Branding 101: Typography

Have you ever looked at a piece of text and just felt like there was something wrong? The words may have been constructed appropriately but something visually seemed odd? Many times people use typeface on a whim.

pivotpath typography

Without considering how typography affects the message they are trying to pass across, they end up with graphics that may make for a good laugh but do not make for good business. Understanding the significance of text in your brand is important to your brand identity.

It is important to note that there are professionals who can help you work out the technicalities of typography (PivotPath plug!) . All you need to do is share your vision for your brand with them. For busy business owners, delegating the job is a great way to save time but the fees can add up. If you prefer to do work it out yourself, I have some tips that will help. First, let’s define some technical terms.

Type: printed characters or letters.

Typography: the style or appearance of type.

Typeface: a particular design of type (e.g Times New Roman, Arial).

Font: a particular style, weight, and size of typeface.

Font family: a group of fonts with similar design characteristics (For example, the Times Roman font family will include Times Roman Bold, Times Roman Italic, Times Roman Bold Italic, etc. These fonts are all of the same ‘family’ but are slightly different).

Medium: a means by which something is communicated or expressed. (In this case, digital or print such as websites, flyers, etc.)

Weight: the thickness of a type in relation to its height.

Tip 1 – Don’t Go Overboard

When you start your research, it is easy to get a little distracted. You may find a thousand fonts that would make your company name stand out visually, but you’ll have to narrow it down to about 5-10 fonts. Of those, 2-3 will be used to establish your visual hierarchy, or main/most important fonts where you want a readers’ eye to catch most.

However, try not to use more than 3 when combining fonts as readers will become very distracted (see?). These are the fonts that can be used across different platforms like your website, product packaging, flyers, etc. If you keep this in mind, you won’t waste time on what you don’t need.

Tip 2 – Narrowing It Down

Now, you know you will need only a maximum of 10 fonts, but how do you choose only 10 from the 100 you like? There a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is it flexible? Step back for a minute and look at the big picture. You may need typefaces for your website, packaging, posters, signs, etc. Rather than picking a typeface for each medium you might use, having one that can run easily on multiple platforms is better. Try the typeface you are considering out on your website, then print it out and see what it looks like on paper. Is it legible when the font is small? Does it look odd when you increase its size?
  • Is it expansive? Your business is bound to grow over time. Can the font you choose grow with it? Does it support multiple characters? Can it support other languages in the situation that you expand abroad? Is it available in various sizes and weights?
  • Is it legible? Are the character’s distinctive? Using a cursive typeface for a large body of text will not end well. Do some of the characters link together in odd ways (like f & i) or are some of the characters spaced together oddly (like e and r)? You do not want to end up with a sign like this one:
Doesn’t sound very relaxing…

Lettering artist Jessica Hische invented the “Il1” test. Type a capital I, a lowercase L, and a number 1 next to each other.

If you cannot tell the difference between the characters you might have trouble with them later on.

Tip 3 – Know Your Medium

On digital media, serifs don’t always do well. That is because the display resolution on a digital device is much less than that of a printed book. In a book, serifs look clear and defined but on a digital device, serifs tend to look blurry and are harder to read, especially in large bodies of text.

The serifs on the characters blur and make the text look like one big blob.

So while serifs might do well in a printed work, on the other hand, the minimal clean-cut sans-serif does well on digital devices but becomes harder to read in large quantities on a print medium.

Note: This can change depending on the type of serif or sans-serif you use. In the end, the choices you make concerning your typography come down to your perception. If you are in doubt, ask someone else what they think. Others may be able to make a clearer decision.

Tip 4 – What’s Your Personality Type?

Your brand has an image and that image is what you are trying to show your audience.  It might be modern, simple, shy, friendly, vintage, tough, etc. Besides actual graphics, typography can also help convey your company’s personality. Serifs are considered vintage, more formal, and classical. So you may see a serif font on the cover of a book about the civil war.

Sans-serifs are simpler and modern so you may find them in the logos of technology companies who want to convey a simple and trendy image like Apple and Microsoft

Display fonts (those with a lot of personality, also called script fonts) should be used sparingly and only for heading or accents. They may be fun but they’re not always very legible. Keep your company’s image in mind as you choose your typefaces.

pivotpath personality image typography tip
Typography Mistake: It says Harley-Davidson but I’m getting a girl scouts vibe.

Tip 5 – Use Your Fonts Wisely

Do not use more than two typefaces in one piece. If you really need to, stick to a maximum of three. Having up to four or five different fonts on one flyer or poster is distracting for the audience and makes your work, whether it’s an ad or a website, seem disconcerting.

The fonts you use together should complement each other. If you are pressed for time and you just need some fonts, you can pair a serif and a sans-serif from your shortlist. The contrasting fonts usually pair well.

A great source to find font pairs is FontPair. On the website, you can edit font pairs and see how well they fit the text you want to use them for. You can also find examples of pieces where the pairs have been used before.

Consistency is another thing you should consider when using your fonts.

The fonts you use on one page of your website shouldn’t differ from the ones you use on another page. Because the font is part of your brand identity, a consistent font choice will tie your brand together across platforms and cement your brand identity in the minds of your consumers.

Tip 6 – Hierarchy

Imagine this article filled with fonts of the same size, weight, and color. It would look like one large, endless blob of text and you wouldn’t really want to read it, right? Hierarchy helps determine what is important for the viewer in text. With proper hierarchy, a reader will be able to skim through a text and pick out the main points easily. 

A header should be the largest thing on the page. It should be in thick large font because its job is to grab the attention of the viewer.

A subtitle should be clearly smaller than the header text. You could italicize it to make it stand out more.

The body text should be the smallest text on the page. It should be easy to read (consider the medium to be used) and it shouldn’t have too many font styles vying for attention i.e. there shouldn’t be words in bold or underlined words all over the body text. It is okay to underline some words within the body text or put some of the words in bold but if you overdo it, your text will end up looking uncoordinated.

Although these tips are a great starting point, there is so much more to know about typography especially if you are a beginner. Choosing the right typography for your brand is a long process.

My advice is that you don’t do it alone.

Share the workload with someone. That way you will be able to exchange ideas and you won’t be alone through the journey.

As time-consuming as the process is, it is certainly very rewarding to see your hard work fall in place as your brand comes to life. Share your typography hits and misses with me in the comments below.

Lois Olowoyo is a telecommunication-production major at the university of Florida and an avid story lover. When she’s not writing a story of her own or acting one out, she can be found listening to, watching, or reading someone else’s story. You can learn more about her and view her work at loisolowoyo.wordpress.com. Check out her LinkedIn profile here.

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