Branding through custom fonts

An important part of corporate design and branding in general is the font used online and offline. That’s no secret – the typeface must be readable (or not) and transport in a distilled way the character of the brand. But how unique can you be when 90% of the logos and corporate designs are made with the 8 most popular fonts (Helvetica, Univers, Futura, Thesis, Eurostile, Bank Gothic, Avenir)? Not much. So what can we do?

It is therefore a good idea to search for a special font or even better to ask a type designer to make a custom font. The custom font can push your brand experience further than you could by just using a common font as they can be tailored to the profile of the company.

A nice example is the font “Serrano” a custom font made for the Bank of New Zealand made by Klim Type Foundry under the direction of DNA.

If you think that having a new font from scratch is too expensive you might also contract with the type foundry that you don’t have the exclusive rights to the font to bring down the price. But in the end the benefits from having your own font is priceless;-)

PS: Thanks to Graham for inspiring me to this post – follow him immediately on Twitter



8 Responses to “Branding through custom fonts”

  1. Frankie, I have to disagree or at least ask for clarification on your reasoning.

    How many people actually notice font (besides designers) beyond whether or not something is readable? I don’t believe people will recognize companies by their fonts. Now logos, that’s another story.

    Found this post from @gracesmith tweeting it.

    • derfrankie says:

      Well I’m glad to clarify on both questions.

      1 – Readability is not just for designers. A font that is not readable is a pain for everyone and therefore harms a brand. The common reader might not understand why a font/text is not readable but he just stops reading or doesn’t recognize the brand. The work of the designer is to choose a font that is well designed or suitable for the use inteded. As an example I might point out that a beautiful all caps font designed for headlines is not readable when used at small sizes for copy.
      2 – I agree that there are only a few brands who can claim that they can be recognized just by their font and even they use the fonts in combination with colour. Examples are Mercedes, T-Com, Lufthansa.
      The point I was making, was more of the character a font gives to a brand. A font can be playful, straight, strong, sober, you name it and this transfers to the brand. If you have a font tailored to the profile of the company it can express the company values properly. A brand expirience is always the sum of its parts and therefore everything in “harmony” with the message helps creating this expirience.

  2. I absolutely agree that a font needs to be readable — always.

    As someone who’s just beginning in design, I find this concept of the “character” of a font to be a very difficult one. A client asked me to use a “warm” font that is not “rigid” but still “readable” in a header banner for them. I tried my best but I think it wasn’t exactly what the client had in mind.

    Do you have any tips for thinking/recognizing the character of a font?

  3. derfrankie says:

    One of the best tools is to make a brand personality test, like the one I provide here http://www.frankie.bz/blog/lessons/shortcut-to-brand-identity/ – It helps you describe a brand more like a human and gives you a standarized set of properties. Then you can layout the brand name in various fonts a try to compare the feeling the brand gives you and if it relates to the brand identity.

    It may be a bit difficult in the beginning so here is an easy exercise. Choose a few male and female names. Layout them on a page with different classic fonts (all the same size and colour), lets say Helvetica, Times, Comic Sans, Futura, Gill Sans and Garamond.

    Now try to imagine the person who would write her/his name with a given font. You will see that you might think that the person who would use Times is ealder man wearing a suit, Comic Sans is a child and Gill Sans has something to do with fashion. Other fonts might not be so easy, but if you repeat this excercise you will get better.

  4. Thanks. It’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought into this topic.

  5. I agree with your point frank but as Yael mentions, how do you define what a font character is like? Is it Archeatypal or Conceived? I think it comes down to this: How a typeface has been used in the past.

    Of course like any design related topic, there are no rules. For example, comic sans is determined by its name. And yes, it looks like it belongs in text bubbles at your local comic book store, but others are hard to define. So it doesn’t come down to actual feel of the font but where the public at large (including designers) has seen these fonts be used. Whether fashion magazines, Business/Financial Quarterly reports or the local community paper masthead, it is the first designer that broke tradition and set the course to appropriate a typeface to an industry or business, then the rest followed suit. Experience and exposure. Only cutting edge designs—set to brand new, creatively executed startups and individuals, questions the appropriateness of a typeface to define itself as a way to find its voice. But as we all know, most clients don’t want to take design risks even if it means having to really define who they are as a service or industry. Meh.

    • derfrankie says:

      You point out an important aspect why we see just the usual suspects so commonly used – some of the most popular fonts have become symbols/brands of their own for certain industries and businesses. Nevertheless other popular fonts are so much used because they lack a character.

      While I admit that many businesses are not prone to risk I can asure you that even quite “conservative” businesses don’t bother switching to another font when they feel it suits them better. They don’t know the name of the font you use (they don’t have to) and they might not notice the difference between a Times Bold and a TheSerif Medium but they will tell you if the font is not good for them. They will then point you to the most common used font in their business because it’s all they know. It’s the job of the designer to know the alternatives.

      Startups in my expirience don’t have a clear profile, they know what they want to do and how to get there, but are not mature enough to know exactly who they are. So they might choose a font they “like” instead of one that represents them.

      And last but not least – the designer of the font has motives for designing a font a certain way – or at least he should have. In most cases you can do a research and find out why a typeface was designed and the concept. This can be a great resource for knowing when to use the font by obeying that concept or by breaking it.

  6. Lots of elements come together to create visual branding and font choice is an important part of branding. When a company invests in commissioning a bespoke corporate font it’s because they understand the value. Some people may not notice the font but it’s distinct form will increase brand recognition, a key aim for branding.