The written language may very well be the most important and powerful invention mankind has ever created. Without it, we would have no records, no correspondence and surely no accurate history to leave behind for future generations. We all read and write every single day, but very few of us actually pay much attention beyond what the words we read are saying in their most basic and literal sense. Typeface or font selection can play a very significant and subtle role in messaging, especially in brand or logo design. It is for this very reason corporations with successful brands invest countless efforts to meticulously design and develop their branding guidelines. Font selection plays a critical role at the very foundation of this exercise and ensuring that all parties working with that brand adhere to predefined standards and styling conventions is paramount. For the sake of clarity, before we go much deeper we should look at the difference between a font and a typeface.
Typeface vs. Font
If we look back at the days when the printing press ruled printers or typesetters would painstakingly set type for every printed page in frames using individual metal letters. This collection of letter blocks was then rolled with ink and pressed onto a sheet of paper creating a layout. Printers required thousands of these metal blocks for each typeface on hand for every different size (10 point, 12 point, etc.) and weight (light, medium, bold) in order to create their layouts. This is where the distinction between typeface and font became important. As a whole, the collection of little metal blocks would be considered the typeface, where as the subsets within that type face, such as light, medium or bold would be considered a font. Kind of confusing, I know! For example, if we were to look at this blog post set in Open Sans, the collection of all the varying sizes and weights of the characters on the screen make up the typeface. However, the headings are considered a different font than the body in this article because they are a different size and weight. This is what we consider a font. The distinction between the two terms has become mostly lost with the rise of desktop publishing as we no longer work with individual metal blocks containing letters. They’ve been replaced by digital files that we can scale to any size or weight in the blink of an eye on our computer. However, when making such critical decisions on typeface selection for a brand or logo design, it’s best to use the correct terminology to avoid any possible confusion. So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the psychology behind typeface selection. Every typeface and font elicits an emotional response in our viewers. Serif or sans serif, script or novelty typefaces all have unique and distinct meanings that we absorb without realizing and these letterforms create a response within us. Let’s look at the meaning behind each.
Serif typefaces are steeped in heritage and tradition leaving us with a sense of respectability and reliability. Serif fonts are most often used page pages of copy within a book or magazine because the serifs on the letterforms reach towards one another within every word making them flow together and ultimately easier for our eyes to quickly scan and read. However, in terms of logo design a serif typeface if often a good choice for corporate entities and professional services that require a large amount of trust and reliability, such as law firms or accountants. A serif typeface in a brand will instil these properties, but may miss the mark if you’re trying to appeal to a more youthful crowd. Examples of serif fonts include Times New Roman, Baskerville and Calluna.
Sans Serif Typefaces
Sans serif typefaces offer a much simpler and cleaner look providing companies that choose them for their branding to communicate a very straight forward message. They’re simple and to the point. They’re not showy or pushy and they generally do not elicit as strong or harsh emotions as a serif typeface would. Sans serif typefaces offer a sense of reliability and honesty and cut through the noise to get straight to the point. Examples of sans serif typefaces include Avenir, Frutiger and Helvetica Neue.
Modern typefaces often signal a future-forward looking brand and lend a sense of strength, dependability and sophistication. Brands that use modern typefaces are often seen as niche or trendsetters. Modern typefaces tend to be sans serif at their core as we’ve moved away from the traditional serif typefaces. Examples of modern typefaces include Open Sans, Gotham and Aller.
Script typefaces present a slippery slope when used in a logo design. Many script typefaces can be very beautiful and elegant, however, extreme care needs to be taken when working with these typefaces to ensure the final result is clear and legible. Logos are often scaled to various sizes throughout their use from business cards to signage and the letterforms should always be legible at all sizes. For this reason, it is very difficult to achieve and very rare to see a logo or brand set in a script typeface. However, when done correctly, a script font within a brand can exemplify elegance and creativity and can sometimes be considered to express femininity. Examples of script typefaces include Pacifico, Shelley and Snell Roundhand.
A novelty or display typeface differs from what we refer to as the norm. These typefaces can work quite well in some instances for logo designs or word marks. Some corporations will even hire a type designer to create their very own custom typeface to help distinguish their brand from the competition. Examples of novelly typefaces include Bender, Aero Jones and Cubano.
Putting It All Together
Next time you take notice of a particular brand like Facebook, Disney or Time, take a minute to apply this simple psychology to their typeface selection and you’ll probably be surprised at how clearly these typefaces communicate subtle messages that you were previously unaware of. Whether you’re creating a new brand or redesigning an existing brand take a minute to think about the subliminal message it will convey to the audience. A little extra effort in typeface selection can go a long way. If you’d like to read up a little more on our logo design process and view some of our recent branding work, check out our custom logo design case study.