Spelling out your brand: Why type matters


Spelling out your brand: Why type matters

Tuesday June 30th, 2015 by Extensis

As a slightly less than metrosexual guy, I believe there are three key elements a man needs for his overall presentation: a good haircut, a decent watch, and nice shoes. Of course clothes and grooming matter, but these three items are key in presenting ourselves in a way that’s polished, professional—and, let’s face it—pretty.

Let’s extend that analogy to graphic design. There are a few key elements that define a brand, most notably logo, positioning, editorial voice, design approach, and color. Once that’s been established, we’re all ready to go out into the world in the form of a site launch. Right?

Two low-rent scripts that match the garish and tacky character, Saul Goodman. (Script Natural & Dancing Script)

Not quite. In my 19 years as a marketing and creative professional, I can’t say how many half-decent sites I’ve stumbled across with bad typography. We’ve all seen them. Nice logo, but the body copy is set in…Verdana. The logo font is playful or dated when it should be exuding sober credibility. Typography as an extension of the brand’s tone and voice is apparently either an afterthought or given no thought.

With the advent of web fonts and the explosion of innovative fonts and foundries, today’s designers and developers really have no excuse not to pay attention to typography and treat it as the core component of brand definition that it is. Like it or not, an estimated 55% of people’s impression is based on appearance. The same holds true for your client’s brand.

It follows that putting out any advertising with poor typography is like stepping out with a bad haircut, watch or shoes. And no self-respecting dude, or brand, would want to do that, right?

Saturday Night Live uses a Gotham treatment that’s perhaps a callback to the sketch show’s early 1980s identity.


It’s not just about looks. It’s about business.

There are some designers and, let’s be honest, probably even more developers who don’t really see or treat typography as an important component of the overall presentation or expression of the brand. Maybe they don’t even see the connection between strong, appropriate typography and the bottom line, which is somewhat understandable since that can be hard to quantify.

Even so, I ask developers on my web design projects to use web fonts. I ask designers to try different fonts in initial explorations, usually a “primary” for headlines and secondary for body copy (although I’m all for using a single typeface for the brand; it certainly looks clean and keeps licensing simple).

A company’s brand is the unique personality that people identify with your product or service. Just as we want to present and express ourselves as polished, unique, attractive and competent individuals, it’s just as important to take as much care in defining and differentiating your client’s brand through typography.

Sharp Sans 1 used in brand identity created by Pentagram for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Typography is a key expression of the voice, tone, and style of any brand. Good typography evokes a feeling and makes an impact. It conveys that your company appreciates aesthetics and cares about the details. As difficult as it can be to quantify without, say, focus groups (no comment), good typography defines how the client is perceived, which of course affects their bottom line—and yours.

Gorgeous identity system for the iconic Museu del Disseny de Barcelona and the Disseny Hub, designed with Graphik.


I’ve had a wide range of small to mid-sized businesses to large corporations as clients, and it’s unanimously the large corporate clients that have 5-10 pages dedicated to typography in their brand guidelines. Many commission original typefaces, or variations on them (like Adobe with their official corporate font, Adobe Clean.) They know it sets them apart from the competition. They made that investment in differentiating and expressing their brand. Corporate clients know that typography matters.

If you don’t believe me, allow me to quote this now-famous commencement address by Steve Jobs, who realized typography’s importance in defining the Apple brand and even as a foundational component of today’s computers:

I decided to take a calligraphy class…I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

Steve Jobs had a deep appreciation for typographic aesthetics.


None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”

Spelling out your brand: Why type matters

What does your brand typography communicate? Does it express your client’s personality and positioning? Have you seen typography as a key or major element in designing or developing one of your projects? If not, why? If so, please sound off in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.