Inside Brand Design: Font
Have you ever worked with a designer and been mystified by some of the strange terms they throw around when they’re talking about fonts? Well the first instalment of Inside Brand Design is here, and we are looking at the world of fonts! Fonts are often taken for granted, but there’s so much to these wordy squiggles that we should know, but don’t, especially when it comes to their role in branding. Let’s explore the background of fonts, and hopefully demystify some of those tricky terms.
The Beginning of Fonts
Fonts are powerful creatures when you think about it – communication is key to everything we do and without them, words would not exist in their visual form and we’d still be entrenched in spoken tradition. Don’t get me wrong, the spoken histories of the world are beautiful, but these days it’s true – successful (written) communication begins with a font.
So, where do fonts come from? Most resources draw a line in the sand around a particular occasion… Gutenberg’s invention of moveable typefaces and the printing press, including the OG typeface, Blackletter. Wait, doesn’t the title say an exploration of font, not typeface? Let’s back up and cover a few terms before we go any further.
Knowledge Box: The Serif Sheriff
You’ve probably noticed the words serif and sans serif scattered across the internet in descriptions, classifications, memes and social media jokes. Serifs are simply the small flourishes at the end of a letter stroke; if a typeface lacks this cute little detail, it’s classified as a sans-serif, meaning without serif.
+ TYPEFACE: A group of similar fonts, each with their own weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicisation and ornamentation. Think of it like a family.
+ FONT: A style within a typeface, often found in its own file. Take the Arial typeface – the fonts include Arial, Arial Narrow, Arial Black etc. (more on Arial a little later).
+ TYPOGRAPHY: The design of the letters and typefaces you see every day, all around you.
Phew! I had to get my head around that in my first year too, don’t worry.
Back to Guttenberg. I’d love to say he was a passionate revolutionary, but really, he was driven by a dream many people hold close to their hearts – financial security. Like any savvy entrepreneur, Guttenberg identified a gap in the market, noting the inefficiencies of wood-block printing methods. Instead, metal was on his mind as he invented a a dedicated machine containing metal blocks that could be moved around to suit the text, while saving time and mass-producing printed texts. What he initially saw as a time-saving money-maker blew up the landscape, much like the disruptor brands of today.
Let’s time warp to 2019, as traditional design gives way to a digital landscape of clean type, statement fonts and more colours than Pantone can match a colour wheel to. It’s hard to believe the blocky typeface of Guttenberg paved the way the the minimalist fonts trends of today, but I guess we should remember successful innovation always has solid foundations.
You may be wondering why I’m not covering the centuries between the 1500s and 2010s. Although I’d love to be fount of all fonty knowledge, most if not all the families we use today originated in the last 120 years.
How Old is…
+ Times New Roman – Before popping up on uni assignment briefs all over the world (hello '1000 words, size 12 Times New Roman font, double spaced'), Times New Roman was conceptualised in 1929, thanks to Stanley Morison and the Times newspaper.
+ Goudy – Created in 1915, it is said typographer Frederic W. Goudy was inspired by the work of Peter Schoeffer the Younger. Who is Peter Schoeffer the Younger? Well, he happened to be the son of Guttenberg’s apprentice.
+ Montserrat – Juliet Ulanovsky embodied the essence of the identically named Buenos Aires neighbourhood in 2014 in this family, capturing the unique qualities of local urban typography.
+ Arial – This sans serif baby was developed by Robin Nicholas and Particia Saunders in 1982 to be metrically identical to Helvetica, so any document written in the classic font would display and print without issue. A nice slice of license dodging!
So why do fonts matter?
Let’s test your font foundations. Cast your eyes over the following fonts, which do you trust more? Which one annoys you? Which captured your attention first? Which is the easiest to read? Let me know in the comments!
I expect one or two fonts immediately jump out at you. Fonts have a powerful emotional pull. While many people are aware of colour psychology, font psychology remains its ever-unpopular cousin – I assure you though, it’s worth a second thought. Font choices need to complement and communicate brand personality, or they risk undermining your message and eroding trust. Just like you wouldn’t use Comic Sans for your law firm’s logo, you wouldn’t use a serious serif to promote your day care centre.
How do you choose the right font for your brand? At Foster Creative Co, every branding project starts with strategy. Once your brand personality is defined and the target market is locked in, picking a font that complements the message and fills out the brand personality becomes easy.
Knowledge Box: The Baskerville Comeback
A 2012 survey asked the readership of the New York Times if they were optimists or pessimists. Sounds simple, right? Sneakily, Errol Morris, the brains behind the mission, set out to discover if fonts impacted on a reader’s urge to check the agree box.
One font stood above all others in the positivity stakes. Open a Word document, drop the font box and find Baskerville. This 250-year-old serif is the font equivalent of an influencer, stirring the most positive responses out of the 45,000 participants.
Why have I dubbed this knowledge box the Baskerville Comeback? Well, in 1757, when this curvy character first hit the printers, Baskerville met with a lot of heat from critics, regarded as barely readable. Ouch! That’s quite a reversal of fortune. What do you think? Is this Knowledge Box readable? It has been brought to you by Baskerville Old Face.
Change Lives, Design Letters
So, what’s next? How will we read, experience and change the world through type for the next 120 years? The future of typography has become unclear, as anybody with the right tools and the right skills can create and publish a font for global use. Sure, you’re thinking, but fonts? How can fonts change the world in any meaningful way?
Imagine, for a moment, you have dyslexia. Or maybe you know someone who does. Available typefaces address an outdated idea, that dyslexia is characterised by letter swaps (despite a truck-load of evidence claiming otherwise). While typefaces like Dyslexie, Open Dyslexic and Lexie Readable provide a comfortable alternative for those who struggle with dyslexia, emerging designers have the opportunity to improve lives and strengthen user experience if they take on this challenge.
Imagine a whole generation of typefaces that are assistive, elegant and useful… it’s not enough to be aesthetically pleasing anymore, we must be purposeful, even in typography.