Will a new typeface enhance my brand?

|| July 23, 2014

When it's done as part of a deliberate and careful refreshing of a brand, or establishing a new brand, choosing the right typeface or combination of typefaces can do a lot to underline the brand's core values and style. Varying typefaces on an ad hoc basis, however, damages a brand's consistency and credibility.

Windows 8.1 ships with 35 fonts for the Latin alphabet, some of which are different weights of the same typeface. Microsoft Office installs additional fonts. Many design and desk top publishing applications install their own fonts. Additionally, you can download for free tens of thousands of fonts from the internet.

Only a tiny fraction of these fonts are suitable for use as part of your brand.

Your brand's standard font for body text needs to be highly legible, not draw too much attention to itself, and be available on every computer which is going to be used to produce documents. This can be paired with a more distinctive headline font, though that must be a font which complements it by sharing a common underlying flow and rhythm. These kind of pairings are best left in the hands of expert typographers, although a new tool, TypeDNA, will help make pairings of fonts already installed on your system.

Although free fonts are widely available, they tend to be low quality — the subtle aspects of letter spacing and kerning require enormous amounts of time and expertise, and most hobby font designers have neither the skills nor the time to get these right. Commercial fonts have come down in price significantly, and a number of commercial font vendors offer free versions in perhaps one or two font weights — enough to have installed on everyone's computer for letters and business documents, while allowing the design team more latitude.

The font used for your logo needs to harmonise with your brand's fonts, but it does not have to be the same font. In many organisations, the logo font is kept distinct and not used for any other tasks.

Generally speaking, no more than four font variations should appear on a single page — including bold and italics of the same font. More than this creates a sense of visual clutter, and distracts from the main message. Body text must be set for maximum legibility, which usually means a point size of 10-11. Point size is a slightly misleading measure, because it relates to the distance between the bottom of the descender (eg, the bottom of 'y' or 'g') and the top of the ascender ('l'). Fonts vary in their visual appearance and legibility at a particular size. Sabon 11 point, for example is visually more like Times New Roman 12 ponit and Arno 13 point. However, Sabon also occupies more space per letter. Font legibility also depends on leading (pronounced like the metal 'lead', not the verb 'to lead'), which is the additional space between the bottom of the descender and the top of the ascender on the next line.

Your visual identity guidelines should specify what fonts to use, at what size and with what leading, and in what combinations. It is very rare that a visual identity should specify more than two families of fonts, and the trend is towards fewer, rather than more.