What's my type?

Posted in Brand on 20 June 2014 By David Hunt, Creative Director

Strong. Good-looking. Versatile. Honest. Friendly. Unpretentious.

Not the keywords in my online dating profile*, but rather some of the characteristics we at Emperor were looking for in a new corporate typeface when we refreshed our brand identity at the start of 2014.

It’s not necessarily as straightforward a task as you might at first think.

When you embark on this particular journey yourself, you may find that balancing the preferences of various stakeholders while reflecting your brand personality can be challenging. And that’s before you consider the technical aspects of the project.

Of course, rather than choose from the hundreds of thousands of existing typefaces, you could start from scratch: a new typeface designed especially for you is always an option. Intel® did just that recently with the launch on the fantastic and comprehensive Intel® Clear (you can check it out on YouTube). Such a project isn’t the easy option and it certainly isn’t the cheapest. However this path should give you something unique, fit for purpose and 100% exclusively yours.

Let’s assume, for now, you’re not taking the tailor-made option and are looking for something off the shelf, where do you begin?
It helps to think of the task as not too dissimilar to finding a new employee (or even other-half). Each typeface has a string of human-esque characteristics that will feel right or wrong in relation to your brand as well as a bunch of more practical considerations. Furthermore, you’re going to have to live with each other for a while so it’s worth making sure that your right for each other, their references check out and, of course, it helps if they’re easy on the eye.

So, when your agency presents you with the typeface options for you new brand it’s worth scoring each candidate in a few key areas.

Personality

Let’s think about first impressions. As with people, they count. So give your typeface a good look up and down and imagine how he or she would greet you.

It sounds silly at first but the subtle differences in characteristics of each font create an imagined personality that subliminally speaks to you in a certain way:

“Good morning” says Times New Roman in a formal but slightly, quiet and dull voice. He’s giving you the impression he could do the job, but he wouldn’t stand out and go the extra mile.

Whereas Baskerville italic bounces in with a slight, spring in his step, a soft smile on his face and then greets you with a warmer, more lyrical “Good morning”. He’s a bit long in the tooth, but he still looks sharp – and there’s something reassuring about him.

You get a formal but friendly “Pleased to meet you” from Myriad Pro. This guy is sharp, pleasant and has the pedigree to do a great job (just check out his range of weights and he’s got Apple on his CV).

A strong but welcoming “Hello” comes from Museo Sans Rounded. You feel like he could make himself heard while charming others with his softer side, but he might be an acquired taste.

DIN speaks with a german accent and gives the impression that he’s ready to get his hands dirty. That said, after a few minutes your ears are ringing.

FS Me gives you a casual and perky “Hi there!” but speaks to you in a wonderfully crisp, clear voice and at precisely the right volume. He’s a relative newcomer but you like him.

You get the point.

It’s about figuring out the personality of your typeface and deciding if it matches, fits with or complements that of your brand.

Appropriateness

So you like the cut of your typeface’s jib and you can see him fitting-in well. He’s a likable chap but lets dig a little deeper, look at the big picture and find out if he’s really right for you?

This brings me to my local. Built in 1899 it’s a Gothenburg pub and was established to disperse its profits in support of the local community. As such it’s a source of much local pride, but not for me.

The Blackletter style red letters that adorn the sign above the door look good but they are simply not appropriate for one of Scotland’s oldest pubs, given that that style is often referred to as Olde English.

The moral of the story: looking good is a great start but it doesn’t always make that choice the right one.

Put it this way: you might think that your candidate's cornflower chinos, Oxford check and grey desert boots are all very cool, but they’re not necessarily appropriate for work at a corporate finance business are they?

Providence

He looks this part, but like any new recruit it’s always worth checking out references and making sure that the new typeface is everything it appears to be.

Think about: who else it's worked for; where it's from; and, who designed it. Every font has a backstory and some are longer and more complicated than others.

Avoiding any embarrassment is simple though. If you don’t want to choose a font that is associated with your biggest competitors, have a look at their communication material and website. Wikipedia should give you all the info you need to find out if you font’s history is something you want to be associated with.

Your agency should have this covered but keep Gill Sans in mind. It is an incredibly popular choice and has been used by national broadcasters, car makers and large publishers. However, Eric Gill (its designer) had some disturbing sexual practices that are unlikely to sit comfortably with any brand. It’s so bad in fact it may have you considering Comic Sans – and we can’t have that.

Technical

You’ve got this far, which means it’s going well and, so far, your candidate typeface is ticking the right boxes. There’s another tricky, if a little boring, hurdle to get over before reaching the home straight: the technical stuff.

In a multi-national business that’s operating in a world where people are spending an average of nine hours a day reading on-screen, your typeface probably needs to be ready for use in any medium, on any device, at any size and in any language.

Is it readable at 6pt? Can we have it on our website? How does it look in the Cyrillic alphabet? Or Arabic for that matter? Will it be available on my Windows PC? All potential technical question that will impact your choice.

If your key markets is the Russian Federation, then it’s vital that your typeface has a Cyrillic alternative. If your primary channels is an app, your font has to respond well to a pinch and zoom. And if you require lots of formal, contractual documentation, then legibility and readability at small sizes in good, old print is absolutely vital.

You won't want to, and shouldn’t have to worry about any of this stuff - that’s your agency’s job - but having an awareness of the technical challenges will help you give them the brief they need to make informed, relevant recommendations.

Gut feeling

All of the above is moot of course unless the typeface you end up with just doesn’t feel right. We’ve spent the last 1000 words or so discussing typefaces as if they were people and just as with people, some you’ll like and some you won’t - no matter how much the checklist tells you you should. Some type just isn’t your type - so to speak.

And that’s OK. There are plenty of more fish in the sea.

Thankfully, it’s at this point there’s a knock on the door and in walks a familiar face. “Nice to see you again” he says. You might not remember his name but you’ve met definitely met before.

Ahhh, it’s Helvetica possibly the world’s most used typeface.

Like George Clooney, E-type Jags and brown brogues, there are not many people who can’t warm to him or occasions when he’s out of place.

So if all else fails, he’s everyone’s type and you could do worse than making him yours.

 

 

*For the record, I don’t have one.

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