The new year always brings renewed design enthusiasm to us all. Starting in 2020, we will publish a series of articles with solid design advice put together by our type and graphic design experts. With this first one, forget all the design dead ends of the previous year and start brand new projects with these design tips by the branding guru and TypeTogether co-founder, José Scaglione .
1. There’s No ‘best font’ for corporate identity
Yes, the World Wide Web is really wide, and it is possible to find lists for pretty much everything. Some of them are neatly crafted and might be good for checking what’s new. Others are no more than a collection of links put together without rhyme or reason. It’s always important to understand that fonts will be right or wrong for a brand based on a multiplicity of factors. Their efficiency can only be assessed in context. What works great for one company may be disastrous for the next. Relying on random font lists for guidance is amateurish at best and lazy at worst, and it leads to capricious and unfortunate type choices.
2. Resist Being too trendy and modern
Pursuing typographic trends and technological imagery can be appealing and even a perfect choice for graphics with a short lifespan. When font hunting, graphic designers are likely to be bombarded with images and ads featuring type families that look a lot like each other, as they all follow the latest typographic fashion. But trends and technology change quickly, causing brands to look aged in a matter of months.
3. MAJOR BRANDS Can’t Transfer POPULARITY
What do Adidas, ExxonMobil, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s have in common? They are successful brands and they use Avant Garde Gothic (or modified versions of it). This does not mean that, if you use the same font, their popularity will be magically transferred to your work. And the idea that this “will make a company look legit” is simply wrong. There is no competitive advantage in mimicking the typography of other successful brands, mainly because branding is about being unique, different, recognizable, and memorable.
As a side note, many well-established companies chose to use classic fonts because at some point — not that long ago — there simply were not a lot of good ones available. Whether the fonts made the brands famous or the brands made the fonts famous is a separate discussion altogether.
4. Symbol, Letter, or Both?
You’re right, this is a spin-off from my previous point. Many clients will ask for a symbol that represents them — a symbol that stands for itself. However, Apple, BMW, and Nike required millions of dollars-worth of advertising and many years until their symbols were recognised. And while having a nice symbol is great, a good logo or wordmark cannot rely on that alone. It must also have good letters; ones that fit its voice and its market.
5. A font Is Not A Logo Is Not A Font
Installing a font and typing the brand name does not make a logo. This is due to a wide range of reasons. The main one being that typefaces are designed in such a way so any one letter can fit before and after any other letter. This is a condition inherent to the very essence of typography: the type designer does not know what will be written with their lettershapes. In the case of logotypes, a designer who already knows what will be the written can carefully tweak each letter to create a more harmonious, cohesive, and appealing shape.
Additionally, if a logo will be printed on billboards and business cards, by offset and laser printers, and also reproduced in both high and low-res screens, it is important to have different versions of the logo to fit the different technical requirements.
Retail typography vs custom lettering. Notice in the design on the right: widened P, rounder O, longer arms of E, and new leg on R. Design by César Sesio.
6. Oh, no! Not neutrality again
There is an identity side to letters. Type communicates but it also represents, and it is as important as iconography and colours when it comes to corporate identity programs. When the idea of neutrality results from carefully crafted briefs and proper in-depth research, then typography, as well as other design elements, must be chosen to fit that. But neutrality has become the holy grail of uninformed or lazy designers, and it has been historically overrated.
There is nothing inherently great (or horrible) about being neutral. So, don't automatically use that neutral font you’re thinking about right now until the brand research phase has been completed.
7. really liking a font Isn’t Enough
If the answer to the question, “Why did you choose this font?” is, “Because I like it,” chances are you are making a mistake. Typefaces play a leading role in corporate identity programs. This is true for both the lettering in the logo itself as well as with the supporting typefaces. The font selection process must acknowledge complex issues regarding language support, graphic style, brand coherence, and technical constraints. Such an important and multilayered decision cannot be left to personal whims or mere subjective taste.
A special mention is needed about gender-related subjectivity. This happens when, for instance, a delicate or ornate font is selected to represent a female-oriented product. Do not do it! Women are stronger than you may assume, but delicate fonts are not and they will degrade at small sizes, on rough paper, or in bad printing conditions.
8. Join the ‘Stop visual clichés’ campaign
Clichés use light bulbs to represent creativity, puzzle pieces to represent solutions, or a little globe to represent international. A brand must stress a company’s advantages over others — what makes it unique. So the use of visual clichés should be avoided at all cost.
I mentioned some classic iconography clichés, but there are many typographic clichés as well: for example, replacing a single letter with a cute drawing (usually a sun, globe, human, or animal shape). Except in very few cases, this usually leads to silly-looking results.
9. Avoid Special effects
The 1990s brought us Nirvana and Blur, but sadly they also brought Photoshop textures, gradients, embossing, and drop shadows. In some cases these may be a suitable solution, of course. Sometimes they may even help with enhancing the visibility of some letters.
But when defining an identity, it is crucial to ensure the branding elements are effective without relying on special effects or colour choices. There are endless scenarios in which neither of these options will be available, and in such cases the brand must perform equally well. The rule of thumb is that if a logo doesn’t work in black and white, it is useless to try to improve it by using colour and effects.
Google’s logo from 1999–2010: drop shadows, bevels, reflections, all the things. The effects were reduced in 2010, then eliminated in 2013, prior to their sans serif wordmark release in 2015.
10. Don’t copy others, don’t copy yourself
We already discussed that it is worthless to follow what other brands do and the disadvantages of following trends. In the same vein, designers must approach each project as a unique problem that requires a specific solution.
This is one challenge that makes graphic design an exciting profession. It gives an opportunity to move outside our comfort zones, experiment, and discover new graphic and typographic solutions.
In other words, be thoughtful and informed but bold. Don’t follow dogmas. There are great new fonts out there and one of them is perfect for your brand!
TypeTogether is an indie type foundry committed to excellence in type design with a focus on editorial use. Additionally, TypeTogether creates custom type design for corporate use. We invite you to browse our library of retail fonts or contact us to discuss custom type design projects.