Can fonts make or break a brand?

Fonts. With luck, they should enhance a brand. They should be unnoticeable and blend into the background. The bad ones - Comic Sans we’re looking at you - stand out and scream, helping to slowly erode any confidence in the brand.  

You know the ones. The cutesy messages on shampoo bottles written in a font designed to emulate the handwriting of a small child, or an aggressively structured font trying to get you to subscribe to a Legs, Bums, and Tums class in the local gym. As type-designer Bruno Maag says: “A good typeface is like a well-crafted British or Italian suit: it always looks perfect.” 

But to what extent can a font make or break a brand? Different styles of font, or typeface, are associated with different brands, and there’s a whole level of psychology when it comes to choosing one which fits with the message you want your brand to convey.

Kris Makuch, head of digital at Cicero group argues that fonts are super important. “They're reliable little characters that can unconsciously portray reactions in the reader and audience. They are to designers what keyboard voices are to musicians. They can change the tone in an instance.”

“Here’s the thing. There’s a lot more to typefaces than meets the eye, and you certainly need to think beyond Helvetica and Gotham. There’s a whole level of psychology attached to the decision process. The use of Serif is subliminally associated with traditional brands; Sans Serif is regarded as more contemporary, and a Display Face can really catch your eye. You can communicate so much about the personality of your brand simply from a typeface,” explains Luke Woodhouse, Creative Director, at branding agency Ragged Edge.

To brand effectively, it’s important to consider what type of message you might want to convey, and before a designer does that, it’s important to understand the brand’s identity. “Designers need to be clear on its identity, its personality, its values, what it stands for and how it wants to be perceived. That can then be captured, designed and crafted into a bespoke font that expresses a unique aesthetic that works across the board, from big billboards to tiny details,” explains Woodhouse.

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Michael Foote, founder of comparison site Quote Goat, recently rebranded his website, and initially thought a font was a small detail. “I was instead focused on the colour scheme and logo, looking at the emotive responses behind various colours and so on. However, when the new colour scheme and logo went live it became immediately obvious that the font plays a key role in the feel and design. Our current font just did not fit with the new design.”

It became clear for Foote that the font would affect the whole brand’s tone. “Changing the font would dramatically affect the feel of the site. For example, one font would convey a young and fun message about our brand, whereas another would make us appear far more serious. In the end we decided on two fonts: Monserrat for the headings and calls to action on the page and Work Sans for the body text, as we thought it would appeal more to business customers.”

The key really is finding a font that subtly references the overall purpose

Every designer has their own favourite font. For Kris  Makuch,  Century Gothic and Universe make the cut for the day-to-day document. “Then on special occasions I might even bring out a Lexia or Didot. If I'm feeling particularly adventurous I might even pop out a Signpainter... but I'll only use it sparingly, flashing it out now and then when I know only a few people are looking.”

He adds that fonts are all about context, so with that in mind, you have to think about what your brand is trying to convey. “If you're writing a crime novel you might want to go with a Rockwell - it's serif and is a nice touch to give that typewriter sort of vibe. But if you're about to send a rocket to space then Avenir would be way more appropriate as it looks streamlined. The key really is finding a font that subtly references the overall purpose.”

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Sanjay Sur, senior designer and creative at Cubo, describes typography as the front of house to your brand – it’s the way your brand communicates to the outside world. “ It’s similar to how important first impressions of meeting a real person are.  Do they appear trustworthy, smart, scruffy, comic, bold etc? Fonts work on a very similar level to this within brand world; they are designed to enable creative expression and to give brands a unique and distinct global voice.”

Of course, there are always fonts that might send the wrong message.

Sur says: “Personally, fonts that are a definite no go for me on a brand level would be system fonts such as Times New Roman, Mistral, Comic Sans, Impact, Papyrus.”

He’s not the only person with a distaste for Papyrus or Comic Sans. Kris Makuch explains that the origin of Comic Sans was actually to write text in a speech-bubble for children on Microsoft. “So why do people still use it? Apart from designers being ironic, it still manages to creep out in the form of missing cat posters and home-made bake-sale leaflets across the world. Presumably because people still have access to Microsoft's limited font library, or because they simply don't visit the internet enough to see what a huge faux-pas they are making.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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