Typography is evolving in a big way — what once was a design element limited to print has been forced to adjust to digital screens. And those screens range from miniscule to enormous across a variety of devices.
For designers, no type is safe from digital deterioration. Even symbols as timeless as curly quotation marks have fallen victim and are replaced with symbols one former typesetter writing for The Atlantic can only describe as “a dagger in my eye.”
Why all the fuss over typesetting shakeups? For starters, what once was a static selection process has evolved into one where UX designers must consider how different type flexes and handles any given situation. With countless considerations to make across myriad media, today’s typesetters have their work cut out for them.
When selecting a typeface for your brand, you only get one chance to make a first impression. The typeface sets the tone for everything people feel when they interact with your brand. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take right now to ensure you roll out the right typeface the first time — without falling victim to expensive changes in the future.
Your brand, your identity.
From credibility to readability, the typeface you choose should create a welcoming atmosphere that sets the tone for your brand. Here are some important considerations to make when deciding which typeface should illustrate the voice of your enterprise.
Know your brand attributes and audience.
What’s great for a luxury brand may not resonate with a high-tech audience, which is why choosing the right typeface starts with a thorough understanding of your brand’s identity and business goals.
Think about the way you communicate with your audience. If your brand uses a lot of acronyms in its writing, you’ll probably want a typeface with small caps to improve the feel of your body text. The same goes for numbers. Oldstyle figures in body text look smoother, and won’t stick out the way lining numerals would.
Every brand has a unique set of attributes that sets it apart from the rest of the pack, and your typeface can help do that.
Consider where your messages will be seen.
When it comes to choosing type for digital and print properties, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. These days, what’s perfect for billboards may be a poor choice for mobile devices.
Take a high-contrast typeface, for example. While it may look great on a large TV screen, the thin parts of the letters will all but disappear if squeezed down to fit on a cellphone. The typeface you choose has to work for the primary medium and scale you are working with, because each property is likely to react differently to your type.
Wenting Zhang, a UX designer at Adobe points out that even different operating systems can throw a wrench in your typography choices. “Suppose you design an app and spend a big chunk of money to buy out a license for a specific typeface. Then you realize that typeface doesn’t look good on the screen, you cannot change it anymore.”
For digital media, remember to consider the different operating systems your audience may use to interact with your brand. To avoid forgetting a touch point, consider mapping out every single medium your message will be displayed on before choosing your typeface. Taking the time to make sure your chosen type looks great on every property will save you from countless headaches in the long run.
Make sure your type is a good cultural fit.
You want to stand out in a crowd, but that doesn’t mean pushing your competitors out of the way. When considering your typeface, make sure it’s a good fit based on other genres similar to your brand. People interacting with similar products will expect a similar experience when reading your messages. You want your customers’ experience to be unique, not jarring.
Take action with typography.
Now that you know what typeface your brand needs, it’s time to implement it.
Start with body text. Finish with composition.
According to famed German typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann, there are two kinds of designers in this world: Typographic designers and graphic designers.
“A typographic designer starts by looking at the copy,” Spiekermann says. “So what is your smallest element? The copy, maybe even the footnotes. And then you go up from there. Whereas the graphic designer has an image in his or her head, like ‘this page is going to look blue and sort of wobbly’. And then the graphic designer will make that page look blue and wobbly, with whatever means it takes. As a typographic designer, you first find the type, the size, the leading, and then you move upwards.”
Tim Brown, head of typography for Adobe Typekit and Adobe Type, believes designers have to work from both of those perspectives at the same time and think about both things.
“I like to start with body text,” says Brown, “but I have to make that work as a composition at some point. And the way that I do that is by starting with body text and thinking about it as a composition as I go further.”
Brown goes on to say that it’s okay to start with a compositional point of view in mind, such as choosing the display type first before working your way down in the composition granularity. Just be prepared to run into potential changes down the road, which may lead to higher costs.
“Body text typefaces are harder to find. Once you have found something good, you don’t want to have to change that because changes can be expensive. You want to choose a typeface for body text that will anchor your whole brand and base other decisions in your typographic palette and composition around that choice.”
Make sure your typeface comes from a credible source.
Great type is like a fine wine — its value is accumulated from years of resilience, hard work, trial, and error. Once you find a foundry with the experience to deliver more than one great typeface, stick with it.
You can’t always see the effects of good type, but people are certainly going to feel it. For example, Stephen Coles compares good typography to furniture. No one actually thinks twice about the chairs they sit on, unless something’s wrong. And when something’s wrong, they may not even have the ability to explain what’s wrong.
Good type has a certain quality to it that comes from years of refinement and perfection. Type designers should be sensitive to subtlety in form while making sure all their bases are covered. The value of good type comes down to trust and loyalty. Once you’ve found a foundry you can trust, stick with what you know.
What does your typography say about your brand?
In a word, everything. Choosing the right typeface is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Type can make the difference between a pleasant and engaging experience, or one that leaves your readers focused more on a poor ambiance and less on what you have to say.
Start with understanding your brand’s history and objectives. Make sure your first few choices are a good cultural fit, and then move on to choosing type that works well across your desired digital media. Finally, vet the source of your type before taking action.
Sometimes it’s hard to put the right typeface into words. Ironic, we know, but when the type is right, you just know it — and so will your readers.
Integration with Typekit is included in Adobe Creative Cloud. Be sure to explore the 14 new typefaces (comprising 200 different fonts!) recently added to our Typekit Marketplace.