Typography The Writing On The Wall
Type is the visualization of speech.
As with color, there are layers of complexity to typography. Whether consciously or not, most people view grouped words in the same way they perceive visual art. The right set of fonts gives your content style and personality beyond the message being delivered. Misused fonts and mismatched font pairings will tell a story as well.
When it comes to specifics, typography has a fairly deep rabbit hole. If you’re one of our branding clients, you’ll have a much greater awareness of this subject by the time you’re presented with your brand style guide. In general, your typography should be legible in a wide range of sizes and versatile, with a suitable variety of weights and full list of characters. It should also be distinctive and should compliment your brand personality.
When it comes to branding, there’s:
who you are
who you think you are
who you want to be
how others see you
Typography is the art of arranging printed letters and words in a way that is legible and visually appealing to the reader.
A typeface (type) or font family is a collection of unique characters, with certain shapes (glyphs) shared across the characters, forming patterns that are selected for style, legibility and readability.
Font refers to the weights, widths and styles that make up the typeface.
Types are generally classified by the inclusion or exclusion of small projections at the beginning or end of the character strokes. Serif type has them, san serif doesn’t.
All characters in a monospace type have the same width.
Handwriting type is derived from or mimics natural handwriting.
Display type is typically suitable only at large point sizes.
There are additional layers that categorize such specifics as letter-spacing (tracking), line height/length and others.
Free vs. Commercial Fonts
In general, most free fonts make a poor alternative to commercial fonts for use as a company brand.
There are a ton of free fonts available out there these days. Many are OK. Some are good. Most are not good.
The good ones tend to get used. A lot…
The result is that people have gotten used to seeing the same, overused fonts on every website. This can “dilute” an otherwise distinctive brand.
Commercial fonts are created by professional typographers who understand good design, legibility and usability. This means they will tend to be more clear at a wider range of sizes and weights and better adjust to the various platforms, devices, screen sizes, aspect ratios and web browsers. Free font families can be limiting because they are often missing the full range of “tools” that can be expected in a quality commercial font family. That means designers will have to settle for using a limited set of weights and treatments or choose an alternate font, which breaks one of the few cardinal rules of branding: be consistent!
Here are a few of the things we look for in a font family:
- Consistent styling across the entire set of characters and glyphs. It is this consistency that will make a font family distinct and distinction is what we want to create for your brand.
- A full range of weights (thicknesses) ranging from hairline/extra light to extra bold/black. It can be extremely limiting for designers to create marketing materials when the only options available are regular or bold.
- A large set of glyphs (characters) beyond the requisite 10 integers, 26 letters and handful of other high-use characters.
- True italics – many free fonts simply slant the roman characters and call it italic. The problem with this is that it can distort the characters, reducing legibility and detracting from the overall cohesiveness of the design. In a true italic font, each glyph is independently worked to ensure the characters fit into the font family while remaining legible and distinctive from the upright styling across an appropriate range of sizes and weights.
- Additional features that offer designers latitude when working with the brand. This includes things like small caps, ligatures, fractions and other stylistic options. Again, we’re looking for things to distinguish the brand.
For all the reasons stated above, we recommend using at least 1 commercial font family for your brand.
Hawaiian Language Typography
Proper use of the written Hawaiian language is an essential component of many local brands. The principal marks of distinction are the `okina diacritical mark (indicating a glottal stop) and the kahakō (a macron denoting a long vowel).
Note: the `okina is different than the apostrophe or quotes.
Many typefaces support Hawaiian language characters for the kahakō. To use these characters with the desktop fonts, each designated user will need to enable the Hawaiian keyboard which is available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
To type lower-case vowels with the kahakō (ā—ē—ī—ō—ū), enable the Hawaiian keyboard, then hold down the right ALT key while typing the appropriate letter.
To type upper-case vowels with the kahakō (Ā—Ē—Ī—Ō—Ū), enable the Hawaiian keyboard, then hold down the right ALT and Shift keys while typing the appropriate letter.
Caution: even fonts that support Hawaiian language do not always include separate glyphs for the `okina.
When designing a new brand or doing a rebrand for Hawaiian organizations, we try to find fonts that include the `okina. However, when clients prefer to keep their fonts or have requested specific fonts that don’t include the `okina, we have modified the fonts from the original versions, usually by replacing the seldom-used grave symbol with either a custom glyph or by swapping it with another seldom-used symbol (such as the commaturn). Because the grave symbol is present on most keyboards, this provides convenient access to a distinct, unique character for the `okina while maintaining the cohesive styling of the typeface. If you are considering doing this, contact the foundry to make sure that modifying the fonts doesn’t violate your license.
This is not guesswork!
Our typography design process (typically undertaken as part of a branding or rebranding project) involves researching your organization and pouring through hundreds of typefaces to find the ideal font pairings that will work for you. Your brand style guide will include a detailed explanation of your font family, fonts, weights and styles, with usage guidelines.
Typography is just one piece of the branding pie. We take just as much care when developing all the rest of the audio-visual elements that define how customers will perceive your business.
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