What is Typography?
Typography is an often overlooked aspect in our day-to-day lives, but it’s affecting us and influencing our decisions whether we realize it or not. From recognizing a logo or ad on a billboard, conveying a brand’s personality and evoking a specific emotion when we read something, typography is everywhere.
But what is typography? The textbook definition I like the most is “Typography refers to the art and technique of arranging type, including the selection of fonts, sizes, spacing and layout, in order to make written language legible, readable and appealing when displayed.” That’s a fancy way of saying, ‘making text look good and readable,’ which is an oversimplification.
The important part of that definition is the end ‘in order to make written language legible, readable and appealing when displayed.” Legibility is if someone can read it, and readability is if someone wants to read it. Those can be two very different things. I’m sure we’ve all looked at a wall of text on a poster or internet article and thought, ‘I’m not reading that!’ That’s bad typography. There are good and bad ways of displaying text that makes the information seem more digestible and less daunting for readers.
But enough of me ranting about what typography is! How does this relate to branding and the impact that it can have on building a cohesive identity for your business?
Why is typography important to branding?
Aside from your logo and brand colors, typography is the next important piece of your brand identity. In some instances, typography can be just as recognizable and memorable. If you don’t believe me, play this addicting game and see how well you do. I bet you’ll surprise yourself with how many companies you can recognize with just text. Typography can also help convey your brand’s personality and values and how people interact with it. Is the font you’re using friendly, welcoming and upbeat? Or is it serious, confident and strong? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but both can be conveyed using only type. This also plays into the emotions that your type is evoking and how that can make a connection with your audience.
All of these factors converge to help reinforce your brand identity. If one piece is off, or your typography is sending the wrong message, your identity feels disconnected, in-cohesive and possibly inauthentic.
So how do you avoid this and ensure that your typography embraces and adds value to your brand identity?
Leveraging typography for brand identity
We’ve discussed what typography is and why it’s important to your brand, but how can you leverage these to ensure it reinforces you and your mission? All good typography should be legible and readable, so we’re assuming that part is handled and we’re going to focus on the ‘appealing when displayed’ portion of the definition. There are three areas where you can use typography to increase the cohesiveness of your identity: consistency, personality and emotion.
Establish a consistent visual identity for your brand
Consistency is one of the simpler areas, but unfortunately, also one of the most ignored. Having a few (1-2 usually, 3 at the most) fonts that your brand uses consistently for specific applications helps reinforce your brand identity and ensures proper utilization of your brand standards.
These usually consist of a headline font and a body copy font that pair nicely together. The headline font should be used for all headings and important info and is usually the strongest of the pair, whereas the body font is nice and legible in longer paragraphs. Sometimes there is a third ‘accent’ font that can be used along with the pair, most commonly a script or decorative type that reinforces the brand personality but is used sparingly for emphasis.
The use of these specifically chosen (and only allowed) fonts is to build a consistent brand image with every piece of content your business puts out. Your audience will start to associate those fonts with you and your brand, most of the time subconsciously, and build a positive connection between them.
Where this comes into practice is the willingness to pay attention to that piece of content specifically because they recognize the brand it is coming from. Someone driving down the highway sees a billboard and instinctively starts reading the first few words, without even realizing it, their brain has already associated that font with your brand and plays a part in whether they keep reading the rest of the billboard. The same is true for any type of advertising or content you put out, digital ads, social posts, print ads, video spots. They should all use the same fonts and typographic styles to reinforce your brand.
Convey brand personality and values through typography
The second area of focus to improve your brand using typography is personality. As we mentioned earlier, fonts can be used to help convey your brand’s personality and values by its characteristics. Choosing fonts and font pairings that share the same personality as your brand is very important. If there’s a disconnect between what your brand is saying and how it looks, it starts to feel inauthentic.
Here are some examples of broad font personalities by category:
Serif fonts (like Times New Roman, Garamond and Georgia) often convey a traditional and classic personality. They can be elegant and sophisticated, especially in all caps or in tall and narrow variants.
San-serif fonts (like Helvetica, Arial and Verdana) portray a more modern and clean personality. They tend to be bolder and more confident than serif fonts because they lack softer serifs (flourishes or ears at the end of each stroke).
Script fonts (such as Zapfino, Pacifico and Sign Painter) can be used to evoke a more feminine and elegant personality. They can also look more organic and free-flowing as they mimic cursive handwriting.
Display fonts (like Abril Fatface, Monoton and Chewy) are almost strictly used for the personality they convey and are mainly used as headlines and at larger sizes because they aren’t as legible as other fonts. They can be used to show different personalities like fun, creative, playful or rough and unrefined.
Monospace fonts (such as Source Code, Roboto Mono and IBM Plex Mono) convey a technical or analytical personality because of their fixed width for each character and are used a lot in coding and programming.
Use typography to evoke emotions and connect with your audience
Lastly, typography can contribute to your brand identity by evoking emotion in your audience. Similar to personality, typography can also portray emotions through the different styles and characteristics of individual fonts.
Fonts with soft, round edges and playful shapes give emotions of joy, happiness and eagerness. Their welcoming shapes give a light-hearted air to a message and can support what is being said.
Typefaces with bold, clean lines convey emotions of confidence, inspiration and pride. Their strong construction gives the appearance of professionalism and competence that strengthens a brand’s image.
On the flip side, fonts with sharp, aggressive angles and jagged edges can convey feelings of anger and intensity. Their strong emotions are especially powerful when paired with urgent and impactful messages.
These emotions resonate with the audience interacting with your content and start to form an emotional connection with them. Picture yourself as an avid outdoor enthusiast and hiker and connecting with North Face or Patagonia content. The emotions of freedom, empowerment and adventure strengthen your worldview and build an emotional connection with the brand itself.
The role of typography in creating a cohesive brand identity can’t be overstated. When used correctly, typography is a powerful tool in the brand identity toolbox. It can be used consistently to create a recognizable brand image with nothing but text. When using fonts with personalities that match your brand, you can reinforce your messaging, values and positioning statement across your content—and lastly, using typography to evoke emotions and make connections with your audience.