04 May What’s Your Type?10 min read
What do you notice first when you look at a person?
I look at shoes.
Maybe that’s because I worked at a shoe store for a few years in college. But I think it started before then. I’ve always adored a great set of kicks. I also think shoe choice tells you quite a bit about the person wearing them.
They tell you aesthetic, how important comfort is to that individual, cleanliness, sometimes health level, socioeconomic status, level of quirk, etc. At least that’s what I see.
But shoes seem so miniscule, right? How can something so small, such a tiny piece of the whole, really convey so much? I tell ya, my shoe-to-personality predictions are more often than not, accurate.
I’m discovering typeface–or the design of the font–is the shoe of the brand world. Most people look at the design of the logo first, the colors, the graphics. You think, “surely these things will clue me into the product’s feel, purpose, etc.” And they certainly will. Pictures are the language of our hearts. But if you overlook the typography, you’re missing a major indicator. It’s the type that tells you buku about the biz, if you know what to look for, or even if you don’t.
I’m new to this whole world of identity systems and logos and branding. It’s a huge part of what Anderson Creative does, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite division.
Jake Anderson directed me to a Netflix original called Abstract, that chronicles the day-to-day process of a few heavyweights in the different fields of design. Jake recommended the episode on Paula Scher, graphic designer for Pentagram, one of the partners of the most prolific and influential design cooperatives in the country. Jake said, “if you’re not into it, you should definitely let us know. This branding part of our work wouldn’t be a great fit if so.”
I assumed as a graphic designer, she’d talk about, well graphics. But instead she focused on typography. Type is what she built her career on, from album covers to space signage to branding for The Public Theater in New York.
Some of Paula’s logo work Image Credit: BatesMeron.com
Really Paula? The way the words look?
She spoke on all the emotions, all the characteristics and all the magic of typeface. She spoke of style of font, of course, but then she described other facial features:
Height >>> the length of the letters
Weight >>> thickness of the letters
Spacing >>> how close together the letters are
Readability >>> how easily you can take in the words’ content–sometimes you want this and sometimes you don’t
Paula claimed all of these things affect how you feel about about a certain institution.
“Before you even read it [the words of a piece], you have the sensibility and spirit.”
Often she uses words and type not to inform at all, but to design, add satire, make you laugh. Sometimes the words are nonsensical or fabricated.
Let’s pull back the veil and take a look at the science & emotion behind type and all it’s dimensions.
The most obvious of the components.
Let’s start with serif vs. sans serif. I guarantee you’ve seen these names when you were editing a word document at one time or another, but I bet you had no clue what it actually meant.
Serif fonts are where the letter actually have little tails coming off the end. These fonts are seen as more informative and serious.
Sans serif fonts are just as they say; sans, or without, a serif. They are seen as more fun.
Image Credit: Shy Font
Can you believe it? Letter tails make me feel something. Yowza.
And it gets much more advanced from there.
Different types of fonts evoke different eras, different settings, different experiences. So much identity is tied to the style and when that is sparked in a brand or logo, so much work is done in appealing or connecting to one’s audience.
Did you realized letters had a weight? Ever thought, “boy, that’s a hefty looking ‘w’ over there?” I doubt it. But you can recognize a fat version of a font. It’s thicker, heavier. A good typeface offers a variety of weights and allows you to express all the feels.
Skinny letters = lightness, happiness, classical; perhaps a thought or a fluffy part of the article
Fat letter = emphasis; headlines and pieces with extreme emotion or importance
Image Credit: Smashing Magazine
Paula created an identity through her font choices for The Public Theater in New York. Within the word “public,” she played with the weights and created a playful and almost urgent feel to it. She got the idea when she saw a font weight range and realized if she changed the weight on every letter in “public,” all of the different personalities and nuances of New Yorkers would be represented.
This distinct branding principle was used consistently throughout all their publications. Because of this, a poster would not even have to state “The Public Theater” and you would knew it was them because of the typography.
“You could create identity for a whole place based on a recognizability of type.”
Image Credit: Jemmae A. Gleson
One would think readability is always one direction–you want it. Well that’s true for articles, blogs, infographics, etc. Stuff where you need to like, say…stuff…
But in design, it’s not even entirely necessary. Take this example from Vladimer Gendelman’s blog on Font Psychology:
“Consider the Walt Disney logo design—ask any six-year-old to identify the logo, and they’ll know exactly which business it belongs to. But ask the same child to identify the individual letters in that script font, and you’ve got a problem. Even that first letter “D” looks more like a backwards letter “G.”
So why does a company like Disney actively market to six-year-olds using such a complicated, hard-to-read script font? It’s because of a psychological theory known as the Gestalt principles of design, which say that the brain tends not to focus on the individual pieces of a design, but rather applies a universal understanding to the design in its entirety.
So in the case of the Walt Disney logo, the six-year-olds in the audience aren’t actually reading every single letter, they’re looking at the entire word as a whole and applying meaning to the entirety of the logo. The font may not be very readable, but it carries an emotional weight to it and delivers a subconscious message of whimsy and nostalgia. These emotional values are much more important to the brand’s identity than legibility.”
Your past experience with a font determines a lot.
Say every Saturday morning you and your dad sat down and read the paper together. Your dad enlightened you to a little of what was going on in the world, pointing out stories and pictures. You sat in his lap while you did the crossword together. As you grew up he cut out articles he thought you’d like and left them on your desk.
You’ve had a longstanding, emotional relationship with Courier. Whenever you see that font, you’re hardwired to think of news and a comfort and nostalgia for time with your father.
Obviously everyone’s experience varies a little. But with something as pervasive as newsprint, that font as been type-casted for life.
When Paula was thinking about The Public Theater logo and identity–she thought of who the theater was for.
For the people. They had free Shakespeare in the park.
New York. It needed to be loud and proud, bold and unapologetic.
Her font choice had to reflect all these things. It had to appeal to those she wanted to bring in the door, or in the park. The feel, the goal, the life of the people experiencing your product or place or business MUST coalesce.
Photo Credit: Flyer Goodness
I asked Jake Anderson to go through some of Anderson Creative’s body of branding work and pick a few fonts and why he chose what. We chose 2 clients, the Logan Institute and Quack Daddy Donuts. Jake started off by saying it’s all about how you want them to feel. Paula would be proud.
The typography we chose for Logan Institute is heavy yet clean. This is pretty typical for say doctors, dentists, attorneys; people you turn to for advice. You want that from those you trust.
Dr. Logan’s practice is holistic, his demographic organic-minded and natural. So we needed a font that was professional but unique, like the demographic itself.
We landed on a font called Amaranth because we were particularly stoked on the capital ‘g.’ It was unique and different but still did what we wanted. The lower-case version of the i worked well to balance with the capitals and was perfect for our icon. It is just the ‘i’ with the watercolor behind it. It also works well on social media.
We paired Amaranth with Titilium, because we wanted to do 2 sans serifs, with one being more of a display font (Amaranth) and the other being an easy reading standard (Titilium). Titilium carries the same vibe but easier to read, so Dr. Logan can use that for brochures or pamphlets.
Quack Daddy Donuts
We did a brand re-design for Quack Daddy Donuts. When coming up with their new logo, we wanted it to be kid-friendly–silly and fun and legible– but didn’t want it to look too, for lack of a better word, kitschy. After all it is a gourmet donut shop with choose-you-own-toppings that appeals to adults as well. Our goal was to elevate it without being pretentious but also try to keep it fun.
We landed on the fonts Boogaloo and Roboto.
We try to find equal weights in the fonts within a brand. Bogaloo is our display font in the logo and Roboto was chosen as the common body font to be used in menus, product design, etc.
We kept it all caps on the logo, which you would never do in the body; too angry. But with Boogaloo, all caps was more fun than loud.
After the Abstract documentary and my first few months at Anderson Creative, I found myself completely and utterly mystified in a whole world of design psychology I never even realized existed. That I never realized was influencing me constantly.
I drove down the streets of Fortville, IN after watching the piece and found myself assaulted (in the best of ways) with font. I could barely keep my eyes on the road. I saw an auto shop with retro-style font that evoked the era of classic cars. I saw a coffee shop with an icon badge and fat, orange font that made me simultaneously trust them and a little happy (that might also have had to do with the fact that they had donuts, we can’t be sure).
So next time you drive downtown or find yourself on your favorite blog post or taking an Uber down a big city street, check out the type all around you. Look at it, dive into it. Like a piece of art, think about how it makes you feel, what it evokes. What vibe that place or that site is trying to put out in the atmosphere.