Choosing the right brand typefaces
Choosing typefaces for your brand is a hugely important part of what we do when we work with our clients on their branding.
There are over 100,000 typefaces, and different typefaces will give a very different feel to your brand, so whilst we would always advise working with a professional on this, here’s a quick guide so you can start to understand the styles of typography which will best communicate your brand message.
There are six main categories of typeface, below we list the main ones with examples and what they communicate.
1. Serif typefaces
The most ‘traditional’ style, books, newspapers and magazines were traditionally set with serifed fonts. The ‘feet’ at the ends of the letters speed up reading for adults. Popular examples are Century Schoolbook and Times New Roman.
Serifed fonts are really versatile. They can be used in logo fonts, headers and copy.
Serifs are good if you want to appear established, traditional, refined or trustworthy. Legal, accountancy and wedding companies often use them for this very reason. Beware: some serifs may leave you looking ‘dated’ or old-fashioned so choose well.
2. Sans Serifs
Cleaner, more ‘modern’ and equally as versatile as serifs, but sans serifs don’t have the little ‘feet’ at the ends of the letters. They are easier for younger children to read and write.
Again sans-serifs are good all-rounders and may be used for logos, headers and copy.
Companies who wish to look more youthful, modern, progressive, open and friendly may use sans-serifs. All the social media platforms use sans-serifs for this reason. Also the simpler shapes render with more clarity on small screens.
NB: You can mix sans-serif and serif fonts, the contrast of the two styles adding visual interest and nuance, e.g if you wish to look modern, yet established.
3. Decorative typefaces
These can be inspired by any era – here, the 1920s – or they can come from other cultural references like computers or graffiti. They can be 3D, coloured, patterned or distressed or otherwise textured.
Used sparingly for short headings or logos, they can really set a tone or mood – funny, serious, elegant, dramatic, space-age, child-like…
4. Handwritten typefaces
These are everywhere at the moment, especially with small business targeting and run by women. A good handwritten typeface can give a ‘spontaneous’ feel, make things more ‘human’, elegant or playful.
*But* they’ve been a trend for a few years now, and trends date so you may not look so contemporary in a year or two. Yes, your brand should evolve over time, but just be mindful of this.
Also the sheer ubiquity of girlie logos and Instagram motivational statements in these fonts does make it hard to stand out. It’s like the typographical equivalent of the TOWIE look, plumped lips, botoxed faces, fake tan and long, straightened hair. A lot of effort to look the same as everyone else.
If I haven’t put you off yet, just make sure your handwritten font is one that’s not too common, legible and use in moderation.
5. Script typefaces
A more formal version of the handwritten typefaces, script typefaces are often used for wedding invitations, greetings cards or in ‘elegant’, feminine-targeted or traditional markets. They can look classy and elegant, but could easily look old-fashioned, depending on font.
Script typefaces are fine for logos, sometimes OK for headers (dependent on legibility) but never use for main body copy or in all capitals as both will be illegible. Combine with a simpler serif/sans-serif font for body copy.
6. Bespoke typefaces
LEGO, Star Wars, Volkswagen, Google, Netflix and Apple have had entire typefaces created for them. A bespoke font costs a lot to get done but will save global brands millions in licensing fonts for advertising and branded merchandise sales worldwide.
This option is too expensive for most entrepreneurs, however, a lot of brands may just have a distinctive logotype designed like Coca Cola did.
Or a hack we use for a lot of our clients to give them a unique and distinctive standout look, by modifying an existing typeface… (See if you can spot the differences!)
Big brands do this too. The Google logotype looks very much like a modified Futura font (top Google). A tweak on the cross-bar of the ‘G’, slightly shortening the ‘drop’ (descender) on the lower case ‘g’ then finally rotating the ’e’ so it ‘smiles’ more – and voila! A unique logotype (bottom)
your typefaces reflect your brand
The best typefaces for your brand are the ones which reflect the values and vision of your business, and help you stand out in your industry.
Look at these completely made-up companies for proof that your typeface choice can have a positive or negative effect on how your clients perceive your brand. What do their misguided choices of typeface do for their business?
The top one is too playful, the middle one too comic-like and the bottom one too feminine for purpose. (These typefaces might be more suited to e.g. a cupcake maker, a comedian and a florist).
How many typefaces should i use?
The general answer is no more than two or three.
When choosing typefaces for logos, we might use one or two for the logotype and one for the strapline (which may be a different one again, or the same as the logofont but in a different weight).
Use no more than two typefaces for your copy, e.g. one for headers, one for body copy. Make sure they are complementary to the logo, whether similar or contrasting in style and that they go with your brand personality (which the above fictional companies clearly failed to do). You can use different weights and sizes of the same fonts for visual interest.
If you want a considered and ‘designed’ look, avoid the over-used and typefaces that come free with MS Office like Times New Roman, Arial and Helvetica.
Google ‘typeface finders’, ‘cool typefaces’, ‘cool fonts’ or ‘awesome font pairings’ or scour Pinterest for inspiration on typefaces that go together. Discuss these with your designer.
You can mix up, say a decorative heading and a sans serif body copy, or a serif and san serif together but if one is distinctive, keep the other one more neutral to avoid a visual clash.
Make sure your designers can source an online and print version of your chosen fonts. There are plenty of free typefaces out there, but others may have a licence fee so you will need to pay that. Your designer may send them to you, but this can constitute font piracy, so we prefer to play it safe and ask our web developers to download their own versions. We also provide print jobs to our printers as PDFs so they don’t need the fonts either.
As part of our branding projects we also recommend compatible MS-office fonts so our clients can produce internal Word and PowerPoint documents that still look ‘on-brand’. Although we don’t recommend these fonts for your professionally-designed collateral, this means your own presentations and reports will still read correctly when sent externally.
What ‘case’ should my logo should be in?
ALL UPPERCASE logos can look more authoritative, masculine and strong in ‘bolder’ typefaces or elegant, lofty and high-end in lighter fonts.
all lowercase Logos in lowercase looks more modern, friendly, approachable, non-threatening, sometimes even more feminine and gentle. A lot of millennial and tech brands go for this to look user-friendly.
Upper and Lower case is more ‘common’ and less distinctive but is great for brands that need a broad, mass appeal.
mIXinG cAseS uP like this can give a quirky, off-beat, ‘wacky’ vibe to your brand. Great for injecting an element of fun to your brand. Well I could give you a famous brand…(left) …but this one we designed below is SO much more fun!
Rules are, of course, made to be broken and the choice of typeface will also vary the effect you get, so ask your designer to try out your company name in different cases and typefaces and see which looks and ‘feels’ more right (before you move onto colour).
There is SO much to say on the subject – I’m such a type geek!
Find out more about type and a whole lot more in Sapna Pieroux’s award-winning book Let’s Get Visible! Available on Amazon and if you want to chat all things brand…book a Brand Clarity call with her here.