I remember talking to a client about the typeface selection for their brand. After a three-minute rant down the rabbit hole, I looked up at the president of the company who had that scrunched forehead – eyes wide stare that quickly made me realize she could care less why we chose this specific font to represent their company. Even though it was the best font EVER. As the life returned to her eyes, I also realized I was that nerd. She had the same awkward, confused, WTF stare that I have when a programmer is talking about code. Yup, I’m a font dork.
By no means am I a typographer, that would be like claiming I’m a chef because I can cook a mean dinner a few nights a week. Well, one night a week as of late. But it was a damn good veggie burger with raw zucchini salad.
So if you are like many and would rather watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix than spend a few minutes reading our blog about rudimentary typography, well, this season was blah and you’re not missing much. So stay awhile. Enjoy. Sip a cup of tea.
Or a cold-pressed juice.
So, typeface selection.
Once we begin flushing out the bare bones of a brand, once the discovery session has been discovered, the mood board has been boarded, the positioning statement has been stated, we start to explore font choices that can work with the developing brand. The foundation has been set, so we know whether we are looking for something more modern, traditional, classic or custom.
Basic rule of thumb breaks into two main categories. You can either go to a serif font for a classic, traditional feel. Or gravitate toward a sans serif for something modern. I had a professor in college who drilled in our heads to avoid trendy/decorative fonts altogether. And by drilled I mean she beat it in with an iron fist until someone was crying in the corner. Not me, I swear.
She has my heart forever. 🙂
We always wait to explore fonts until understanding + establishing the brand story. What are the objectives? Who are they? What is the Brand Character? What message is the brand trying to communicate? Once we know the answer to these basic questions and have done the research, we look at font characteristics that can help to support the brand identity. Every detail matters; each cut, counter, weight, curve all adds up to further the dialogue.
Some key focus areas that we look for:
Weight: thin, ultra light, light, book, regular, medium, bold, demi bold, heavy, black
There are a slew of weights, and each font has its own set. But a heavy-weight communicates something much different than a thin. Strength, masculinity, dominance, trust, or confidence. Whereas a thin or light-weight can convey sophistication, elegance, refinement, femininity, or even humility.
Basic Fundamentals: x-height, ascenders/descenders, counters
These are just a few off the giant list of typographic terms that address different elements of a letterform. But these are some of the more common items that identify a font. We have to make sure that a font is legible, working for headlines, body copy and other usages. Most importantly it has to support the brand.
Characteristics: Often time a font has unique elements that differentiate it from others. These characteristics can enhance the identity from both a recognition and personality standpoint. A font like Futura, with extreme points and angles, says something very different than Helvetica, which has more approachability in its’ curvatures. These subtle font characteristics offer varied shapes, angles, curves and lines that bring a typeface to life.
The Family: Like any family, sometimes there are oddballs. We look at the full font family to examine how it will work in varied usages for the client. Stationery, signage, body copy, website design & development, eblast, sales material. Do all characters hold up beyond just the letterform? Glyphs, punctuation, capital vs. lowercase letters, numbers.
With our client Gulf Building, we created a brand story based around building experiences along with commercial + residential structures. Since their focus is on both realms of construction, we wanted to show that contrast in the brand. We positioned Gulf as the go-to builder in South Florida for more than just superior design and construction services, but also for their level of commitment to the client experience and personal connection. With inspiration based in Bahaus design and building blocks, we created a strong geometric logo that was paired with an equally strong logo typeface. The decision to use this uncommon font came from the need to marry the mark with something that could support its’ strength while still communicating Gulf as the builder to trust.
Mandatory is a narrow, bold and structural typeface with clear cuts and angular accents that spoke to the construction + building side of Gulf. It was great for headlines and even better as a brand identifier, as it was not a typeface used by any local or national competitors. It was a unique enough font that could easily be recognized as Gulf Building, even when standing alone.
In order to offset the strength and very identifiable characteristics of Mandatory, we had to tone down their supporting font with something less structured, softer and more universal. We selected Proxima Nova, a rounded, modern typeface that is extremely legible and worked well to juxtapose Mandatory. These fonts respectively spoke to the human experience side of Gulf as well as the construction + builder side.
Where there are generally only two typefaces that we want to use for a brand, one main and one supporting, there are times when something more personalized can further enhance the experience. Typographic alternatives like hand-lettering or calligraphy can be awesome, adding customization and personalization to a project. But proceed with caution. Does it really work with your brand, or do you just think it looks cool? We would not use hand lettering for Gulf Building, for example, because it is not consistent with their brand or who they are. The story would be very different.
Like font selection, there are so many types of hand lettering. And if you do it, go for the gold. Get a pen and ink and start writing. Or use an app like Paper by Fifty-Three to sketch then export to Illustrator, or invest in Wacom tablet. Handwriting can make a great logo or accent, but it can go ugly quick. If your hand lettering skills aren’t spot on, or you are like that kid on American Idol whose friends and family tell him he can sing but really we’re all laughing at home, STOP. Practice like crazy or get someone else to do it.
That effortless, calligraphic style communicates ethereal, feminine or relaxed; while the style we used for Alternative Constructors is messy and rough to further their brand story. But it worked for them.
The point is, don’t use hand lettering just because it’s cool right now. Use it with the same caution you would when adding that extra layer of salt on your dinner. Is it necessary, or are we going to be licking the ocean for dinner? And it always goes back to food.
I’m ready for lunch.
To wrap this whole little ditty up so I can head over to the taco place, typeface selection is important. It is a main brand identifier and a key element when visually communicating its’ story. Take out your magnifying glass, inspect those letterforms, try out different fonts, test them on various platforms, use different weights and styles. Keep asking yourself, “Does this fit the brand story and our objectives? Does it make sense?”
And with that…