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Choosing A Typeface Is A Brand Exercise

Choosing A Typeface Is A Brand Exercise

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Posted May 18, 2021
, by tickyboom
The Featured Image for this blog post. 2% chance of a cat.
I used to think that choosing a typeface and setting my typography was JUST a design exercise. But, the more I dive into and practice brand strategy, I have completely shifted my outlook on choosing and setting type. This article will try to convince you of the same epiphany I have had.  Choosing a typeface is a brand exercise and much more than a design exercise.
🦁 Sections

💫 Definitions

Before we start here, I need to define a few things:

Typeface: This is the entire family of type. So, think Helvetica Now, which has Display, Micro, & Text. That family of glyphs is the typeface. 

Font: The actual file and cut you are using from the typeface family. Think Helvetica Now Display Bold as being the font and the file would be .otf for example. 

Brand: A brand is your promise lived out consistently over time. It is not a logo or a typeface.

Brand Strategy: How you are going to be communicating your brand. What audience will you be speaking to, who are you, what do you do, why does it matter—those types of things.

Ok, now back to the regularly scheduled blog post.

Featured Image for Choosing A Typeface Is A Brand Exercise
It's more than design my friends.

✏️ More than design

In school, I was taught how to choose a typeface. Have a traditional design? Choose Baskerville and maybe use a script if it needs a touch of elegance. Modern, minimal design? Choose Helvetica, and if you need some small body copy, use Times New Roman. Pretty straightforward, no?

What I wasn’t taught was that a typeface has many implications attached to it that directly affect your brand. This epiphany took me a lot of time to have along with doing the reps of brand work to connect the dots. 

Here are some key roles a typeface will play in your brand:

  • Personality
  • Usability and Scalability
  • Trendiness

⭐️ Personality

A typeface can be elegant, bold, rough, astute, whimsical, or just plain dull. When I changed my view on choosing typefaces, a typeface’s personality became super important.  Personality takes things to a deeper level when developing the visuals for a brand. Maybe a boring typeface fits perfectly with a super illustrative brand visual language. Perhaps using a typeface with slight whimsy for a brand in the finance industry will immediately set them apart and make peeps go “Whoa, this company is fresh, I wanna see what they are about.” Boom!

☕️ Usability and Scalability

This role is a toughie. You will be required to walk some fine lines here, but it is well worth it. 

When hunting for that magical typeface, you also need to be thinking about how the typeface will be used. It’s going to be ok to pick a super-expressive headline font knowing that you will need to find a body copy and small use font to pair with it. 

**This brings in the aspect of pairing fonts which is a whole novel of a tutorial in itself. Stay tuned 🙂

Choosing Helvetica and calling it a day without thinking about all of your use cases will yield poor results and maybe facepalms. 

Another aspect of usability which ties into scalability is in how many different scenarios will a typeface be used for your brand? You have your social media headers, your website, business cards, stationery, flyers, brochures, what else? Will the typeface work well in all of these scenarios? It has to. 

Your brand must have consistency, even down to the typeface use. Don’t roll out Inter on your business card and then stroll in with Helvetica Now on your website. No thank you, sir/madam! 

Another aspect of usability is how many styles are in the family. Does the typeface have a Display, Text, Micro, Mono? The larger a family is, the more use cases this typeface will potentially serve your brand. Super important! 

Does the typeface have a class counterpart? For example, Freight has a serif and a sans-serif typeface. Choosing a family with complimenting classifications can be magic.

Let’s talk about scalability now. You found your magical brand typeface. You are stoked. 

How long will this typeface last for you? A couple of years? If you were to move on from this typeface after some time, would it be easy to pivot to a different one? What about your website, is the typeface available for the web? For worst-case scenarios, is there a free typeface version that comes close? Can your marketing team use this typeface? Can your typeface be used in an app? Do you need to take a small business loan out to purchase this typeface? 

It’s a lot, I know. If we are going to be doing this brand thing right, we have to think through these things. Having a typeface that will scale and fit all of your needs will be a massive investment with tons of return for your brand.

Choosing A Type Face Type Illustration
A typeface is literally the face of your brand

👋 Trendiness

The thing about trends is they come and go. You can set them or follow them. 

They are also a construct. 

Helvetica was a trend for a while, but because it is not on-trend doesn’t mean it isn’t still a world-class typeface. The trendiness factor can be a trap in some cases for some typefaces. 

I have found that the more expressive a typeface is, that will help me gauge its longevity for my brand. 

Windsor is the new hot kid on the block. A beautiful serif that is being used to create an unexpected factor in its application. But, how long will that unexpectedness last? Will the trend of using Windsor and serifs like it to make an impact be overused and become almost Papyrus-like in distaste? 

Looking at fresh new trends is excellent and helpful to see what can be done or is being done. A good starting point to get your brain synapses firing. But, where does that all fit into your brand? That is an essential aspect to ponder. If an expressive, goopy serif for your headlines exudes the proper communication of your brand for years to come, then pull the trigger, no matter if it is a trend or not. 

A typeface drives your brand like a car

🏗️ Get A Trial!

I need to point this out real quick. For places like FontSquirrel, Google, and other free typeface repositories, you can download typefaces for use for free. Yay. But, if you are looking for a premium typeface, you will need to download a trial to put it through its paces. Make sure to look for that from the foundry you are looking to purchase the typeface from. 

When you download a trial typeface, you most likely won’t have access to all of the weights, and some characters will be missing. Do the best you can with what you are provided with. You should have enough to work with to decide on whether to pull the trigger on this premium typeface for your brands’ face. #smileypun

All of the above aspects play a huge role in how your visual brand is communicated. A typeface will give the visual cue of personality to your reader. It’s fantastic to think about the word ‘Typeface’ in this new light as well. The typeface you choose will be one of the main faces for your brand.

Let’s Talk More About Use Cases

Let’s dive a bit deeper into some of the considerations for use-cases you need to be making when choosing a typeface with this new re-framing of it being a brand exercise. 

Color is a foundational part of your brand.

🎨 Color Use

Here is a list of questions to ask and answer when choosing a typeface or full-on Typeface:

  • How does the typeface look black on white?
  • How does the typeface look white on black?
  • How does the typeface look tone on tone?

🧒🏻 Identity Use

Here is a list of questions to ask and answer when choosing a typeface or full-on Typeface:

  • Will I be using this typeface for my logotype?
  • If not, will the typeface I choose to clash with my existing logotype?
  • What does my typeface look like with my logo icon?
  • What does the typeface look like in a business card design?
  • How does this typeface look like on a poster design super big?
  • What about brochures, mailing cards, and other stationery?
  • How does this typeface look on a design for my social media banners?
  • What does this typeface look like as part of my blog featured image design? 
A typeface is your brand voice as well.

🖥️ Website Use

Here is a list of questions to ask and answer when choosing a typeface or full-on Typeface:

  • Does the typeface I want have a web license?
  • What are the tiers of the web license? Tiers usually deal with page visits.
  • How does the typeface render on the web compared to a design program?
  • Does the typeface you want to move forward with have a free equivalent if no web license is available? For example, Montserrat is a free equivalent of Gotham. This point is a huge question to tackle.

The above questions give you a list of use cases to test your typeface. These are all touchpoints for your brand identity. There is a lot for sure. Don’t get overwhelmed, because there are more depending on how you want to do things!

Remember, good things take time to make. Let’s put in that work! You can and will rock.

Your typeface will be the number one touchpoint to your visual brand that people will see. 

A lot of folks say a logo is number one. I have a bit of contention with that. 

Your typeface will be used in all cases where there are words in your brand identity, sometimes when your logo is not present. That is why I contend your typeface will be the number one touchpoint. 

It’s the real face of your visual brand identity.

👉️ Let’s Rah-Rah For A Second

This new way of thinking I am proposing requires more work from you. It will require lots of stepping away and stepping back with fresh eyes. It will require you to make tough decisions. But, these decisions will help you create a much more impacting and consistent brand identity.

Here is the deal. You can do it. 

I believe in your abilities and in you. 

The practice of typography is a laborious and beautiful one. It yields incredible results. Just stick with it. Go slow. 

Don’t let the fast pace of social media and online life force you to make hasty decisions. Trust your gut. 

Be daring. 

Don’t be afraid of being different if it authentically communicates your brand promise.

You can do it because you are awesome!

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