we hope you check out our favorites.