Typefaces have a lot of power. They have personalities and evoke emotions. Your logo, website, and other design materials are your business’ first impression, and the brand typefaces you use will greatly influence how your business is perceived. After all, how you say the message is just as important as the message itself.
You may not know where to start when choosing a brand typeface. Do you play it “safe” and go with something more generic? Or should your font choice be more flashy and fun? What’s good and what’s bad? Where can you find fonts? And what are the rules about using them?
Font selection is both emotional and technical. This article will guide you through the basics of typeface selection and give you a greater understanding of the important role typography plays in branding.
What is your brand’s personality?
First, you must think about your brand as a whole. What does your brand represent? Who is the target audience? These questions are essential when forming a “feel” for your brand. Choosing a font like Courier New isn’t going to evoke the same reaction as choosing Book Antiqua. All fonts are different, but when used properly, they can bring your brand to the next level. Once you understand your brand completely and the feelings you would like to evoke from your target audience, it will be easier to choose a typeface to represent that.
It sounds corny but take an honest look at your typeface. What do you feel when you look at it? If it was a person, what kind of personality would he or she have? Is that the person you would want to represent your brand? Once you have figured out some of the key characteristics of the brand you want to convey, it’s time to look at the more technical aspects of typeface selection.
Serif vs. Sans-serif
Let’s start with some typography 101.
A serif typeface has small decorative strokes that extend from the letters. These make it easier for the brain to quickly distinguish one letter from another, so they are a popular choice for books and other printed materials. Serif typefaces are among some of the oldest typefaces, and popular examples include Times New Roman, Georgia, and Palatino.
A sans-serif typeface lacks these decorative strokes, resulting in simpler letter forms. While serifs may be easier to read, monitors have a lower resolution than printed works which makes sans-serifs a popular choice. They also are easier to read at a smaller size (like on a mobile device) due to their simple forms. Popular examples include Arial, Tahoma, and Verdana.
So which is better? It depends on your brand and the feelings you’re trying to convey. Serif typefaces can convey elegance and formality while sans-serif typefaces are associated with being modern, bold, and simple. However, both types of typefaces can be impactful and can reflect a variety of different feelings depending on how they are used.
Choose the star and supporting cast
When choosing what fonts you are using for your brand, you’ll want to pick more than one. Your main font will be used for headlines and larger display type while the supporting font will be used for body copy.
A display face is meant to be used for headlines and other large format type. This should be the font that encompasses your branding personality.This typeface will draw the most attention, so this is where you can have fun with a font that is more decorative. Remember, that while this typeface will usually be displayed at a larger size, it still should be legible on a business card or mobile phone. If you do want to use an intricate font, you may want to also choose another font to be used for smaller sizes.
A body face is primarily used for long passages of text. Therefore, this font should be simple, clean and easy to read, even at smaller sizes. A font that looks great as a headline, may not be the best choice for body copy.
By using fonts in differing sizes, you’re establishing a visual hierarchy that will allow viewers to quickly digest the information you’re putting forth. Your font choices should be cohesive but contrasting, so have fun with mixing and matching. Definitely look for typography inspiration on sites like Behance, Dribbble, and Pinterest.
Fonts should be easily read at any size
The letterforms of a font aren’t the only thing that determine a text’s legibility. Look at the examples below. The one of the left provides generous spacing between letters and lines while the other is very tight. Which is easier to read? How your letters and lines are spaced play an important role in how easily the viewer can process the text.
In typography, leading is the space between two lines of text. Allowing enough space between lines in paragraphs and between paragraphs themselves makes your content look less dense and easier to read.
Kerning refers to the space between two letters. When your type is well kerned, the blank spaces between each pair of letters will appear to be equal. You can practice with Kern Type, a fun and challenging game to test and improve your kerning skills.
Not all fonts are created equal
Most likely, you’ll be using your typefaces on both print and digital marketing materials. It may surprise you, but these types of fonts are different.
A desktop font has been designed to be used in programs on your desktop computer, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop. With a desktop font, you simply download the font file and install it on your computer. Desktop fonts usually come as TrueType (TTF) or OpenType (OTF) files. We won’t go into the specifics between these file types here, but if you’re curious, please read this great article on Fonts.com.
A web font has been specially designed to be used with a website’s CSS (the stylesheet that determines how your website looks). Web fonts come in four formats: TTF, WOFF, EOT, and SVG. Each one is designed to work with different browsers, so you’ll need all four file types when developing your website.
While some fonts you buy or download, will come with a web font equivalent, many will not. That’s where a tool like Font Squirrel’s Webfont Generator comes in handy. This will generate the necessary files needed for your font to work properly in a user’s browser.
Follow copyright laws
The right typeface is key to a great brand, so one of the most important things you must consider when choosing your typefaces is whether you have the legal rights to use them or not.
Many people do not have a good understanding of copyright laws. Copyright is a form of legal protection provided to those who create original works. When it comes to fonts, your rights and obligations are defined in the End User License Agreement (EULA). These vary from font to font. For example, almost all agreements will restrict you from re-distributing the font but only some will limit how many computers you can install the font on. Whether you are buying a font or using an open source font, read your the license carefully to understand what you can and cannot do.
Note: Be very careful with “free” fonts you find on the web if they are not from a legitimate source. Many of these fonts are copies of protected fonts with their copyright notices removed.
Not sure where to start looking for typefaces? The resources below are popular sources for fonts, including several affordable or free options.
Fonts.com provides a large selection of desktop and web fonts from type foundries around the world, as well as other useful typography tools.
Typekit is a subscription service from Adobe that provides a library of high quality fonts for its users for a monthly fee.
Google Fonts is a directory of free, open licensed fonts for use in websites.
Font Squirrel offers a curated list of hand-selected, high quality free fonts that are licensed for commercial work.
The Lost Type Co-op is a pay-what-you-want font foundry with over forty custom typefaces.
Now have some fun!
Now that you’re armed with a basic knowledge of brand typography, it’s time to find fonts that reflect your brand’s character. Remember to use hierarchy, proper spacing, the correct font file types, and make sure you’re using fonts legally. But most of all, have fun!