Typography for your brand Subtle details beyond choosing your fonts

T

he use of fonts can be an important part of the look and feel of your brand. Next to your logo, color palette and use of images, the way you integrate one or more specific fonts will have a great impact on your visual branding.

Although typography (= simply put: what fonts you use and how you use them) plays a vital role in your visual branding, it is often not given proper attention or simply underestimated – especially by beginners. Just picking one or two fonts you like isn’t quite the recipe for success yet. Like I said, it’s the way you integrate and consistently use those fonts for your brand, whether it’s your business card, brochure or your website.

Fonts are designed not only from an aesthetic point of view, but also with functionality in mind. Certain fonts work really well for headlines, where other fonts are especially suited for large texts because of their excellent legibility features. Some are specifically designed to make efficient use of space (high character count for a given area relative to type size, to be used for a newspaper for instance), while some are designed especially for road signs. When picking a font, or a font combination, for your brand, you have to be aware of what it is you need them for. In what sort of situation will they be used and for which media types?

But even when you’ve made a solid choice of fonts, there is still al lot that can ‘go wrong’, slightly or really badly. I’ve put ‘go wrong’ in apostrophe’s (or Air Bunnies, as Gloria from the brilliant sitcom Modern Family put it), because what I consider a major typographical catastrophe, might go totally unnoticed by others. So it’s all relative, but it happens to be my job as well as my predicament to go into tiny details normal people don’t even consider problematic in the first place.

When I find myself explaining this to clients, they must feel like I do when a car mechanic tries to explain what’s wrong with my car; it all sounds pretty much like chinese. The difference being that if my car breaks down, I can’t drive. If a client’s visual identity is not very well executed, his or her business won’t go into bankruptcy. However: When there is an actual typographical plan in place which is executed with care, and an eye for detail, it will certainly effect the perception of your brand in a positive way.

So what exactly are these details? What makes for good typography? What should you be aware of and what can you do to improve the use of fonts and the texts they’re applied to? For those of you interested, here are some typography basics that are also the most common sources of typographical misconduct:

1. Spacing

First of all there’s the distance between lines of text, which is called the line height. Especially for paragraph texts, it’s readability benefits from an appropriately set line height. When the lines are either too close together or too far apart, it’s hard and tiring for the human eye to read that text. The optimal line height can slightly differ from font to font, but a line height of 1.4 or 1.5 for body text is usually good. This text has a line height of 1.5 actually.

Headlines typically look better if a smaller line height is applied, in this case it’s 1.

Letter spacing

The distance between the individual letters can be changed increased or decreased from the the default setting. This is called letter spacing. Some fonts simply look more coherent when they’re set slightly ‘tighter’. This is often the case with headlines, but sometimes this even works wonders for ‘paragraph text’, but that really depends on which particular font you’re using and of course your personal preference. Sometimes you may want to experience with going the opposite direction and adding space between the letters. This often works very well for headlines, set in capitals. Let’s look at some examples:

Headline with an increased letter spacing

Headline with a tighter letter spacing

In this case, I find that this font needs to be ‘set tight’, because it looks more coherent that way. Let’s look at an example where I think an increased letter spacing works better:

Headline with an increased letter spacing

Headline with a tighter letter spacing

2. Length & size

Having the right amount of characters on each line is key to the readability of your text. When the line length of a body text is either too wide or too narrow, it makes it harder for people to read because their ‘reading rhythm’ gets disturbed. They either have to jump to the next line too often, or they have to stay on the same line for too long, making it difficult to continue onto the correct line. There are various sources suggesting an ideal amount of characters (including spaces), which results in an ‘ideal range’ of 50-75 characters per line.

Size (and weight) matters

Some fonts only work really well when displayed relatively large, whereas some work especially well in small font sizes, for instance for larger pieces of text. In general, I would say that there are no general rules for the font sizes of your all your different text elements, such as headlines, subheadlines and paragraphs. Each font has different characteristics and finding the right font size for each one depends largely on the context in which they are used, so this is mainly subject to experimenting and taking the time to find the right font sizes. If you have relatively long headlines that are broken into 3 or 4 lines for instance, consider decreasing the font size. If you need a headline to stand out more and there’s enough space in your layout to do so, increase it. When choosing fonts, you also need to consider if a certain font family has different weights (light, regular, bold et cetera) and which font weights you want to use in your design. With some fonts, a slightly lighter version of the regular one, might look a bit more elegant. Or an extra bold cut of that same font, might work wonders when used for headlines.

3. Consistency

When it comes to creating a visual identity for a brand, I tend to keep banging on about consistency. This goes for typography in particular and it’s here where the shit often hits the van. Especially non-designers tend to be overly pragmatic when it comes to styling text elements, resulting in an incoherent jumble of different styles. Inconsistent use of text alignment (left, right or center), font sizes & font weights simply doesn’t look good and will have a negative effect on how your brand message is perceived. Try and find harmony and balance in the use fonts, create a set of ‘rules’ and stick with them. There should of course always be room for exceptions, but only if they’re exceptions to the rule 😉


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