In our last post, our creative director, Matt Steel, explored how typography can communicate your brand’s message in concrete ways. In this post, he dives deep into three distinct typography examples to show you how a few major brands are communicating their message through the artful and strategic use of type.
Brand font makeover: Southwest
In How to Connect Your Brand With Your Audience, I put forth the example of Southwest Airlines as a company with a powerful love-based mission. Their typography is a visual extension of those core values. It’s approachable, friendly, and distinct without calling too much attention to itself. The custom Southwest Sans font family, which was designed by Monotype Studio under direction from Lippincott, has an ergonomic quality thanks to elliptical curves and streamlined details.
Southwest’s previous identity was built around a Helvetica-based logotype that had come to feel tired and dated. Many of their campaigns used Interstate, a typeface inspired by US highway signage. The mixture of rational European Helvetica with the Americana vibe of Interstate created an uncomfortable culture clash. This new system uses one typeface throughout, with minor customizations in the logotype. Southwest Sans draws from a more eclectic range of influences than the previous fonts for a look that is equally distinct and region-agnostic.
Brand font makeover: The Financial Times
In 2014, The Financial Times redesigned their newspaper. Typography was their core focus, and the results are stunning.
The publication kept its iconic peach background color, but almost everything else was up for grabs. FT commissioned type designer Kris Sowersby to create a suite of custom typefaces that could be used across media. His brief was to:
Produce a sharper, more modern newspaper that shows off the FT’s strengths in reporting, analysis and visual journalism. The newspaper needed to be more than just a snapshot of the website at a particular point in the day, but an edited selection of the best the FT has to offer. It needed to complement FT.com and provide a competitive “finite” read of “what you need to know” each day.
News faces are often compact, narrow, and blunt compared to other typefaces. But the layout of all FT editions was becoming wider and more expansive to accommodate slower, longer-form pieces, and this opened up the typographic possibilities to include designs that were a little more relaxed.
The FT wanted an elegant, authoritative serif with the versatility to handle news and features in the arts, science and sport — as well as finance. Furthermore, the typeface had to work across media, from wide-printed broadsheets to narrow mobile screens.
The final set of fonts, which were made in both text and headline variations, is a masterful balance of panache and sobriety, economy and space.
Brand font harmony: Airbnb
With the right message and imagery, a single typeface with just a few weights can carry the day. Airbnb is an excellent example of this approach. Their logotype is based on Brown, a sans serif typeface with minimal contrast and open forms. For everything from headlines to body copy, navigation, and captions, they use Circular, which shares characteristics with Brown but is more versatile and economical. It’s clear at small sizes and crisp in headlines. Many people would be unable to distinguish Circular from Helvetica, but put the two side by side and Circular’s unassuming warmth and superior readability is apparent. As type reviewer Benjamin Shaykin says, “[Some typefaces] surprise you with their very regularity – their sense of rightness, of always having been there. They are so of the current moment that they seem classic and timeless. … [Circular falls] into this category.”
Although the typeface has become quite popular in tech circles, Circular is nevertheless a perfect fit for Airbnb’s web-based brand. They stand for hospitality in unique places, and that message is clearly conveyed through typography that welcomes through thoughtful use of scale, weight and pacing – on phones, laptops, and beyond.
The Certainty of Death and Typefaces
I believe we’re entering a new golden age of typography. Some say that language is dying, and writing is de-evolving to little more than 140-character brain-vomit. I disagree. Since the first word was grunted into some foggy neolithic dawn, language has been dying and reanimating, shedding one skin as it grows into another. If typography is a celebration of language and writing in particular, then the life-affirming power of a well-dressed word has never been greater.
For typographers and publishers, the available tools and technology have improved by leaps and bounds. The web is shaking off its awkward teenage phase of default design. Digital reading experiences can now be custom-tuned for desktops, knees, and palms. Junk mail is gasping on its deathbed. Niche magazines and books with sophisticated typography are on the rise. A new generation of readers are coming of age, and they’ve grown up with an unprecedented awareness of letters. Customers have never expected more of your online and offline presence. Some may read fewer books, but nearly all of them are reading more than ever before. They expect excellence.
How will your brand respond? Will you blend in with the masses? Will you neglect readers with thoughtless typography? Or will you empower and delight your audience by giving good content the form and visibility it deserves?